“Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters.” This 1954 Irving Berlin song was sung by Rosemary Clooney in the movie White Christmas, and my sisters and I learned to sing it at an early age. And we are devoted, it’s not just a song lyric. I feel incredibly lucky to have my two sisters. As I write this, I have just returned from a weeklong family reunion, and am still basking in the glow of it. Apparently it is rare for extended families to get together for a week every year and all get along, but we have been doing it for at least 30 years. Certainly in childhood the three of us weren’t always so close, but as adults we have a very strong bond. Even though we live in three different parts of the country – New York, Colorado, and California – we keep in close touch by phone, email, and facebook, and see each other at least once a year, if not more often.
They were seven and five when I was born, both in elementary school already, and had a pretty good rhythm established between them. Being so much younger had some advantages when I was very little – they liked to teach me things, so I was reading and writing and counting when I was three or four – but it was sometimes frustrating as I got older, because I wanted to tag along with them and their friends. This was not that appealing to them when I was around 10 and they were 15 and 17. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want me to be part of their group. I did get to entertain the boys who came over to pick them up for dates, since the customs of the time dictated that the girl was never supposed to be ready when the boy arrived at her house. As a result, I was pretty comfortable chatting with older boys, and I’m sure I had crushes on some of them.
We are all musical, and when we are together we are usually singing. Like Betsy and her brother, we all went to National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, but my first year was their last. They were in High School Division and I was in Junior, so we barely saw each other except when my parents came to visit, but at least I had two chaperones for the long flight from New Jersey to Michigan. I continued to go to NMC for two more years without them, but that first year was the best.
By the time I was in high school, they were both off at college, and both of them married during college, so I had the benefits of being an only child for those years. I was going to high school in another town about 20 minutes away, and my mother was always available to drive me to and from school, to classmates’ houses, to parties and dances, or whatever I needed. I think my sisters thought I was terribly spoiled, but they were only watching from afar as they started their own adult lives.
My oldest sister went to Radcliffe, and so I decided I wanted to go there too. I even requested to live in the same dorm she had lived in. (As an aside, the 10 years between when she started in 1962 and when I graduated in 1972 were times of such phenomenal change that when we compare our college experiences, it is as if we had been at different schools.) We only discovered recently that we took some of the same courses. In retrospect I realize that I should have asked her advice about courses, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. After college she went to law school, and that probably influenced my decision to become a lawyer as well. While she was at Georgetown Law School I lived with her and her husband for two summers, the first year working for the McCarthy for President campaign, and the second year for Planned Parenthood at their national headquarters. It was great to have the experience of being independent of my parents, and yet having my sister and brother-in-law to rely on if I needed them.
My middle sister went to a different college and had a different career path. She probably wasn’t as influential on me in those college and law school years, although I did take my first trip to Europe with her and her husband, during winter vacation of my sophomore year of college. However, her huge impact on me came in May of my last year of law school when she had a baby, the first baby in our family in 25 years (since me). I had never been at all interested in babies, and didn’t think I wanted to have any. But that fall, when the baby was 4 months old, they had a gap in their childcare arrangements, and I was unemployed and awaiting bar results, so I went to stay with them in Colorado to take care of my niece while they both went to work. I fell in love with that baby! I had never experienced anything like the intensity of emotion I felt for this little creature. I felt like a child who had seen someone else’s amazing new toy, and I wanted one too! It was because of my sister’s baby that I decided to have children, and I have told my kids many times that they owe their existence to their cousin!
Fast forward thirty-some years, and my middle sister invited me to go with her on a yoga retreat in Mexico led by her Colorado yoga teacher. We stayed together in a casita, did yoga twice a day, went to the beach, and had a fabulous time. It was the first time we had spent a significant amount of time alone together since we were kids, and it made us feel really connected to each other. We hope to do it again when our schedules allow. My oldest sister doesn’t do yoga, but we connect with her in other ways. Now that all of our kids are grown, there may be more opportunities for the three of us to do things together, and I am excited about that.
Our mother is 95 years old, so lately when the three of us talk it is often about her. A year ago we moved her from her own house to a continuing care community. It was so wonderful to be able to share the decision-making, and also the actual labor of the move, among the three of us. I could not imagine doing it alone. I know that whatever the future may bring, in any aspect of life, my two sisters will be there for me as reliable partners and trusted friends.