The conversation was oddly reminiscent of one that took place some 20 years ago between my mother and her sister, my sweet Aunt Hazel.
On that occasion, Aunt Hazel phoned my mother, as she did most every day, only to be told in no uncertain terms that it was not a good time to talk.
"Hazel," said my mother, dabbing her mouth with a paper towel, "I can't talk right now. I'll have to call you back. I'm busy eating a Popsicle."
As the story goes, Aunt Hazel was so put off by what she perceived as my mother's rude response that she slammed the phone down in a huff without even saying goodbye or good riddance. And the two of them -- who were as close as two sisters and kindred spirits can be, and had spoken almost daily for years -- did not speak for weeks.
This time, yesterday, the circumstances were different, but the feeling was much the same. My sister was in a hospital in South Carolina, where she'd been a patient for several days, being treated for pneumonia. So I phoned her, as I had each day, for an update.
"Sissy," she said, "I'll have to call you back. I'm busy talking to two policemen."
Even for my sister, this was somewhat out of the ordinary.
"You're joking, right?" "No," she said. "I'll call you back." Click.
Have you ever noticed how long an hour seems if you pay close attention to its passage? "What took you so long?" I said, when she finally called.
"I told you," she said. "I was talking to two policemen."
OK, here's the story. The previous day, when she briefly left her hospital room to get a chest X-ray, someone (and she did not know who, which was good, because if she did, God help them) had stolen all her money from her purse.
Who steals money from a hospital patient? Turns out my sister was not the only victim.
"They said there was another theft on the same floor that day," she said. "If I could've caught the fool who did it ..."
I didn't wait for her to finish that sentence. Some things are better left unsaid.
"I'm sorry that fool stole your money," I said. "How are you feeling otherwise?" Despite the bad news of the theft, the good news was that she was feeling considerably better.
"They might let me go home tomorrow," she said. "What time will your plane land?" She laughed at her little joke, but not very hard.
"Sissy," I said, "I'd love to fly home and take care of you. But you know perfectly well, as I've told you several times, I've got jury duty starting next week."
"You can't postpone it?" "I've postponed it twice already. If I try again, they'll issue a warrant for my arrest."
"Fine," she said. "I guess I'll just have to fend for myself."
No. She most certainly will not have to fend for herself. Her children will look after her. Her neighbor, my friend Martha, will look in on her. Our cousins, the Dixie Hicks, will do all they can.
But it will not be the same as having me there at her beck and call to fix her iced tea or bring her a shrimp po' boy from the Southside Grill or sit beside her watching 12 hours of reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond."
There are some things only a sister can do. And I wish I could be there to do them for her.
But such is life. We can't protect the people we love from pneumonia or theft or other hard realities. We can't always "be there" when we're needed. We can only do the best we can and hope that it's enough.
Soon, Lord willing, I'll get to go spend some time with her.
In the meantime, who knows? Maybe I'll send her a Popsicle.
(Sharon Randall can be contacted at P.O. Box 777394 Henderson NV 89077 or at www.sharonrandall.com.)