WHETHER by coincidence or design, my siblings and I were born about five years apart. Therefore, every so often we all reach ages with a five or a zero ending. This year is such a year, including one of us at 75 and two at 70. We thought we should mark the occasion.
Distance is also an issue for us, as our various work and circumstances have seen us scattered over a large chunk of geography including northern, eastern and south eastern suburbs and regions, and although our minister father’s regular parish re-assignments meant we never had a primary home base, this diaspora of sorts often means allowing up to two hours travel time for visits. And that’s just us siblings … even more if we consider the next generation as well. We decided to leave them out this time.
Nonetheless we established a date and met, at our place in Wonthaggi. Yes it meant dragging one pair two hours from home but it also meant none of the busiest – that is, the oldest and the furthest flung – had to concern themselves with house prep or clean-up.
It was lovely. We all brought something delicious to share and sat around discussing the wide variety of topics we usually do, with fervour sometimes, or humour, but always with care to protect each other from aggression. I can’t recall witnessing an actual fight, ever.
I absolutely adore my elder siblings. As the “baby” of the family I admired them and aped them with an intensity bordering on obsession. I clearly recall my primary school class being asked once, I have no idea what the point of the question was, who in our family we regarded as our principal authorities and guides. Most other kids answered “parents”, of course; a few, grandparents. Me? My older brothers, and specifically the twins.
Ten years my senior, the jewels in the family crown, simply because of being spectacularly identical in small towns and outer suburbs where twins were a rare sight, and boys at that, pre political correctness. Yes, you can imagine many pranks substituting for each other to confuse teachers and other authority figures, ha ha ha, but so charming and golden they got away with a lot.
I was bedazzled by them too, even though they never hesitated to impose plenty of older sibling authority on me; it probably just reinforced my childish belief that they really were minor deities (don’t tell our minister Dad!)
But not forgetting the brother next in age to me. My playmate and buddy, protective and thoughtful as well. Far from dobbing me in, he had the grace to quietly take me aside to suggest better methods of disposal of evidence of my boyfriend’s visits. Congratulating our teenage responsibility but advising means by which we should avoid detection …
He’s curmudgeonly, certainly; the term “grumpy old man” was possibly created for him, and while he was aged only in his twenties. But I know his heart is so soft and generous he has to protect it behind a firewall. Those of us who can see it would take a bullet for him, as we are certain he would for those he loves. Or, perhaps more likely, he’d stare it down and rage until the damn weapon turned tail and ran.
Then there’s my sister. The eldest, the one who copped the worst of our parents struggles post WW2, early vicarage life, small town expectations, no money, the arrival of twin brothers. I have to stop and take a few breathers here, thinking about what she endured from early childhood right up to taking on our mother’s care while the rest of us swanned around being terribly busy with our own stuff. My sister lived in closest proximity, and was responsible, as many eldest daughters are called on to be, so she did it even though it took a toll on her own health.
Now that time has evaporated the impact of the 15-year age gap, we are close. I am driven to keep in touch regardless of how busy I am. I owe her so much I’ll never catch up, but she is so gracious she has chosen to forget my failings, and now simply delights in sharing the sister time we lost growing up almost a generation apart, as I do. It’s not just guilt, mind; she is magnificent, and being in her company nourishes my soul.
That primary school teacher with her question about whom we regarded as our main influencers unknowingly tapped into something. Both my parents were so busy I’m grateful I had elder siblings to interact with and guide me and I can’t calculate the depth of my feelings for them. I don’t have children of my own but if I did I suspect I would still regard my siblings as my family.
Happy birthday to all of us … and may we enjoy many more.