Note: this post is my maiden attempt in using the new WordPress “Gutenberg” editor. It’s a wild and woolly ride to say the least. Please fasten your seatbelt…
When my sibs and I were all growing up back in the sixties, we enjoyed watching all of the Smothers Brothers comedy routines on TV. In particular, Tommy Smothers’ line, “Mom always liked you best,” never failed to make us laugh. I suppose sibling rivalries are pretty much a universal concept. What I’ve failed to really appreciate, however, is the fact that sometimes they never really end; they just morph into different forms.
Over the previous 12 months, I managed to fulfill a couple of “bucket list” items involving family. I had become partially estranged with two of my three siblings, and I resolved to fix those relationships. The reasons for each breach were muddy, as they often are in familial conflicts. As time marched on it became increasingly difficult to keep track of exactly which earlier incident or conversation caused the schism. But by letting bygones be bygones with one sister, and actually sorting through all the differences with another, I achieved separate reconciliations with each. It was good to be free of that weight and certainly healthy to have pleasant relations again.
Another sister, Sister #1, has always managed to maneuver around all of our respective squabbles and remain on speaking terms with everyone. This isn’t to say it’s been a walk in the park for her, though. She has at times become figuratively bloodied and battered from acting in that capacity. As any seasoned diplomat knows, being neutral is never easy.
Of course, there were also some fringe benefits of a sort for her: over the last few years, she has been the primary source of gossip among our brood, nieces and nephews included. She doled out morsels of tidbits frugally, falling back on that all-inclusive “I can’t!” response when you deigned to ask for additional details. People in authority, even imagined authority, usually enjoy the power and influence of knowing confidential information.
But I never held it against her. I saw it as a reminder that I alone had put myself into the position of not speaking to sisters two and three. If I wanted to know as much as #1, I needed to fix those other relationships.
So I did.
2018 became the year of détente. Phone conversations and emails took place and visits were planned. I took a trip last year to Michigan to see one sister, and another to Arizona just last week to see the other. The eldest, a/k/a “Switzerland,” joined me for both.
It was good to reconnect again. You can talk all you want about the virtues of social media, how texting saves time, video calls are wonderful, etc. But, please. None of that replaces being together in the original flesh (I think I just coined that phrase; you’ll hear from my lawyers if you use it without permission).
Scottsdale is where Sister #1 goes each winter to escape the harsh Michigan months. Sister #2 lives in southern California; it’s a very short plane hop for her. During our time together, we stopped at two places that I enjoyed when I last visited here two years ago: The Musical Instruments Museum (the “MIM”) in Phoenix, and the Desert Botanical Garden, also in Phoenix. Sis #2 hadn’t been to either, and though she is currently fighting a bit of painful sciatica, she soldiered through the amount of walking required for both.
We had much catching up to do. The first evening in Scottsdale we talked about the present, associated hopes and fears for the future, and we raised our glasses in honor of those no longer with us. In spite of those few years with very little contact, we never stopped being siblings after all. But in the span of a couple of hours over good food and excellent wine, we laughed and paid homage to the best of our earlier years. We were siblings again.
For at least that first night.
Nothing dramatic happened. There was nary a temper tantrum nor even a Tommy Smothers-like recrimination about Mom. But by the following afternoon when we picked up sister #2 from her hotel, I started to notice an old, familiar tension between both sisters. At first I thought it was merely a groggy state from fitful sleep or too much wine the previous evening. As the rest of the visit wore on, however, it became apparent that my own olive branch agenda wasn’t necessarily one-size-fits all. There were undercurrents present; conversations became stilted and difficult.
Families are complicated.
I quickly realized that I was assuming the same role that Sister #1 had previously occupied: I was now Switzerland. And yet because we were all present with one another in our original flesh (catchy, isn’t it?) and not just speaking on the phone or writing text messages from the safe comforts of our own homes, I had to add two additional guises to my portfolio: raconteur and court jester.
I talked and joked a blue streak for the next 48 hours, saying anything to keep things from getting uncomfortable.
If I don’t say so myself — and let’s not forget that this is my blog, so I have every right to do so — I absolutely killed in my role. We suffered from no histrionics. My jokes were mostly awful, but they dutifully laughed at my attempts. I even made sure that we dined somewhere where there were lots of distractions. If a good Jewish deli bakery counter can’t improve a mood, I give up. Black-and-white cookie, anyone?
I stayed for an extra day after Sister #2 flew back home to California. I hung out with #1, taking a long walk on Scottsdale’s beautiful Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt path with her, and generally allowed her to decompress. We joked that we literally were taking that proverbial walk in the park. We didn’t really discuss much about the previous three days except to observe that indeed “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Families are complicated.
It was agreed that next year Gorgeous will join me when I return to visit. Sister #1 now has a gentleman friend back in Michigan, and it’s assumed that he’ll travel out at the same time we do. New faces and maybe even new traditions.
You’re never too old to try.
Until next time…