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Dear Ralph

I am Ralph's sister Jerilyn. We are 2 years apart in age, and we grew up on the same bush, as close as a thorn and a rose. Of course, he was the thorn, and I am the rose.

Cheryl asked me if I would say a few words today about childhood memories of Ralph, and I found a copy of a note I put in his birthday card in September, 2014, shortly after he had been diagnosed with this disease. I am going to read it for him this afternoon, and you all may listen if you like.

Dear Ralph,

I noticed on this birthday card the reference to "reliving old times," and I started thinking about our early years growing up in Pullman and Clarkston. Do you remember the year we both had chicken pox on Christmas day, and we'd run back and forth from playing with our presents to jumping into the bathtub to take a soda bath to relieve the itching? Seems like we had all those childhood diseases together, including the mumps. Kids now don't know what they are missing. Ha.

All our "bonding" wasn't when we were sick, though. You were my favorite playmate as I followed you everywhere, including digging night crawlers so we could go fishing in the creek. You made me put my own worms on the hook and clean my own fish, and saw to it that I wasn't a "sissy."

We also climbed trees, played cops and robbers, (You were always the cop, and I was always the robber) cowboys and Indians. (You were always the cowboy and I was always the Indian.) No matter what we played, I was always the one who wound up getting killed or put in jail. When we had to stay inside, we played board games, you always beat me at Chinese checkers and Monopoly, and I would get so mad when I landed on you property and went bankrupt.

Even though you teased me all the time, you were also very protective of your little sister. When I was in first grade and you were in third, there was a little boy named Jonny Fordyce who always chased me on the playground. I did NOT like him, so I told mother about it. She said to tell the teacher. The teacher said, "Oh, just give him a little kiss and he'll quit bothering you." Well, I wasn't about to do that, so I told you. You and your pal Gordy caught the boy and wrestled him to the ground and told him if he didn't leave me alone you would beat him up. He never chased me again. (We grew up in the day when for the most part adults let kids work out their own problems.)

Of course, I stood up for you as well. I know you remember the time when we were riding in the car and Daddy was scolding you for something foolish you had done. He said, "You act like you don't have any brains." Thinking this was too harsh, I spoke up and announced, "Yes he does! Ralphie has LOTS of brains. He hasn't used any of them yet."

When Daddy died (I was 15 and you were 17) and Mother moved to Spokane leaving you on your own in Lewiston, I was doubly devastated, feeling I had lost my brother as well as my Dad. That was such a hard time, and I don't know if I ever told you how sad I was, and how much I admire the way you grew into an independent, courageous man. And you still are! I am very proud that you are my brother, and extremely glad you are here to celebrate another birthday. I pray there will be many more. I love you!

Your little sister, JJ

(When I read this to Tom, he said I needed to change the ending, but I didn't, because I still feel that he is here with us today. He won't be celebrating any more birthdays, though, since he is where he'll never grow old, never know pain, and is celebrating reunions with loved ones and waiting for me to join him.)

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