Life Notes: My Sister, Myself
She’s always been my mirror, for better or worse

She always got the pink dresses, pajamas and socks. I always got the blue. Pink was somehow the prize color and my sister Ruthie, 2 years my senior, won that prize.

Ah, sisters! I loved mine, hated her, envied her, wanted her curls and her later bedtime. A whole extra half-hour. Ruthie also got the bigger bedroom and the pink flowered wallpaper. Mine was, of course, blue.

And so it went, back in the Philadelphia house where we grew up and learned all about sibling rivalry, mean girls, our shared love of writing and Nancy Drew books. This was where we whispered about sex and got it all wrong. The most shocking question: “Do  you think Mommy and Daddy do THAT?”

For us, sisterhood was alternately powerful, wonderful, often tempestuous, and a bond we understood only years after we went our separate ways into marriage. We attended the same college, were both English majors, married at the same age to vastly different men, and proceeded to be both similar and quite different, given life’s challenges and opportunities. Having a sister was always defining for us, again for better and for worse over time.

Ruthie divorced in her 20s, lived independently, traveled the world, taught English brilliantly and taught her nieces – my daughters – that a woman alone can live splendidly and fully. Those lessons went on and on.

I, the more conventional sister, am still married – 60 years and counting – and more traditional. And yet, Ruthie and I are both freelance writers, love words and groove on crazy hours. We talk by phone, the old-fashioned way, every day or night.

So what is it about sisterhood that varies so widely and wildly? Obviously, genes have a lot to do with it, despite the fact that we have alternated, over time, to seem to mirror one parent or the other.

Ruthie is totally independent, and likes it that way. I am the opposite, and that’s fine with me. I love to be well-cared for by a husband who is a nurturer by nature. I have never lived alone. My sister has, does and – with interruptions for meaningful relationships – has never married again.

One of the gifts that has come from this connection is that my 3 daughters – all married, all mothers – have gotten a glimpse of an entirely different portrait of womanhood. They know their Aunt Ruthie will not only approve of any detours they may take from the traditional, she will encourage them to go for it. Jill, Amy and Nancy, and now their children, know that “Aunt Ru,” as they call her, will always be there to cheer them on in any venture, adventure or brave pursuit. I may occasionally shudder. I didn’t like it when Aunt Ru took Jill to see the semi-wild play “Hair,” nudity included. Jill was unharmed, mildly shocked and soon became a devoted theater fan.

So how do very grown-up sisters, both of social-security age and then some, share their, ahem, golden years? By remembering our parents with love and gratitude, a deep sense of loss and with a steadfast connection to each other.

Sure we bicker. We argue over her super-liberal politics and my more moderate outlook. I will never have her willpower. She will never have my frivolity or passion for shopping.

We seldom miss our daily phone call, and we will always spar about politics and the best length for a phone call  (I vote for 45 minutes, she prefers longer). I will never keep up with her exercise routine.

But we are marrow-deep  sisters  who spar, have vastly different lives and temperaments, and a bond that is tough to put into mere words. The  world has changed so drastically since we read our Nancy Drew books. We have mourned our late parents, and still share the kind of memories and images sisters never forget.

We are sisters. That says it all.

July 2020
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