Rita Ann Resch Flobeck was my first baby sister. I don't remember any days when she wasn't part of my life until last week. And now I will never have another day with her.
When she was a child, she was always laughing. Rosie Kidd reminded me of one of my favorite memories: Whenever Rita would fall asleep, she would replay the day in her head. Almost without fail, she would remember something that made her happy from that day on her way to sleep. We all knew this because when we'd go on a family trip (often camping), we would sleep in close quarters. We would all go to bed at the same time, and as we fell asleep, Rita would start laughing. If you asked her why she was laughing, she'd tell you about whatever it was, and usually, you'd start laughing, too.
School wasn't easy for Rita. I remember that she had a really hard time with her second-grade teacher, and then she had her again for third. I think that Sister Fabiola did more damage than good as an educator. But even that didn't stop Rita from being kind to her.
That's the thing about Rita. She was an unconditional lover—of everyone she met. She could find the good. She didn't look for—or remind you of the bad. She had a huge heart.
Rita was generous. She loved to give people presents. Not expensive presents, but heartfelt ones. From the time she began to make money from babysitting, if she knew you were around—or could be around—at Christmas, she had something for you. Her Christmas trees were a sight to behold, overflowing with presents.
Rita loved it when we were back in the same school. In High School, I was a senior, and she was a freshman. She loved walking around the halls of Maine South in Park Ridge, and seeing me and my friends from the swim team. They liked seeing her, too. She was a beautiful teenager.
After high school, I worked for 2 summers in South America doing public health work. One one of those long trips, Rita wrote me and told me that she started dating "Don". I immediately thought of all of the Dons that I knew...and I was worried. That was a short, but not particularly savory list of people. I came home, and met Don. He wasn't any of the Dons I feared she might be dating. He was older than she was, but you could tell that he adored Rita. They got engaged and Rita married at 19. I thought that was too young. But she knew what she wanted, and she chose Don Flobeck.
They married May 27, 1979, and because he worked for Delta Airlines, they often travelled. To Austria, or Thailand, or Greece. They loved to travel together.
I lived for a time in an apartment in the same buildings. Rita was pregnant, and during the at the end of the summer of 1981, she decided that she had enough. So she asked me to drive her around in my red VW bug—she hoped being jarred around in it would start labor. In September 1981, they had their first child, Sara. She was a beautiful baby. I moved to Mexico to work. In January 1982, Sara died of SIDS. The loss of her baby tore Rita apart.
But Rita and Don were strong. Before long, they had Johnny, Bobby, Joey, Donny, Jacob, and at last she had twins, and one of them was another daughter: Mark and Anna. Rita loved all of her children, and was proud of each of them individually. But I don't think anyone was ever wanted more as a child than Anna. Anna is everything Rita wanted, and seeing her now reminds me in so many ways of my sister. She's tall, and blonde, and beautiful, and graceful, and smart, and caring.
The Flobecks made do with what they had. But they had challenges, too. The house burned down, and while living in a hotel, they were robbed. Don and Rita held together.
In 2003, a tragedy beyond thought occurred when Johnny was murdered by a fellow student at UT Austin, while hanging out in a parking lot outside his apartment at school. Rita was devastated. Her worst nightmare was the loss of Sara. Now the nightmare returned. Rita grieved for years.
Most recently, Rita worked to make ends meet working as a substitute teacher. As always, she was mom to her kids, and drove them to school and games, she volunteered at the police department, and ran the clock at basketball games.
Her loss is a shock to me. It's a too-vivid reminder that this life is too short and bittersweet. I will miss her. I will miss her unconditional love for me.