Throwback Thursday – Siblings

I don’t always do Throwback Thursdays, and I often can’t think of anything to flash back to. The results of coming out and the lack of photographs also make it a bit harder, in that for most people, Throwback Thursdays involve a photo. I have almost none.

But I do have posts and journal entries (both on paper and digital) from many different years, and sometimes something clicks in my head and reminds me of something from long ago, and that’s about as close as I can come to Throwback Thursdays.

The post below is a bit odd, and was born of a meme where there was a list of topics you discussed for a month, one topic a day. As I imagine quite a few of you know, growing up, I had one older sister, a mother, and a father – and that was pretty much my entire biological family (I do have an uncle, his wife, and two cousins in the UK, but I’ve not seen them in many a year, and we were never close). We moved often, I wasn’t exceptionally gifted at making friends, and I often wished for more.

As you get older, you often learn things about your family that help other things make sense. After I learned about something, I began to dream, quite often, of a particular more. This is an amalgamation of many of those dreams, with a dash of editing for consistency and to fill in the gaps my subconscious didn’t draft for me.

This post is rescued from Livejournal, dated August 23rd, 2010.

*

The first born child was Samantha. The second born child was Katherine. Both were very difficult pregnancies for their mother, and both times she was told not to try again. After the second birth, which was traumatic and much more difficult than the first, their father had a vasectomy. Samantha was popular, outspoken, and brash from nearly day one; an oft repeated story is of toddler-aged Samantha walking up to a police officer and demanding he arrest her mummy because she wouldn’t get her a baby (a doll). Katherine, born three years later, was a calm and quiet girl – odd for a red-headed girl, she would be told over and over for the rest of her life – and destined to be compared always to her three year older sister.

At age six, Samantha realized that she was being usurped by this new addition to the family, and threw tantrums over not being the baby anymore, but Katherine followed Samantha around like a puppy, yearning for her attention. In the same afternoon as Samantha would throw things and scream, they’d be seen later giggling in a corner while Samantha brushed Katherine’s hair or tied it in “braids” (knots that my poor mother would then spend hours undoing, and on two very memorable occasions, would cut off completely, with tears in her eyes, while Katherine patted her cheeks and said “No cry, mummy!”)

By ten, Samantha grew to be athletic in the way of young British girls – she loved horses, and swimming, but didn’t like team sports or contact sports. My father, the captain of his rugby team throughout his university days (having just finished his third doctorate) could at least connect with Samantha’s poor attitude about losing and her desire to be first, if not her lack of interest in proper football or rugby.

Katherine was more her mother’s child – she picked up the language and love of botany from her mother, though never desired to study it, even in grade school. While seven year old boys would chant the names of dinosaurs, Katherine could rattle off the taxonomy of roses and orchids and purple coneflowers. She liked the names, and had a facility for language that would follow her throughout her life.

They moved often, and as a result ended up with a friendlier relationship than two sisters might otherwise have had – they were the only other constant girl they had in their lives, and even though Katherine was the quiet one and Samantha was the loud one, together they were the Burgoine girls, and everyone would know them as the daughters of the man in charge of the company.

They moved overseas with the sense of adventure after a holiday there and a job opportunity both charmed their father. Samantha thought of Canada as a new place to conquer, while Katherine fell in love with the names of things – a mix of native and French and all sorts of other cultures that seemed to sprout everywhere in the country.

Samantha’s ability to become the star of any crowd served her well in Canada, her accent a benefit that she used to exude a kind of exotic sassy charm, and hitting puberty with a vengeance at fifteen and worrying her father constantly as she became a tall, beautiful woman seemingly overnight. Katherine’s talent for languages began to really show by the time was twelve, and she mirrored her Canadian teacher’s French accent excellently, despite having the “disability” of a Geordie accent of her own.

Katherine loved to read, but wasn’t much for classics. Here she and her older sister connected completely – loving the tales of “the five” and pop magazines with equal abandon, and finding that by the time both were in their teens, those three years didn’t matter much, especially once Samantha got her driver’s license, and she started asking Katherine to cover for her when she’d take Katherine “out shopping” (which meant hanging out with friends, and having her red-headed sister cover for her as a living, breathing – and far more believable – alibi).

They’d adjusted differently to life in Canada, though both loved it. Samantha loved the space, the hierarchy of small town schools (she found it easy to rise to the top of the social ladders), and the freedoms born of long travel times to anything interesting. Samantha was a good student, particularly at maths and accounting, a field her father was keen for her to enter, and by the time she reached the end of high school – and had managed to have an excruciating year long relationship with a disaster of a young man named Todd, often crying on Katherine’s shoulder on the many occasions they broke up before getting back together – she was willing to give that career a go, and applied to university.

Katherine was bright, and in the Canadian school system, she was bumped ahead a year, and still did remarkably well in all her subjects (thought Geography and History bored her to tears, with all the rote memorization). Katherine was still a quiet girl, and though both were beautiful, her freckles embarrassed her, and Samantha’s outspoken nature made her the one people noticed. Still, Katherine gathered a small group of friends, and of the two, was always the more heartbroken when the family moved again and again and again.

Their father had lung cancer, three times, and underwent surgery to have portions of his lungs removed. Samantha was shattered by this, and Katherine often was the one putting on the brave face and explaining things to their mother, who didn’t quite understand the biology of it all. Katherine had a way of speaking with her mother that calmed her mother down, something Samantha had no patience to attempt. If they had unequal relationships with their parents, neither minded much.

The first time the sisters were apart was British Columbia, where their father’s career took him just as Samantha was about to start university, and Katherine was about to start twelfth grade. Separated for the first time in their lives, Katherine wrote Samantha nearly every week, and Samantha wrote short notes back, or called and racked up long distance phone calls.

In B.C., Katherine learned something about herself – she was competent socially. To her surprise, people liked her, spoke with her, laughed at her jokes, and she didn’t actually need a brassy older sister to introduce her to the right people. Instead, she found them on her own, and secretly wondered if she had found better people than she might have been introduced to by her elder sister. She formed an especially close bond with a old widower neighbour who had served in France during World War Two, and when she graduated high school, he presented her with a medal he had been given, saying that if he’d had any children, he would have liked them to be like her, and making her cry in front of everyone, though she wasn’t embarrassed.

Her parents were just as proud of her, and when she told them she planned to attend the University of Victoria and study languages in the fall, they might not have been thrilled at her choice of major, but were very happy she was attending a university, as by this point, Samantha had dropped out of her accounting program, and was working full time at a paint and wallpaper shop, and dating a man from the “entertainment industry.”

Possession of their parents swapped hands after that one year, and never quite returned. The branch of their father’s company in Castlegar was shut down, and he led his wife back to Ontario, but Katherine remained behind in B.C. to attend university.

Their father had cancer again, this time in his brain, which scared them both, and Katherine flew back for a week during his recovery. Her mother, it was obvious, missed Katherine fiercely, but it was just as obvious that Samantha was happy to try and be everything to both of her parents, though she still had a “do first and think later” attitude that led her astray more than once, and left her with another unfinished degree, and another boyfriend – this one suffering from being chronically late to everything.

Samantha moved back in with her parents for a while – then moved out – then moved back in – and then moved out again, eventually finishing night school and becoming an administrator for a food supply company, then a water purifying company, and many other companies, and finding a married man named Andrew. They dated, he divorced, and they married.

Katherine, on the opposite side of the country, graduated with honours, working as a translator for very little pay and enjoying every article she worked on, and especially when she worked on translating kids books, at which she learned she had quite a bit of skill. She began learning the languages of the local native populations, and put together a collection of original peoples tales and stories, translated into English and French, and had minor successes with the help of Canadian arts grants. She also met a Metis man, Ben, fell for him in her usual way – quietly and totally – and they announced their engagement at Christmas, when she introduced him to her parents.

Their father had bone cancer, and lost his leg. Katherine offered to come home, but Samantha was already nearby, and having married Andrew and moved less than fifteen minutes away, it was decided that she didn’t need to upset her career or her life. Katherine consented, though she visited a few times, bringing her fiancĂ© with her.

Her father struggled with accepting that Ben was the right one for Katherine, and wondered if Andrew had been a good choice for Samantha. Ben was a liberal, and generous with his emotions and an enthusiastic man with a desire to see the world a better place. Katherine bloomed around him, and her mother liked him a lot. Andrew had, it seemed, no desire to become more than he was, and no real desire to be a parent, even though Samantha had had a son, and was on her way to delivering a daughter as well. Still, if nothing else, their father loved having grandchildren.

Samantha’s marriage disintegrated at the same time as her father’s health, and had moved in with her parents with her two children at the time leading up to her father’s death of a rare heart cancer. Katherine and Ben came home for the last weeks of his life, and Samantha became focused on the funeral above all else, turning it into a major event, handling every detail, and being the centre of it all with great energy and magnetism. She was strong, and capable, and Katherine tried to talk to her many times but was rebuffed. Ben spoke with Andrew at the funeral, who admitted he had no idea what had happened, and when Katherine and Ben flew back to British Columbia, they were both more grateful than ever for each other.

Katherine began teaching English as a second language. Ben opened an art gallery. Samantha and her mother opened a school – despite Katherine’s protests that they didn’t perhaps know what they were doing – and Samantha met a new man, Barry, who she married six months later but Katherine couldn’t attend the wedding because she was eight months pregnant and didn’t want to risk the flight, having had a difficult pregnancy just like her own mother. Her daughter was born early, but healthy, and the doctors warned her that it might be a bad idea to have another child, and Katherine listened to their advice. Ben had a vasectomy.

The school fell apart, and although their father had left their mother a lot of money, it was all gone, and Samantha and her mother found themselves facing bankruptcy. Katherine found it in herself to help as much as she was able, but didn’t jeopardize her own financial stability.

You’re not supposed to have favourites, but my favourite sister is Katherine. Except, of course, she and I can’t both be. We’re both the second children, but only one of us exists – my mother’s difficulties with pregnancy were extreme, and although Samantha was born healthy, Katherine passed at birth. Two years after Katherine’s birth – and passing – I was born.

I sometimes wonder about Katherine, who had red hair and such a brief stay. I wonder how another sister would have changed things, and if I’d have still been around, or if two would have been enough. Would we have been close, or would she have gravitated more to her elder sister? We would have both been in B.C. when I first kissed a boy and would have loved to have been able to talk to someone about it. Would she have listened?

I’ll never know, of course.

Katherine herself is buried in a cemetery in Oxford, where my parents lived at the time. I’ve seen her grave once, and it is indelible in my mind.

I’m willing to bet she would have had a great laugh. And Ben was one lucky guy.

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