"I Finally Met My Sister… And I Adore Her!"
Genie Francis. Tears of joy streamed down her face. After ten years, she and her big sister were sharing a beautiful reunion they'll never forget
By Alice Koenigsberg
There's a tearful reunion Genie Francis will never forget. Last August, Genie took her first plane trip to Boston, where she was met by her 29-year-old sister, Shelley Gorham, whom she hadn't seen in ten years.
During the five-hour flight, Genie - who plays Laura on GENERAL HOSPITAL - was filled with anticipation. That is, when she was able to stop being terrified of flying. "The trip was late at night and everything was terrific, except that I was so scared. I was sure we were going to crash or be hijacked.
"I tried to occupy my mind with other things, I do that all the time when something scary is going to happen," says the 16-year-old Genie. "But I wanted to throw up. I was that scared. And it was raining. Just when I started to fall asleep, we hit turbulence… which makes you realize there's nothing holding you up."
So for the rest of the flight, Genie sat observing the other passengers "who looked as though they were born on planes. We flew until sunrise, so I didn't get any sleep."
It was a very tired, but excited young lady who arrived at Boston's Logan airport. "I remember coming off the plane, looking all around, and wondering. I knew my sister would recognize me because of television, but I hardly knew what she looked like.
"I thought I spotted her across the room and went up and kind of stared. She said, 'Genie?' And I said, 'Shelley?' It was really something. We just hugged each other and cried. We didn't realize how much we loved each other," Genie says softly.
And so began a week-long reunion for Genie. Then, with Shelley, who's her half-sister from her father's previous marriage, she made the trip from Boston to Ashby, Massachusetts, near the New Hampshire border.
There she was greeted by her brother-in-law Jerry, and nieces Danielle, 10, and Alison, 1, whom she had never met, and eldest niece, 12-year-old Samantha, whom she had. She adored getting to know all of them. Being called "Aunt Genie" by her nieces gave her a special thrill. They watched GENERAL HOSPITAL together and got a kick out of Genie reciting her lines along with Laura.
Genie enjoyed Ashby, a rustic, mountainous area, where Shelley works in a ski shop and skis with her family. Because she only had a few days together, they spent every evening talking into the wee hours of the morning.
"It was the best -- catching up. We got a kick about talking about dad, and his feelings on dating and Shelley said, "Daddy hasn't changed at all!" Genie laughs. "He has exactly the same attitudes, and says the same things. He'll beat around the bush, kind of asking, 'Did you have a nice time?'"
Was Shelley like Genie as a teenager? "She was much more rebellious. I was much more accepting. Recently, I haven't been as accepting -- not in a nasty way -- and it feels good."
Genie was influenced by Shelley's advice, which was to "take it easy and not let my parents make me crazy… to the point of becoming overly rebellious. Then you are hurting yourself. She did that. She told me she got married too young, mostly, I think, because she wanted to leave home. And it ended in divorce."
Genie explains that Shelley was happy with her first husband, who fathered her two older children, for several years, but then they grew apart. Genie's present brother-in-law "is a wonderful father to all three."
Jerry is the kind of man Genie would like to marry. "I really love him. He's super. He reminded me of my grandfather -- a happy-go-lucky, joking kind of person, who has the capacity to be quite serious."
Asked if she had a mental picture of this sister she hadn't seen for a decade, Genie replies: "I didn't know what to expect. It's hard to talk to someone on the phone and know what's going on in their head when you can't see their eyes. I knew she wanted to see me desperately."
Despite her exhausting schedule, the trip was a success. "It was so wonderful. I came back feeling so new and fresh and energetic. I had a whole new perspective on the world. Then you live in this little, tine area, you don't realize how much is out there."
Genie mentions she has recently begun to explore things, to go beyond the surface. She believes in "loving what is around you and looking deep. There are so many things in this life -- right here -- that some many people don't notice. Some people would sit here and never even look at this flower," she says, touching a daisy in a vase on the table.
"I was very closed up when I was younger," she explains. "It was stupidity. I wouldn't look deeper. I would just look at the surface and say, 'This is boring.'"
Then, when Genie was 12, she went through a depression that altered her outlook. "I made the decision not to be unhappy all my life. Now I love going to museums and seeing paintings and historical things. It starts to dawn on you that you know so little. There are so many things you can learn. Most people only use about 1/100 of their capabilities."
Now Genie is assuming more responsibility for her life, and considering moving from her family's Van Nuys home. She admits that the subject of her own apartment is a touchy one. "Like all parents -- mothers mostly -- it is going to be extremely difficult to see one of their babies leave the house. I can tell it upsets them very much when I mention it. But it is impossible for a person to grow and really know themselves if they have mommy and daddy continually looking out for them. You're never going to be mature."
But she's not sure if she would move out immediately. "I don't know if I could take it at this point in my life. I don't know if I'm ready to let go. I think I need a little more parenting."