By Becky Holland
Children’s book author Beverly Cleary wrote several books about a mischievous, messy little girl named Ramona, and her big sister, Beatrice – except Beatrice was nicknamed Beezus because Ramona couldn’t say Beatrice.
Those very books and the tales of the two sisters reminded me so much of my relationship with my sister, my adopted sister, Tracey, that I wondered if maybe Mrs. Cleary had a glimpse into our lives.
Tracey Lynn Waits (Holland) Berryhill, 52, was born November 20, 1964 in Marshall, Texas and died on May 16 a little after 3pm in a hospital in Macon, Georgia after battling years of addictions and cancer.
My heart is completely broken right now. Though we had not been close in years – her choice not mine or our family’s choice – she still was my sister. My parents took her in when she was around three or four years of age. Three years later, I was born. So, our house was full – we had the ‘bigs’ – Glen and Donna were around 14 and 12 years older than the ‘littles’ – me, and Tracey was six years older.
So, it was natural in our family realm that it be me and Tracey. We grew up in a time when Mom dressed us a like. We shared the same room, the same bathroom and our friends were usually siblings as well. From Tracey, I learned a lot. The boldness or lack of fear of strangers came from her. Whenever Mom would send us to the store or to get something or ask a question of someone, Tracey being the oldest would put me in front to do all the talking. From Tracey, I learned how to have courage in driving. My dad and mom had tried to teach me – but it was Tracey who made me get behind the wheel and drive – everywhere we went. From Tracey, I learned how to make a tasty meal of chips and salsa – the hotter the better. From Tracey, I was introduced to boys. She tried to introduce me to the proper way to wear make-up, but we gave up after awhile, and she introduced me to perfume and lip gloss and mascara.
Tracey loved to watch scary movies – but hated to be scared. I used to have to sit up with her and watch the movies. We would bury our faces in our pillows and sit close while snacking. Tracey and I had typical sisterly arguments – and maybe, two physical fights. She could be mean. I could be mean. But have anyone talk about me or be mean to me, and she would jump all over them. I told her everything and she told me everything. Most of the time, she didn’t mind taking me a long with her places. I didn’t always mind being her shadow.
She could be funny, and when she smiled -she had a beautiful smile. We loved going to Dairy Queen and getting a chicken finger basket with gravy and Dr. Peppers. Most of the time we shared them and a blizzard. Going to Fred’s and Walmart was something else we did together. When she was 11 or 12 and I was six or seven, we both accepted Jesus into our lives and were baptized at Murphy Baptist Church.
Years ago, after the birth of her last child, Tracey’s life changed. Addictions to alcohol and drugs and other such things enticed her, tempted her and literally stole her away from all who loved her and cared for her. Though many tried to help, nothing really seemed to take. It had been a while since she had been a part of our family. Sometimes, it was almost as if she didn’t exist.
But she did.
I saw her before I moved to Texas. That was about four or five years ago. Tracey had to show me that she had clippings and pictures of her kids, of me, and of things that I had written over the years for the local newspaper. When I looked at her, I didn’t see the girl we remembered. I saw a woman who had battled and was still battling addictions.
She looked at me and asked what was I staring at? I told her I had been mad at her for leaving us, for leaving me without my sister I could talk to, for making the choices she did, for leaving her beautiful girls and just for drinking and all. For a moment, she stopped and looked at me. “I am sorry.” There was a glimmer of the past Tracey in her eyes, and she touched my hair for a moment. I melted. I think I said I forgive you, but she had to get better. That one moment gave me some hope.
It lasted only a moment. She started on one of her vents, and the smell of alcohol enveloped the room again. I put my head down and shook it.
At least it was a moment.
I took her to the dollar store for some stuff and we came back. A neighbor was on his porch, and she hollered at him, “This is my baby sis, she is going to be a famous writer one day.” He grunted. Tracey always believed even when I didn’t believe. She hugged me tight and said, “I love you, Brat.”
I think I told her I didn’t like her very much but that I always loved her. She laughed and swatted me on my butt.
And that was it. There were a lot of good years with Tracey. That is what I will remember and what I hope all of you will remember – the beautiful smile, the hair that she loved to style, her voice – she could sing, her laugh and her creativity.
Tracey died as a result of cancer and ill health due to her choices of hard living. She leaves two very beautiful daughters, three grandsons, two biological sisters and the rest of us.
See ya, sis. Brat loves you forever.