Opening pages of the editor's commentary, Chapter One, "Of Roots and Wings," in Sis Marg: the Letters of Margie Westhues Boschert to Her Younger Brother, Waterloo, Ont.: K & A Westhues, Publishers, 1993.

I was born in the same farmhouse, the same front bedroom, and the same brown metal bed as my five brothers and sisters were—except lots of years later. Buddy turned twenty-one the year I arrived, Jim turned twenty, Gene eighteen, and Dolores fifteen.

Margie, born on Thanksgiving Day, 1932, had been the baby of the family for almost twelve years when I took her place. She used to recall how worried she had been over Mom's late pregnancy, how she was sure Mom would die.

Few children anywhere have grown up as secure in a family's love as I did. Each of the seven older people in our home responded differently to my belated intrusion, but uniformly with favor and generosity. Each made room for me in his or her life, not just in 1944, but as decades passed. My tie to each of them is to the core.

This book is about Margie, and the tie between us. It is a chronicle in her own words of her whole life, as she shared it with me in about one thousand five hundred letters. I received the first one a week after I left home in 1958; I had turned fourteen by then, but Marg was still just twenty-five. Her last letter is dated August 28, 1992. Lots changed for both her and me in the thirty-four intervening years. But not what mattered most.

Every story has a message or moral, the more so if, like this one, it is of tragedy and suffering. But I caution readers against drawing the moral here too hastily. Because caring for Joey, her multiple-handicapped son, dominated most of Marg's adult life, it may seem at first that this book is an ode to motherly love and self-sacrifice. It is not.

Marg never accepted her fate the way saintly mothers are supposed to. In May of 1988, she and her husband, Jack, were visiting us at our home in Ontario. It was the first time in decades that they had travelled so far together without Joe. Marg worried about him, yes, but she ws enjoying herself enough to fantasize that she and Jack would never go back. "Imagine what people would say," she mused, her face breaking into a devilish grin, "They were such good parents all those years, and then they just took off!"

Marg went to church faithfully, and Christianity was important to her. She and Jack read often together from the Bible I gave them for their wedding in 1961. Yet there was nothing sanctimonious about Marg, and she could do hilarious imitations of the holier than thou. She showed herself capable of reprimanding the Archbishop of St. Louis, and of resigning from her parish council when its views were ignored.

Marg gave me my first great lesson about dogmatic rules. I was ten years old, riding with her in Mom and Dad's car down the Paseo, then the major thoroughfare in Kansas City. Traffic was heavy. Darkness had fallen. Marg missed a turn. "Damn it," she said.

"Margie," I said solemnly, self-righteously, "if you say that word again, I'm going to get out of this car."

She slammed on the breaks and pulled over to the curb. Reaching over me, she yanked up on the handle of the door on my side and pushed the door open wide. "Damn it, damn it, damn it," she shouted.

The strangeness of the metropolis, a hundred miles from the certain safety of the farm, bore down on me. I had no money, no directions, nowhere to go. Better to be inside the car with Marg, I reasoned, than outside with dogmatic rules. I pulled the door closed and began a new chapter of my life.

In Marg's life-story lies a moral too basic to be captured in platitudes about motherly love or religion. Much less does it boil down to one side or another of current debates about women's rights, abortion, or social programs for the handicapped. By the end of this story, the message will be obvious. You will know you have gotten it when you write it down in a letter to a brother, a sister, or a friend.