PostHeaderIcon Mending Fences

My older sister and I had never seen eye to eye. We were opposites: she was Mummy’s girl, I was Daddy’s girl; she only ate the white of the egg, I only ate the yolk; she was pretty and fair, I was darkhaired and thought myself plain; she was good at helping our mother in the farmhouse, I much preferred riding my rusty old trike over the rutted ground of the dairy farm at Buccan. She was dominant, I was submissive. I didn’t mind at all that I received all of her clothing hand-me-downs. I rather looked forward to the time when I would get certain pieces of her meagre attire, even though she was slender and I was a bit podgy. But I squeezed into this dress or that, and all was well. Had the ‘boot been on the other foot’, would my sister have coped? I doubt it.

So we got through life living with our sibling rivalry. She was closely involved with our mother, and was known as ‘a lovely girl.’ This was true. As a teenager, she was blonde, slim and attractive, quietly spoken with a good smile of large, even teeth. She had a tiny gap between the two front incisors, and this was meant to imply that she would know wealth!

Our mother would take us to the dances at the Brisbane City Hall. It was wartime, 1943, when I was fifteen, Joan was seventeen. I think Mum rather enjoyed her dutiful task, and she certainly had her fair share of dances with the many servicemen who were in town at that time. Joan was in demand and I did quite well. Sometimes, however, a young blade would telephone me, asking me to the movies (‘the pictures’). I was not allowed to go, but I could invite him home to Sunday ‘tea.’ Invariably, when I did this, the young man’s attention would divert to my sister, he would subsequently ask her out, and she being older was allowed to accept. All would be lost, and I would be upset. My father explained to me that the time would come when I was myself a popular young lady, and my boyfriends would remain loyal to me. Of course, this happened.

The first boyfriend to kiss me seriously was killed in action in New Guinea. I was devastated, and thought of him for several years, only him. As a result, I sort of lost my teenage years. My sister married, had two little children, while I left home to pursue a nursing career. She lived within walking distance of my parents’ home in Greenslopes, and I knew the closeness of the bonds that existed therein.

After a year working in England, I married and had four children. I was in the fold again, but there was rivalry there. I remember my sister telephoning me to say she had just won a share in first prize in The Golden Casket, a lottery worth $12,000, which was a goodly sum in those days. I was happy for her, but I recall thinking, ‘Trust you! You’ve always been lucky!’

My parents and my sister belonged to the same bowling club, there was much of mutual interest to them, and I suppose I felt ‘on the outer.’ Perhaps I was too sensitive. But when, quite a few years later, I found myself on my own with three young daughters to support, the situation worsened. It was mostly my fault that we were in this awful, lonely position. My mother had died, and my Dad had remarried. My sister had remarried also, after a disastrous marriage. But theirs had been ‘honourable’ separations. Mine was not. And I was disowned.

Christmases came and went, and my little unit spent these times quietly in the little house that I had almost enough money to acquire. One year, we knew there had been a big luncheon party at my sister’s new husband’s home, to which we had pointedly not been invited. It was I, the mother, the guilty party, the ‘baddie’ who had been abandoned by her supposedly loving ‘other man’, who felt the keenness of the ostracism.

To my credit, because my self-esteem was at an all-time low, I took courage, for the sake of my children, and visited my sister’s house after Christmas dinner. It was mid-afternoon, the house was open, and a good time had been had by all. The remnants of the feast were still on the dining table, the drink bottles obvious, the house quiet. We peeked into the adjoining rooms and saw the participants asleep on various beds. Out to the world. What to do? We crept back to the porch where I wrote a little note, wishing them all a happy Christmas, and why not come over to our place this evening? With very mixed feelings, we left the note under a tumbler, and high-tailed it for home.

I did not expect any result, but was pleasantly surprised that evening, when my sister and Dad arrived, somewhat sheepishly, as we were having our meal on the tiny patio. They joined us in our simple repast, and it was as if we had never been estranged. The unspoken thought seemed to pervade the very air, ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ We ‘made up.’ I have been forever grateful that this event took place when it did, before the tragedy that was to come.

New Year’s Day saw me quite ill with a viral infection that I had caught from Susan who had been infected with it in the Children’s Ward where she was presently a student nurse. I was feeling ghastly when my aunt phoned, asking how I was. I told her how wretched I felt. She said my sister was not well either, not a virus, something altogether different, she said. She was trying to break it to me gently. How different?
‘Well, Doreen,’ she continued, ‘You will get better. Joan will not...’

It had been so sudden. A pain in the back meant an X-Ray, which took in the lower portion of both lungs. This latter area was full of inoperable cancer, which had caused no symptoms whatsoever. We were all in shock.

The next eight months were tough, especially for my sister, who was in disbelief largely. She took her two grown children for a sea cruise, endured many surgical procedures, and gradually weakened. It was then I was able to come to the fore, bringing my nursing knowledge and sisterly love with me. It was a genuine affectionate relationship that had been healed naturally, not as a result of the dire consequences of my sister’s malady. I was a frequent visitor, taking cooked meals... ‘It’s Meals on Wheels!’...and cheerfulness to the stricken household. We became good friends, talking about our lives, our differences, what could have been. For me, it was wonderful. I believe it was also very good for my sister.

It enabled us to say ‘good-bye’ sincerely, without the guilt that would have been present had we reconciled only after the diagnosis. It means I can reflect on our relationship without rancour, and with affection. There is a huge lesson in this tale: don’t leave it too late to mend your fences!