What is there about big sisters? by
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In our younger years, C.J. and me.

(Excerpted from my new book, Tinkertown.)

Family relationships can be complicated, and we all know that. I have to say, however, that the easiest one for me has been my relationship with my big sister, C.J. (short for Cecelia Jane).

Sometimes a guy just needs his big sister (although he doesn't always want her to know it!)

When my book of life is written, C.J. will be a key character in it and — perhaps — the single most significant reason for the surprisingly positive way I seem to have turned out.

A Guiding Light

She has been my true north star throughout life since my toddler days in Columbus, Ohio, when she was chasing me around the yard trying to plant sloppy kisses on me. Her life’s work, dedication, and caring spirit speak for themselves, and she has always been a great adviser to me in life.

C.J. was a high school senior when I was a sophomore, and she was much more popular than I was in school. For the first year, I seemed to walk in her shadow and didn’t mind a bit.

The Pathfinder

In her senior year, she was voted a runner-up in the annual Miss MCHS Pageant.  When she graduated in 1962, she went on to the University of Oklahoma and became a dorm counselor (now called resident advisor) in Cate Center, then the school’s women’s dorm complex.

Had it not been for C.J., my life would have taken a different trajectory. I was planning on joining the Navy right after high school, then considered going to Oklahoma State University. I even applied and was accepted to OSU.

It looked like the Navy was going to win out over college, though, as I entered my last semester of Midwest City High School. That’s when C.J. took me out to dinner one night, reminded me she was a girls dorm counselor at OU, and convinced me she could introduce me to all of them if I liked.

Whatever works

She knew of my interest in the opposite sex, felt that might be the button to punch, and it was.  So, in many ways, I went to college because of my big sister and having an inside track to meet OU girls who didn’t want to get sideways with their dorm counselor.

As my mom would later comment, “Hey, great. Whatever works!”

But C.J.’s professional contribution to the world was much greater than getting her brother into college. In her own right, she returned to Midwest City to teach speech, drama, and English at Jarman and later at Choctaw High School.

C.J. and husband Benny.

She also served several churches as a pastor’s wife and musical accompanist over a half-century. She wound up the last 15 years of her career co-founding a highly successful Midwest City home school, called ECHO, and serving as its chief administrator for many years.

In Mom’s footsteps

When I think of her doing that, I am reminded of our mother, who did a similar thing back in 1950 when she began Jack & Jill Preschool, the first curriculum-driven preschool in this young, 8-year-old town.

Both Mom’s and C.J.’s school programs benefitted Midwest City school children, and they did so 50 years apart.

When I think of my relationship with C.J., though, I think mostly about her being my main go-to person, other than my wife Annie, when I just need a good friend who will listen and support me. She’s done this plenty of times, even when she must have thought I was crazy.

She hasn’t always let me off the hook when my ideas have been wrong, but she has always let me know she loves me and is there for me. And I think, in knowing that, I have felt more like getting myself back on the right course.

The love and respect I feel for my sister have proven to be strong motivators to straighten myself out in life.

Sometimes a guy just needs his big sister.

Profile photo of Jim Willis Jim Willis
I am a writer, college professor, and author of several nonfiction books, including three on the decade of the 1960s. Several wonderful essays of gifted Retrospect authors appear in my book, "Daily Life in the 1960s."

Tags: Jim Willis, C.J. Powell
Characterizations: well written


  1. Thanx Jim. how wonderful to have a big sister like CJ who’s a best friend as well!

    As soon as Tinkertown is available on Amazon I’ll order it using the Retrospect Amazon link!

    • Jim Willis says:

      Thanks, Dana! C.J. is one of a kind, for sure. About your ordering, Amazon won’t be releasing the book until after May 1, and right now it’s not on pre-order. So just hold off a couple weeks. But thanks for wanting it!

  2. A very nice meditation on your caring sister CJ. I was also drawn to your mother, because I am an early childhood educator, and her generation was really the GREATEST GENERATION

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    What a beautiful and thoughtful tribute to your older sister! Family can make all the difference, and having a supportive and loving sibling is truly wonderful. I’m sure she was also a great educator and made a difference in many more lives. Thanks for brightening the day with this story.

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