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WOSTER: Woster siblings wouldn’t be complete without Jeanne

For as long as I’ve been alive — 70 full years and then some — I’ve had a big sister named Jeanne.

Yes, I know. That’s how it works. If your sister is older than you are and still living, she was around when you were born and she’s still around, still your big sister. For most of my life, I haven’t given that part of the relationship much thought. She was a senior in high school when I was a freshman. She was valedictorian that year, and, man, I thought that was cool. Smartest kid in all of Chamberlain High School’s senior class, and she was my big sis. Reflected glory, perhaps, but still glory.

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Oh, and before you ask? She earned it. She worked hard for her grades. She had the smarts for sure, but she had the drive, too — the determination to do her best, no matter the subject or the course of study. Of the five Woster siblings, she was the one who really took to heart our dad’s advice. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. In fact, she took it far beyond “doing well.’’ With my big sister, if something was worth doing, it was worth doing to the best of your ability, no matter how much effort, how much time that required.

After graduation, she moved on to nursing school for a three-year program that culminated with a capping ceremony as she became a registered nurse. That happened the same year I graduated from CHS. I was looking at Creighton University in Omaha for higher education, and my big sister was looking for a school that would offer her a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Creighton could offer that program, so during my senior year, Jeanne and I visited the Omaha campus to look things over and talk to the necessary university officials.

Our dad drove us down to Creighton. I spent most of the trip slouched in the seat, slipping in and out of a light sleep. Jeanne spent most of the trip talking with our dad. I could hear the murmur of conversation as I dozed, and every time I surfaced from the long-running nap, I picked up bits of the conversation. I was kind of jealous. I could never talk like that, adult-to-adult, with my dad the way my big sister did. One more thing to raise the level of the pedestal she occupied in my “younger brother’’ world.

I suppose I never said it — OK, of course, I never said it, and I probably sometimes acted like she was an interfering older sibling. Looking back, though, I realized that it was pretty comforting to have a big sister around the first time I really left home.

Jeanne is the Woster sibling who finished school and left South Dakota. The rest of us stayed. She and her husband moved to St. Paul years and years ago, and that’s where they settled into a home, raised a family and made friends. Later, she lived in Kentucky, then Venice, then Belfast. Now she’s back in St. Paul. She left South Dakota, but she never really left Lyman County or Chamberlain. Jeanne is inquisitive, pretty talkative (I mean that in a good way) and mindful of people and events. She always seemed to know of changes in the home town or farm country sooner than I did. She listens, pays attention, asks questions and remembers. That’s how she’s always been. That’s how she’ll be to her last day.

Why am I writing about my big sister? Today is her birthday. She’s had a few challenges in recent weeks. Cancer surgery, then chemo, then a hospital stay probably linked closely to having a compromised immune system. She’s home again, so that’s good. It has been pretty scary, though, for her and for the rest of the family. The first time I told someone about the cancer, I also said, “For as long as I can remember, she’s been my big sister,’’ and I cried like a little kid.

We don’t see each other that often, but I can’t imagine life without a big sister.