During the formative years of one’s life there is no-one closer than an only sister who is around your own age. My sister Robbie and I were born just 16 months apart (I am the youngest) Until we were eight or nine we even slept in the same bed. We would stay awake as long as we could; playing, giggling and talking, to the great annoyance of our parents. The excitement and delight of waking together on Christmas morning and Easter Sunday are memories I will treasure forever.
And oh my word, those years of shared childhood illness, anxieties, rivalries and interminable squabbles!
We grew up on a farm, which meant that outside of school we were often each other’s sole playmate, roaming the bush and sharing the joy of nature. We also both loved reading. During Tasmania’s long winters we devoured not just children’s’ books but anything available, including encyclopedias, newspapers, the family Doctor’s Book, and a farming journal called The Weekly Times. I have often joked that we knew almost as much about both human and animal diseases as doctors and vets.
Inevitably, that old question of nature versus nurture arises in the development of character. I love the following quote by the American journalist Elizabeth Fishel;
And in similar vein, although I am unable to identify the author;
‘Growing up in the same family with the same parents gives sisters mutual references during their courses of life. This not only creates identical aspects, but also contrasts between their personalities.
Sisters normally learn from each other’s lessons and decide to act like them or in the opposite direction. That’s to say, your sister is your most updated reference when you are looking for a view on your own personal identity….don’t let the differences separate you two and blur away your connection.’ (PixelQuote)
That difference in personality has always been there in our case. For me the ‘i’s have it… intense, inflexible, introspective, and yes, a bit intolerant. Robbie is far more generous in spirit, more spontaneous and less judgmental. You may think I’m being hard on myself, but there is an another ‘i’ on my list; insightfulness.😎 And thankfully my inflexibility is leavened by creativity and insatiable curiosity. However, overshadowing all the ‘opposites’ is a shared, quirky sense of humour inherited from our wonderful mother. What a blessing it has been in our lives.
Here is a photo of us taken circa 1958;
One of our brothers was not much older, but the relationship was definitely not the same.
Here we are in 1967, emerging into womanhood. We look quite similar with our teased, bouffant hairdos. However, I was merely following Robbie’s lead. My blonde sister was always more glamourous and more interested in fashion than me, and this has never changed. 😍
The caring profession of nursing was a perfect fit for Robbie; in mothercraft, aged care and later as a recreational therapist for dementia patients. I remember at one point she produced a little in-house magazine for elderly residents, recording their excursions. It was so heartwarming and funny. (Our school essays had always been highly praised, as opposed to our marks in maths .😨)
Robbie has two wonderful children and is an adoring grandmother. In contrast, my partner and I are childless by choice. My working life has been more varied; in libraries, as a vocational trainer and ultimately in writing. Robbie eventually settled back in Tasmania, but travels a lot in outback Australia. I live in the NSW Blue Mountains, where I treasure my easy access to Sydney. As we have aged and each found our place in the world, sibling rivalries have long gone. The memories of our childhood, both good and bad, are increasingly precious.
Inevitably, as with sisters in most families, we share emotional scars and secrets never to be divulged. I suspect it is these that are the real basis of our continued, almost indefinable bond.
Here is Robbie a couple of years ago adventuring in Tasmania, looking impossibly stylish even in winter hiking gear. 💛That’s me on the right in the Friends Room at the Library of NSW.
NOTE – since publishing this piece some people have insisted they have no similarities with their sister whatsoever, but there are often things you are not conscious of. Apparently Robbie and I have many of the same mannerisms. And once, when I was being interviewed on radio, my niece heard it and thought it was her mother!
For more on the close, complex relationship between sisters CLICK HERE.