Anna, my older sister


Anna, my oldest sister, was twenty on the day I was born. With so many years between us, clearly we are from different generations. But our two lives have magically crisscrossed right from the gitgo. In fact, at every major intersection of life, Anna and I have been standing on the same corner.  My oldest sister holds an extraordinary place in my heart for three good reasons.

The first is that at an early age she taught me an invaluable lesson – integrity. When I was a sophomore in high school, in 1970, Anna was my American History teacher. For the final exam, we were given a broad statement regarding democracy and required to substantiate it in a 500-word essay.

The day came for Miss O’Dea to return the final exams. She walked into the classroom with that rare-on-Anna  pissed-off face. She proceeded to severely scold the class for not answering the question. She went through the quote, paraphrasing the question for her students, making it very clear what her expectations were and how we had so miserably failed her. She ended this scolding by announcing that one student, and only one, had managed to answer the question, and that this student would now come to the front of the room and read her essay to the class.

“Susan O’Dea –  come up here, please.”

I had been thinking, as she worked through the paraphrase and delineated what her expectations were, that I had done what she asked. But never did I dream that she would single me out as the one who had answered the question right for I was not by any means the brightest student in that class. However, I had no choice but to get on up there and read my essay, which I did. It was really not until later that I fully understood what an enormous decision that had been for my sister. She knew what my classmates would think – my being her sister. She knew what some of her colleagues might think – my being her little sister. She even knew what her principal might think – my being her sister whom the principal had suspended for three days earlier that same spring. But Anna did it anyway because it was the right thing to do.  I had written a good essay,  now a tattered piece of lined paper that is reread when my own sense of integrity comes knocking.

Anna was engaged several times before she met the right guy. I watched Anna go through some hard, hard times looking for Mr. Right.  When she was in the throws of planning her wedding to Mr. Right, David Morris, I myself was in the first stages of breaking my own engagement to a Mr. Wrong, but I had not yet shared this with my family. I was sitting in the dining room in the house where we both grew up when Anna arrived full of bridal wedding talk. I was to be her maid of honor and she needed to set the date. I was being wishy-washy about if I was going to be around. My Mr. Wrong was in Ireland and I was headed over there but I was not sure  what was going to happen next. I think Anna sensed all of this because on that day, my sister pinned me down.

Susie, Dave and I want to get married next summer, so you just tell me when you will be able to be here. July?

Maybe, I said.

Maybe…..well, what date in July. Early July? Late July?

I dunno.

Well, Susie. Do you think you can be here July 26? Would that be good for you?


Susie. I am not getting married without you there. I want my sister, I want you there with me.

I finally looked at her, long and hard in a moment of silence, and that is when it finally got thru my thick self-centered twenty-year old head, that my sister was planning the most important day in her life around my schedule. Looking at her, standing there in the dining room with that determined look on her face, I understood.

Anna loved me.

Anna, I said, I will be at your wedding on July 26th. I promise you. I will be here.

It is a very good thing that I was, too. For at Anna’s wedding, I met my Mr. Right. The spring before Anna was married I had broken the engagement to Mr. Wrong, surrendering myself to being a spinster for the rest of my life. But on July 26th I caught Anna’s bouquet, and my husband caught the garter, and eleven months later, to the day, we were married.

July 26th is a day that Anna and I have shared over the years. The joy. The love. The wonder of finding our very own Mr. Rights.

My Mr. Right was in the United States Navy. About ten years later we were living in Virginia Beach, Va. We had had one son, Brian, who was three years old, and I was pregnant with the next one, who turned out to be Brendan. The baby was due on June 15, and my husband’s ship was to be pierside/home for the month of June, so we were all set. Then in May he was told the ship had to go out for two weeks in June and my due date was right in the middle of those two weeks. What was I going to do with Brian, who was all of three years old, while I went to the hospital to have the second baby? My mother at that time was 72 years old. Brian would simply exhaust her, so that was not on. SO I started making phone calls, but everyone was just too busy. Then I called Anna and told her my sad story, who listened till I ended asking for her help. Then,  she said –

Ooh, Susie, when can I come?

When can I come? I teared up when she said that, just as I do today in writing  this story. SO – the third reason she is so dear to me?


She shows up for birthdays in cards and gifts that year after year appear in your mailbox. She shows up for baby showers with beautiful gifts lovingly made by her own hands. She shows up for every wedding all decked-out in a new dress with a big smile on her face. She shows up for graduations and makes your child feel like the most remarkable person in the whole world. She shows up for your anniversary when everyone else in the whole world seems to have forgotten it. Anna shows up.

So why am so fond of Anna? She taught me about integrity. Through Anna, I met my own Mr. Right. And throughout my life, she has shown up not only for me but for my family.

Happy Birthday, Anna!

Picture courtesy of Maggie Morris. On her birthday,  Anna was presented with a  Memory Book into which 100 of her friends and family contibuted. The picture shows Anna that night, sitting up at her dining room table until midnight, reading her Memory Book.

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  1. I was in your sister’s American History class in my senior year, 1967-68. She gave us an assignment to write a report about anyone we wished in American History. I did what I thought was a good job but I used only one source, John Wilkes Booth’s sister, whose loyalties may have been a bit skewed! Miss O’Dea gave me a 62 and requested a private meeting with me. I had NOT been a great student all during my years at IHA; too antsy, easily distracted, and not having an easy time at home. She was firm but gentle with the scared and tearful girl before her. A business student, I eventually had the opportunity to go to college several years after graduation. I can assure you that all my term papers were what they should have been because I was coached by Anna O’Dea. And when I became a teacher, I always included a big writing project with my grammar school students and we went through many edits so they could learn what I learned because of her care.

    Years later, at a Reunion Weekend brunch, we sat together. I told her this story and she said she felt terrible that she gave me such a low, failing mark. I assured her that I deserved it and learned so much from it, especially how to handle students like me. She’ll always be my favorite teacher.

    1. Nancy
      I cannot thank you enough for sharing this story about Anna. I have forwarded your words to all her siblings, as your thoughts about our oldest sister will mean so much to them,as they do me. Anna taught me American history when I was a sophomore at IHA, and she taught me much much more than American history that year. Your students were lucky to have you as well, as from what you said I hear a dedicated teacher at work.

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