It seems that my parents were “pleasantly surprised” to find they were to have another baby. After all, their two girls were 10 and 7 and the family was (they thought) complete. To prepare the girls for the new arrival, without explaining the obvious, my mother had a jar of change “to save up for a baby”. Hannie (the German nickname for Johanna) when she needed a few extra pennies, helped herself to the contents of the jar. When she was caught, my mother threatened “that now maybe they wouldn’t be getting that baby!” That didn’t really bother either girl too much because they didn’t see the necessity of getting a new baby anyway. Luckily, with or without money, my family got ME!
Although we certainly had our own personalities, we were known collectively as the Dreimaderlhaus, from the title of a Viennese opera by Franz Schubert, meaning home of three daughters. My mother loved to sew matching outfits for the three of us and herself, which I loved, and of course, my oldest sister hated. What 14 year old wants to be seen dressed like her 4 year old sister? We pretty much guessed my father, Karl, always wanted a son (hence the name Carolyn) but my mother was definitely happiest with three girls!
Even though we had that age difference, I adored my sisters and always tried be like them. I probably spent my life trying to “catch up” to what they could do. One thing we did together though, was THE DISHES. Every night after dinner Hannie washed, Eleanor dried and I put away. At some point we started singing while we cleaned up. I can still see Hannie, soapy fingers in her ears, singing melody, while Eleanor sang the harmony. It’s the only way Hannie could stay in her part! I still can’t sing “The First Noel” at Christmas, without hearing the three of us.
Of course, growing up together as sisters we had our moments. We could really have issues with one another, but fighting was one thing my father would not abide. Expressions like “I hate you”, “you’re crazy” or “drop dead” were never said more than once. I can’t imagine any curse words could have been considered worse. Respect for our parents and each other was the unspoken rule.
Still, we did manage to ‘have at it’ sometimes. Hannie was very strong-willed, Eleanor was the good one and I, of course, was the baby. Too young to hold my own, I always sided with Hannie against Eleanor. But by the time I was ten Hannie got married and I was on my own to deal with sisterly disagreements. Sometime during this period we developed the expression “palomino fury” . When said by either sister, the argument was over, no hard feelings, we both saved face. Neither of us remember the exact origin, but accept it is one of those special connections only sisters can have.
Some families, for a myriad of reasons, spread across countries and continents and family ties are stretched. My mom left her three sisters in Germany when she immigrated here at 18. I know she was homesick for them her whole life. My sisters and I were very lucky. We all got married and raised our children on Long Island. We each had a son and a daughter, so the cousins grew up together too. Holidays were always celebrated together and we still sang our repertoire while doing the dishes at Thanksgiving.
We are two sisters now. Sadly, Hannie died of cancer at only 57. It was devastating to our parents to lose their oldest daughter, and heartbreaking for Eleanor and I to lose our sister.. Being of the same generation, in the same family, sisters know each other even better than their mother does. A sister shares a part of your life that no one else can replace.
When I think of all the blessings I have to be thankful for – and there are many- my sisters are at the top of the list. .