Wednesday, 1 May 2013

There were four sisters

and now there is just one of them left. 
A cousin phoned my father last night with the not unexpected news that another, older cousin had died. It is not an occasion for any great sadness. She was almost 91, almost unable to speak due to illness and no longer able to do anything for herself. It is remarkable that she lived as long as she did.
It leaves just one of the four sisters in that family. They were all, in their own way, rather extraordinary people.
I corresponded with the eldest one for many years. She had done the Grand Tour of the Continent, Ireland, Wales, England and then went "home" to Scotland where she stayed for the war years and did things that she never really talked about but the government obviously approved. Later, before it became fashionable, she trekked in the Himalaya, explored the Silk Route and visited tribal Afghanistan and Pakistan before heading into Tibet and back through India, Burma (as it then was) and Ceylon (as it then was). She did it the hard way, carrying her own kit and living with the locals.
Eventually she "settled down" and lived as an artist in New Zealand. She married a boat builder when both of them decided that they were "old enough to need someone else around". 
The second sister worked for a short while as a receptionist and then married. She was distinctly odd. In old age she wore brilliant yellow, lurid pink, lime green and electric blue outfits - all with long, floating scarves and a great deal of make-up. Her garden was as wild as she was. The house was untidier than ours. She read voraciously and embarrassed her only child by reciting poetry outside his school gates while waiting for him. At six years of age he refused to allow her to accompany him anywhere. He left home early and has not been seen since. My godfather ended up doing all her paperwork in her old age because she had no idea about the real world - genuinely no idea.   
The third sister, the one who has just died, was a little more conventional - but only just. She had two boys who loved her dearly. They would have done anything for her. She did all manner of things with them but not in a manner which embarrassed them. There would be a "cricket school" in their street every summer - run by her. It was an informal affair. The kids would be playing cricket in the street. She would come out and do a little bowling and show them how to hold the bat. She paid for the occasional broken window pane too. Her garden was wild and wonderful. Many people were the beneficiaries of an excess of fruit and vegetables.
She played a mean game of Scrabble and could do a crossword faster than anyone I have ever known. She could spin, dye, knit and sew. Her family wore the results long before the word "hippie" was known. She was another voracious reader.
And now there is just the youngest sister left. We worked out that she must be 88. She is the most conventional of them all. She lives with her husband in a retirement village in another country. 
"The others," she once told the Senior Cat, "are madder than the Mitfords. I just had to get away from them."

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