The Birthday before Christmas

Celebrating 80 years 005

Lady Mary Montagu wrote in her letters, “There can be no situation in life in which the conversation of my dear sister will not administer some comfort to me.” Those words make a lot of sense to me. I have two dear sisters and this expression would certainly be true of both them. I have been so cared for and loved by both of my dear sisters. I talk with my sister Helen quite often and these words really could not be more accurate. Speaking to Helen always brings about clarity.

Today is a special day indeed. Children all across the planet are excited today because it is Christmas Eve. When they “go to couche” (Newfoundland expression for going to bed) tonight their heads will be filled with expectations for what they might find tomorrow.  But today is special to me for another reason. It is my sister Helen’s birthday. It has always been a neat day for me for just that reason. I always remember Helen’s birthday because it is on Christmas Eve.  How could I forget it? (It is, by the way, Joey Smallwood’s Birthday as well – Born on this day in in 1900)

This woman may be twenty years my senior, but is as close to me as a sibling can be. We are a lot alike in many ways. We both like to speak our minds and we both have a penchant for good arguments and feeling determined about being RIGHT – even if we are wrong.  I was thinking the other day about how close I am to my older siblings and how special that is.  I did not have the benefit of growing up in the same house as Helen. When I was a young child, probably three years old, Helen married Gary and moved. My memories of Helen and my sister Elaine, both of whom moved half an hour away to Conception Bay, were of weekend visits, mostly on Sunday afternoons. There are so  many fun memories. I could not share them all but here are a couple;

Helen cut my hair – actually she cut hair for a lot of us before our brother Robert brought home a beautician and married her. Helen then got ditched for the pro. I had no idea how someone could wash your hair gently until Robert married Jo-Anne. Helen washed hair like most people scrubbed fish! – God she was rough. I remember standing on a chair in the kitchen, head in over the sink and Helen scrubbing my hair and telling me to stop whining about the soap in my eyes.  It was a loving chore that she performed, but I did not always appreciate the vigor with which she performed it. Then there were the visits I would pay to her place in the summer (I can only imagine that these were planned to give my Mother much needed respite from my demanding attitude). These were usually week long or two week excursions and I loved those days at Helen and Gary’s house. I would get to visit the farm, see the animals, and I got to play with my nephew Gary and my niece Jennifer, both who are not too much my junior. It felt exciting and was it was like being treated to something very special. As a child I had very interesting times with Helen as an older sister. But just as it was with James and Elaine and Lloyd, these relationships were almost guardian like.  It seems strange to me that when I was 16 years of age she was my age today, and she seemed so much older to me then. Age is all about perspective. She seems younger now. 

I really cannot say when things started to change in terms of the guardian sibling to a close friend and a real sibling relationship, but it changed with ease and with comfort and in Helen I have a sister who I rely on and who I confide in. There is, between us, a strong bond and we talk and share with each other with great ease.  I have always been impressed with Helen and she has been a tremendous influence in my life. In many ways I learned to laugh well because of Helen because she really knows how to laugh. Laughter has been harder to come by these past couple of years. Helen is wearing the weight of the world on her shoulders as she cares for her family in the midst a very painful and dark time. But with a poise and beauty that I have come to love and respect in Helen, she continues to love, to laugh, and to live. She is a great witness to me and to so many around her. Her strength is remarkable. It is refreshing that even in the midst of it all, she still finds a way to laugh. She will no doubt be embarrassed that I am writing these things, but I will write them anyway as an honest reflection of where my heart is tonight/today.

I am unsure what the words Happy Birthday mean in the context of Helen’s life right now so I refrain from saying it. Instead I choose to take time today to pray for her that she would have a day of peace and comfort.  It would be too much to expect a day free of worry and so I will not be silly enough pray for that – she is a wonderful mother and mothers worry for their children. My prayer is that in the midst of it all today, she would know joy and know how very much she means to those who love her and whom she has loved.     

Maya Angelou posits- “I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” With twenty years between us, Helen has worked from my early childhood to take a young sibling and have him as a brother and for that I shall forever be grateful.  Love you sistah – and I will be thinking of you on your birthday. I wish I could be with you – we miss you so much.

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