Gary Rinsem

Sister Suzy
by Gary Rinsem
December 2003
Journal Entry


  • My Two Front Teeth

“Absurdity and anti—absurdity are the two poles of creative energy.”
Karl Lagerfeld

It seems so long since I could say "Sister, Susie sitting on a thistle!" Gosh, oh gee, how happy I'd be, if only I could whistle.

Alvin and The Chipmunks, All I want for Christmas

Suzy had an Alvin album and used it to teach me to use a record player. We danced around the house to the screeching chipmunk sounds of "All I Want For Christmas." I couldn't understand a word of it, but Suzy did. She sang along and permanently jammed the song into my mind.

When I was young my Sister Suzy was always there. She looked out for me, sat with me when I was sick and helped me anytime I needed help. She enjoyed time with me as much as I enjoyed her.

I have many wonderful memories of my Sister Suzy. A few of the most significant memories are written here.

Chapter 1) Suzy's Sweet Sixteen

We took Gidget for a walk a few days before Suzy turned 16. It was my 8th birthday and Sister Suzy wanted us to hang out together. She stopped the ice cream truck and we each had a drumstick as we walked. Drumsticks always remind me of this day.

Sue and I sat in the field just west of Pima Road, where Chaparral Road is now. Pima Road was still under construction. There was a strange house and the remains of a small farm in that field.

Most of my life a drive down Chaparral Road has brought back memories of Sister Suzy and Gidget and the boy who lived in that odd farmhouse. I met the boy and played on the roof of his house. It was covered in dirt and grass. Chickens and goats were everywhere, even on top of his house.

That birthday in the field together, Suzy talked to me about all sorts of things going on in her life. She was excited about wanting a driver's license.

One thing Suzy told me, and I'm certain it's what made this memory stick in my mind, is that this was a very special time for us because in a few days she would be 16, twice as old as me. Suzy stressed this fact as being something important in our lives. It would never happen again and it only lasted one year. My big sister explained to me that our relationship would change, that soon we'd be adults and equals. She was excited about the prospect of us sharing an adult relationship. Suzy couldn't wait for me to grow up.

My entire life I've cherished that day and especially the sentiment of Sue's thoughts, about us one day having an adult relationship. I've tired so hard to make it happen. My Sister Suzy is my only family, the only person in my family with whom I've ever had any connection. The connection was lost far too young and I've spent my life missing her, even when she's been near.

Sue, your message on my 8th birthday has stuck with me. I constantly lament the fact that we never had the adult relationship you predicted.

You're still my big sister.
I love you,

Chapter 2) Woody Woodpecker


I saved quarters and cereal box tops, to send away for a Woody Woodpecker door knocker. It was going to be the coolest thing in the world and I'd anticipated getting it for months. I didn't understand what to do, but wasn't concerned, Sister Suzy would help.

She licked the stamp, prepared the envelope then filled and sealed, handing it to me to carry myself as she walked me to the grocery store. Sister Suzy didn't want to leave it for the mailman to pick up because it had money in it, and was too important to me.

She opened the mailbox door at the grocery store, telling me to drop it in, but I resisted because it meant too much to me to let it go. Sister Suzy's smile assured me it was OK so away it went. I heard it slide down the chute and hit bottom. We held hands walking home.

The phrase "Allow four to six weeks for delivery" had no meaning to me. Within days I was frustrated, always checking the mailbox. One day the lid wasn't closed all the way, something big was inside.

Expecting more, the small size of the box surprised me. I found my Sister Suzy in her room ironing, she got excited by the box and we sat at the kitchen table to open it.

A never assembled cereal box, advertising my Woody Woodpecker door knocker. Even the cereal box is for sale on Ebay.

Chapter 3) Suzy's First Job

Not Sister Suzy's store, but it looks a lot like it. The sign above sure brings back memories.

I remember being confused by the conversation. Sister Suzy was asking our mother to bring me to the TG&Y Five and Dime Store, that afternoon. "Your best buy is at TG&Y." Sister Suzy had recently started her first job there, and wanted to treat me to ice cream at the soda fountain.

I saw her at work several more times until one day she got a disturbing phone call. Sister Suzy was crying. It was difficult to get the reason from her, but eventually I understood. There was a fire. TG&Y was completely destroyed.

Our father drove, she had to see for herself and wanted me with her. I stayed in the car, but could see total destruction. Sister Suzy wasn't crying for the store, only the animals in the pet department.

Chapter 4) Suzy's First Car

Not certain of the year of Suzy's car, this 62 is close enough.

One day my big sister ran in the house, excited and calling my name. She rushed me out to the driveway where I got my first look at her first car. It was, I think, a 1962 Ford Falcon. Not terribly old at the time. It had a dangerous cruise control the likes of which I've never seen since. A simple bar extending from under the dash to the gas pedal. It could be locked in position, holding the throttle down. Scary as hell.

Sister Suzy was incredibly excited at the prospect of taking me along, for her first drive in her own car. She explained that while learning to drive, she had driven with our father down McDonald Drive between Scottsdale Road and 44th Street. The road was crude, hardly graded it followed the contour of the desert with small hills and valleys, resembling a roller coaster ride. Suzy drove, yelling "whoopdee" as a valley approached and "weeeeeee" when passing through it and over the top of the hill. She was excited to do it without an adult co-driver because she could go faster. She wanted to share it with her little brother.

When the ride ended, our father was waiting in the driveway. I watched for hours as he buffed oxidation off the paint of Sister Suzy's new car, with Sue helping. This day is a special memory that's come to mind my whole life, whenever I waxed a car or drove down McDonald Drive.

By the time I was old enough to drive, all the whoopdees were gone, it was graded wide and flat. For twenty years I always thought whoopdee when the grade next to the road warranted. One day I drove down McDonald Drive and it had been redone again, with so much development along both sides that you can no longer tell where the hills and valleys were. That has never stopped me from yelling whoopdee

Chapter 5) The Gnome Mobile

My wonderful Sister Suzy took joy in doing things for other people. I hope she's learned to be selfish, at least sometimes.

She spent her TG&Y paycheck taking me and two other boys to the movies. Joe DeBrown and a boy whose name I don't recall. Joe is the boy who was hit in the toes by a small meteorite, disfiguring the two biggest toes on his right foot.

We watched The Gnome Mobile at the Round Up drive in. Sister Suzy bought us snacks and drinks. Nobody else did anything like this, when I was growing up. My sister was a special girl and not just to me, she also volunteered at the girls club on Rose Lane. It finally closed a few years ago. It's been adapted to other uses now.

I never heard a word about this movie, aside from being treated to it by Sister Suzy in the 60s. It seemed completely forgotten until a YouTube search proved many people have fond memories of the Gnome Mobile.

The Gnome Mobile

Chapter 6) The 1968 State Fair

It was my tenth birthday and my Sister Suzy took me to the state fair as a birthday present. We planned and talked about it for days, maybe weeks. Anticipation was high. It's one of only a few happy birthday memories I have from my entire life.

I got sick a couple days before and was far from well on my birthday. Sister Suzy suggested we postpone, but I insisted I was good to go. I wasn't, but it didn't matter because I couldn't wait a week. Sue knew I was too sick, but gave in to my insistance and off we went. I still remember feeling like I would be sick in her car.

I'd never been to the fair, but Sue had. It was a much longer drive to the fairgrounds back then, with no freeways and massive traffic jams at every stop light. Sue and I talked about the fair all the way across town.

They had elephant rides first thing, just inside the front gate. I know with certainty that I've cared about non-humans since I was young, because I've always recalled the conversation we had. I didn't want to ride the elephant and Suzy thought I was afraid. I managed to tell her how awful I thought it was for them to treat an elephant in that way. I just wanted to go to another part of the fair, to get away from the poor elephant. It made me sad then and it makes me sad now. Every time I went to the State Fair there was an elephant. Every time I shared this memory with the women I was with.

Suzy and I went on a number of rides and played the carnival games. I banged my head on one of the rides and spent the rest of our time with a massive headache. Suzy knew I had a headache, but not how bad it was. I worried she'd want to leave if I told her.

We ate cotton candy while walking around. Later, we had hot dogs and sodas sitting on a concrete bench. A little time at that bench was a simple thing that made a forever impression on me.

Every time I have been to the fairgrounds I sat on that bench and remembered my Suzy. Sometimes I told the people I was with the reason for it, and sometimes it was kept a mystery. Either way, they had to sit with me a few moments.

In high school and the few years following, I was at the fair grounds several times with different friends. Each time I forced a visit to Suzy's bench.

Two of my dearest loves knew the memory and wanted to go to the fair grounds. Two years, I think it was 1988 and 1989, we went to a miniature horse show at the fair grounds. BB insisted on hot dogs and soda at Suzy's bench. All we could get at the show was burgers and fruit. The three of us ate and talked for hours about memories of family. We did a rerun of it for the State Fairs in 1992 and 1993, but not on my birthday.

In 1997 I went to a gun show at the coliseum and ran into a man I worked with at the Safari Hotel in the mid 70s. I always thought he was gay and this day nearly confirmed it. He didn't say so, but it seemed clear he had a crush on me. We hung out and talked for an hour, ending up eating hot dogs together on Suzy's bench. He was a nice guy, didn't ask why I wanted to go so far out of the way to sit on a cold concrete bench.

In October 2004 I took a different Suzy to see Wallace and Ladmo, at the coliseum. It was a fun time.

I didn't tell Susan why, but we sat for a time at Suzy's bench with churros and sodas from a cart in the parking lot. It was a long walk carrying food and Susan kept trying to eat it as we walked. I didn't let her and she obliged even with unanswered questions. I was silently laughing about the tradition Susan was about to share.

I last visited Suzy's bench with Susan at the 2004 State Fair. We had hot dogs and soda 36 years later. I told her all about my Sister Suzy's tenth birthday present. It's one of many happy childhood memories courtesy of my big Sister Suzy. Like so many things in my life, I desperately wish I'd known I'd never be back there. I can't find the bench on the Google Satellite.

After Susan died I found our Wallace and Ladmo ticket stubs in one of her little "Remembrance" tins. She had dozens of "Remembrance Tins."

Sister Suzy, I hope you read this. I hope you share memories of yours to remind me of long forgotten days. Send an email. I'd like something in writing to add to my diary.

Chapter 7) Summer 1968

That summer was mostly spent hanging out with my big sister. Day after day Suzy and I were almost always alone in the house together. We watched a lot of TV and spent many long hours in her bedroom, talking while she ironed clothes. My memory is filled with so much ironing that I've wondered for years if Suzy was ironing clothes for money. Were they other people's clothes

We cooked together, likely she cooked and I got in the way, but I'm certain I washed a lot of dishes and that was helpful. Suzy made cookies and cup cakes, pies and pot roast. I enjoyed hanging out with her regardless of what was going on. Baked goods was a plus.

Once a day she made me leave the house, to play outside. It took a while before I figured out why. Dark Shadows was on TV at that time. It was her favorite show and she didn't want me watching it. Sister Suzy was worried I'd have nightmares. I watched Dark Shadows often for a few years after Suzy moved away. It's still a nice remembrance of my big sister, 52 years later. About once a year I watch an episode on the internet. Probably always near our birthdays.

Chapter 8) Suzy's Graduation

I desperately wanted to go and broke down crying when told no. Too young to really understand the significance, I knew it was important by the talk I'd heard. Missing my Sister Suzy's graduation has been a misery to me ever since.

The details I remember are contradicted by something I recently found on the internet. I remember it described as taking place in the Saguaro High School stadium. I found an aerial view of the school showing the stadium hadn't been built yet in 1969. Which is wrong My memory or the photograph

Chapter 9) Suzy Grew Up

Sister Suzy grew up and I didn't notice. I was too young. One day, it was a shock finding Sister Suzy was busy moving her things out of her bedroom. That evening I sat in her almost empty room, trying to understand what happened. She'd left behind a bookshelf built from two odd ladders, but took it soon after. In the middle of the night I went and slept in Sister Suzy's room. It took a year, but I finally got it as my own, important to me because the room was my only connection to her.

With Sue gone I was alone. Parents and brothers were like strangers to me. To replace what I'd lost I developed a deep relationship with two girls. Our friendship had been slowly growing for a over a year, but became critical to me with the loss of my sister. For different reasons they both needed me, the three of us needed each other.

Some time passed before seeing Suzy again, days or months, I'm not sure. Anticipating her arrival I sat for hours looking out the front window. Excited beyond belief I rushed up and hugged my Sister Suzy. She wasn't the same person, she didn't hug me back. She started a new phase in life. It wasn't until the 1980s that I began to see my sister in the adult woman she had become.

My childhood wasn't the same after Suzy left. I never had the support or the guidance she provided. I never felt there was anyone I could depend upon. It's not her fault for giving me so much and it's not her fault for growing up and moving away. It's just the way it is.

Chapter 10) The 70s through the 90s

As my only family, Sue is in my thoughts. I looked forward to seeing her at family gatherings. I tried many times to form a bond as adults. It wasn't meant to be. She had a family of her own to occupy her life, ours is a distant childhood relationship that I hope she remembers.

Sue had some difficulties as a young adult. I was more than willing, I was ecstatic at the chance to help her. It made me sad to see problems in her life, but she always had a smile while dealing with hard times. I'm proud of my sister.

Chapter 11) Late In Life

At fifty nine years old I found myself alone in the world with a major problem, and needing support. I hadn't seen Sister Suzy in almost sixteen years. It didn't matter, she spent over a year helping me. I took extreme measures trying to connect with her, every moment expecting I'd never get another chance. Sad as can be, but it was impossible.

Two years have passed without contact. I created a Facebook profile and it showed me my sister has finally retired. She spends quality time with her family. Happy for you Suzy.

The note below to my sister was written in 2004. I'd received calls from a couple other men from her past, but Mr. Earring had called twice before and sent me a letter this time. We played phone tag, but eventually connected. I liked him. He smiled his way through a great deal of harassment by my father and brothers, because of his one earring. He called me because I was the one who didn't mistreat him. I could tell, it was obvious, he was as perpetually in love with Sue as I am with my four loves. I can sympathize. The message is still here because it's valid forever.

I'd link my 2004 journal entry right here, but it's got all his contact info in it. Email or text and I'll reply with a link to that page.

If you still have feelings for Mr. Earring then you need to call him immediately. He loves you. He will always love you.