I’ve had a family nickname since I was a kid. Daddy gave it to me after I became a big sister. It stuck. 30 years later, and I’m still known as Sissy.

It’s not a unique term of endearment; the oldest sister of Southern families is often called Sissy or Sis. There are probably a million other Sissies across the South.

Of course, Appalachian Sissies are of a different breed than those from everywhere else. In the mountains, it isn’t just a nickname; it’s a role within the family hierarchy.

Just below Mama and Daddy, Sissy is in charge. She babysits, entertains, cooks, cleans, and hands out the occasional whooping. For those raised up in poverty, the position of big Sis can be even more demanding.

My family fell into that worst-case scenario. And when I was in the house, I was more responsible than most adults. From putting Kodecker back to sleep after bad dreams to taking her to the doctor, in every way that counts, I was a parent long before I had children.

Was I a good one? Probably not. Kodecker isn’t my child – and I was young. I made mistakes along the way, but at least I tried. I loved unconditionally, forgave, and stood by her side through the darkest times. That’s what parents are supposed to do. I’ve always hoped that was enough.

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