Juanita Elizabeth and Violet Angela were sisters. Born five years apart, more than a hundred years ago, they knew a very different world from ours today but their relationship was one many of us would recognize. It was complicated: full of love and loathing, loyalty and betrayal, kindnesses and unspeakable cruelty. Both became smart, capable and accomplished women in an age where that didn’t count for a lot. They each married, had families, divorced, had other partners and worked professionally all their lives. Their children, alive still today, can recount the tumultuous stories of their young lives. Their great-grandchildren, fortunately, can’t even imagine behaving similarly.
I, daughter to Juanita and Angela’s niece, watch my granddaughters today. They were born in this century. They too are about five years apart, and although they have different fathers, they are as close as any sisters could hope to be. I have never seen either one be consciously mean to the other. I have witnessed disagreement, even exasperation, but never violence between them. They seem to genuinely like each other and find their differences intriguing rather than annoying. I love to listen to them from another room, discussing all manner of things, giggling uncontrollably or even sitting, reading, in companionable silence. I think then of my relationship with my sisters.
There were four of us; between us we had one Dad and two Moms. The two oldest have passed on in the last couple of years. They were enough older than the youngest and me that we didn’t grow up together, but we claimed each other as siblings and I mourn their loss even though I really don’t think I ever knew them very well. And now there are two. One on each coast. Years pass between visits. Letters and phone calls don’t happen anymore. Emails and texts suffice. We’re not even “friends” on Facebook. Our memories of our childhood differ so widely, you’d think we were in alternate universes instead of the same house. Our lives since growing up have been similar, but different. Different tragedies, struggles, successes, but interestingly similar epiphanies. We both seem to have come to a place of gentle self care and a distant benevolence toward each other. It’s okay I guess, but I always wanted to be a sister.