Somewhere in the north end of Cleveland County, Oklahoma, under a neat patch of grass gone brown in the Sooner sun, lie the ashes and dust that once were Brenda Jean Hill Imoe, forevermore aged twenty-two and a half, a woman who was — who is — my sister.

The second of five, Brenda appeared to be unsure of herself, but of one thing she was sure: she did not wish to be anything like the first. (Which would be, um, me.) And on some levels, she succeeded. The standard twelve years of schooling, which I completed in nine years, took her fourteen. I was just brash enough to conceal a layer of quavering timidity; she was just quiet enough to get you to overlook her fierce determination. The rest of the family, of course, read this as petulance and disobedience. She didn't care. She knew what she wanted: a family she helped to build, rather than one she happened to be stuck with.

To this end, she took up with a skinny kid who met the general description of "poor but honest". David, like Brenda, was a bit slow on the uptake, and we all mocked him and called him a goon. Unlike us supposedly enlightened people, he'd never learned to be rude and spiteful, and his devotion to her proved to be genuine. They were wed, and the Pentagon decreed that the next few years of his life would be spent in Bliss — Fort Bliss, Texas, that is. And in El Paso, Brenda threw herself into the task of building her fa