I have a lot of siblings. There were six of us – Lori, Me, Greg, Debbie, Kim and Jacki. Greg and Kim are no longer with us, gone before their time, but they live on in memory and will always be a part of us. Think about it – you’ve known your siblings longer (most likely, if you’re my age) than even your parents, longer than your spouse or your own children. You’ve been intimately connected with them during your formative years, with no choice about the matter. If you’re lucky, as I have been, they make your life richer. If not – well, I hate that for you.
I just finished reading French Braid, by Anne Tyler. I’ve always enjoyed her books and this one was no exception. It’s the story of three generations – the grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, children, spouses – that rich twining together of different strands, resulting in permanent waves even when the braid gets undone. I loved it. No – that’s not strong enough. I LOVED it.
And I’m so envious! She does – seemingly effortlessly, in all her books, but I know it’s not effortless – exactly what I wish I could do in my writing. She doesn’t force a story or plot, she doesn’t wrap it up in melodrama. She just allows us these glimpses into people’s minds and emotions, to a level you can never see if you just look at someone. She reveals that inner person you can never get to, no matter how close you are to someone else. She shows the ‘why’ of bumps and walls in relationships. And the lovely moments of understanding and empathy.
I have four children of my own, and I love to watch their interactions, their relationships. Three spouses have been added along the way, and they are just as dear to me. And now there are grandchildren who will grow up affecting and being affected by their own siblings and cousins. It’s already evident, even though they’re all under the age of five.
Siblings don’t always get along. They’re not always compatible, even in the best of situations. My sister Lori and I shared a bedroom, and she always wanted to talk after lights out. I wanted to sleep. (and I didn’t really want the reams of Big Sisterly advice she loved to dispense – we were so typically oldest child and middle child at that point!) (And we still have different sleep requirements!) But we’re still close now, we can laugh together, we have cried together. We’ve misunderstood each other and then had those moments of absolute enlightenment. I can say that of my other sisters as well, even though our age differences meant our childhood relationships were different. Birth order does matter! My youngest sister, Jacki, is eleven years my junior. I helped to diaper her, feed her, take her for walks. I have maternal instincts about her that I don’t for Debbie or Lori, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes not. She’s a very capable person and doesn’t need those instincts, yet sometimes I just can’t help myself. Being a sibling is an ongoing process. Lori and I are becoming (ack!) elderly. Deb and Jacki are still hitting their stride in some ways.
Eh, all of this is probably more than you want to know…..
Anyway, I highly recommend French Braid to anyone who enjoys character-driven novels, family relationship novels, or just plain fine reading. The final chapter, in particular, is especially satisfying, set in 2020 during the initial quarantine. (the entire book covers about 30 years)
And here’s to Sibling Day. Siblings (and cousins – some of my cousins feel as close as siblings) who, for better or worse, have so much effect on our lives.
(ALL the siblings - three generations)