SHERIDAN, Ind. — Decades ago, three sisters made a pact, that when they became older they were going to move into three homes, right next door to each other. Now, that dream has come true.
Growing up in Arkansas, life wasn’t easy for the Smith family of nine. But regardless of the financial hardships, their parents always made love a central part of their life with one another.
"We started when we were three, picking cotton," said Judy Dennis-Myer. "Mom would make a toe sack, a burlap sack with a string around it, and pick cotton. We worked in the fields twelve hours a day."
When they were young, both Dennis-Myer and her identical twin, Shela Weesner, were only able to collectively pick half-a-hand of cotton.
"But once we were 11, we could each pick a full hand," said Dennis-Myer. She said knowing that as toddler they weren’t able to get a full hand meant their parents would work overtime to make up the difference.
"We didn’t have indoor plumbing," said Dennis-Myer. "We were juniors and seniors when we got indoor plumbing."
"I was nineteen," said Joy Ressler, the next eldest sister to the twins, older by only a few years.
"We always had to help each other to survive," said Ressler.
The family eventually moved to Indiana to pick tomatoes "on Amish farms," said Ressler.
"Mom was always searching for something better for us kids," Ressler added.
Dennis-Myer said that with nine kids, it was hard for their parents to give each one undivided attention all the time while making ends met.
"So Joy was like our mom," said Dennis-Myer.
Ressler recalls growing up that she would always here her mom say "take the twins with you."
"It didn’t go over too well on dates," added Dennis-Myer with a chuckle.
‘Still taking the twins with you’
Out of the nine Smith children, all but one brother has passed. He lives out of state along with another sister.
Their youngest sister, "our baby sister," passed of ALS. When she was diagnosed "and she lives eight hours away," she drove straight to Ressler’s home that evening.
"She knew we would be there for her," said Ressler.
All of the sisters took turns taking care of their baby sister until she lost her battle to ALS.
The sisters said that they and all their siblings took care of their parents the same way. The close-knit family spans generations. When Dennis-Myer walked down the aisle, all three of them accompanied her.
"She told us she has three mothers," said Ressler.
The sisters often vacation together. One of their more recent vacations was to Hawaii - and they don’t always bring their husbands.
"We just go and have a good time ourselves," said Dennis-Myer.
A few decades ago - the sisters know it has been at least 20 years, but aren’t sure of the exact time - they made a pact.
"If we could afford it, we would build houses close together and be there when we needed each other to take care of each other," said Dennis-Myer. The sisters said they didn’t want their children to have to worry about them as they got older.
Now in their seventies, that dream finally came true.
"She’s still taking the twins with her everywhere she goes," said Dennis-Myer.
While the sisters said growing up in poverty made being close a way to survive, now it’s about enjoying each other.
"It’s not hard, their my best friends and my sisters," said Weesner.
"We went through the difficult things together and once you go through he difficult things, you want to enjoy the beautiful things and that’s what we’re doing now," said Dennis-Myer.
The sisters built three homes next to each other on a lot. And each of the sisters and their husbands have moved into a home. All three husbands were also on board.
"Oh yeah!" the sisters said enthusiastically, followed by a pause, then a look of reality. "Well, they kinda had to be."
Like all families, these sisters bicker and tease and growing up, they picked on one another as siblings do.
A natural entrepreneur
"She was a natural entrepreneur," said Dennis-Myer.
"Yes, I was always trying to make money," replied Ressler, nodding.
"So she set us up for wrestling matches," said the twins finishing each others sentences.
"She was an instigator," said Weesner.
"Yes, and instigator," her twin added.
"She collected nickels from all those kids to watch us fight," said Dennis Myer.
"I had two hands filled with change," said Ressler with her palms held out. "And then the teacher found out and I had to give back every nickel!"
Through thick and thin
The sisters have been through life together and because of their bond, they know they are never alone.
Weesner had a scare with a kidney disease that she was told would be fatal unless she went to get care out of state. She had to go up to the Mayo Clinic three or four times for treatment.
"She’d stay for two or three days each time," added Dennis-Myer.
And every time, both of her sisters were right there with Weesner’s husband, who slept on the floor next to the bed so that he could reach out and grab her hand if she needed anything, but also allow her to rest comfortable.
"That is love," said Weesner with her hand on her heart. When asked what love means to her personally, the story of her husband was the first thing that came to her mind.
Ressler battled breast cancer and said that every step of the way her sisters her there for her.
Dennis-Myer lost her first husband to cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. He and Weesner’s husband served together.
"They would say they were brothers," said Dennis-Myer.
Weesner said it was through Dennis-Myer’s late husband that she met her husband.
Dennis-Myer said that as a minister's wife, she had traveled to help efforts in the south after Hurricane Katrina, and in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"And the first people I called were these two," she said, resting a hand on each sister. "Because I knew that would help me see that it’ll all be OK. I will be OK."
The sisters said family is about selflessly and unconditionally being there for one another.
"They helped me to take care of my husband. When I couldn’t get to a chemo treatment, one of them were there. And it was an hour drive. I knew that they would be there, and they were. And if I didn’t say thank you, they wouldn’t have cared," said Dennis-Myer.
She said that as a family they do say sorry to each other.
"But we haven’t had to say thank you for things. We try and if we don’t, it’s OK. We just want to do things for each other," said Dennis-Myer.
Weesner said that love isn’t reserved for just blood relatives.
"We have friends we’ve grown up with who are family," she added.
Selfless love and commitment to one another, blood or not, brings these sisters joy.
And that joy is what they call family.