Genes, Generations and The Sisterhood

Soon I will be an old, white-haired lady, into whose lap someone places a baby, saying, “Smile, Grandma!” – I, who myself so recently was photographed on my grandmother’s lap.  ~Liv Ullman

I am home with a cold. I’m exhausted. I look at least every one of my years. Never a good time to look in a mirror. But I did it nonetheless. It wasn’t intentional, just happened in passing. And it was a shock. I look like Nana.

My grandmother on my father’s side was the family matriarch. She was a strong woman and generally ruled without challenge. When my father was scouted by a professional baseball team when he was young, it was Nana who said no because he had to go to university. She won. When another family member was dating a Catholic, it was Nana who said no because that wasn’t the family faith. She won. (At least for the next thirty or so years. That’s a true love story but not mine to tell.) And when my grandfather wanted to do anything Nana didn’t want him to do, she won. Always.

Nana was also a master shopper. Never paid full retail for anything. She often bought things not because she needed them but because they were on sale and too good to pass up. She kept a closet full of stuff that eventually became birthday gifts, shower gifts, Christmas gifts, whatever was required. Sort of like those boxes of all occasion cards. As a child, when we went to visit, I always snuck away from the adults to burrow into the back of the closet to see what treasures it might hold. And to this day, whenever we find a great deal on something, my sister and I congratulate ourselves and say that Nana would be proud.

My grandmother also paid cash for everything, a strategy that eventually worked against her when she wanted to get cable television. She wasn’t allowed to open an account because she had no credit rating. Not a bad rating, no rating at all. She was livid. But she fixed it. She went out, bought a new fridge on credit at the local department store where she was known, paid it off the following month, and sent it back not long after. Instant credit rating. She got her cable. She wasn’t a woman you messed with. (I’ve taken a few liberties with the details of this part of the story – mostly because I can’t quite remember them all – but you get the point.)

Most grandmas have a touch of the scallywag.  ~Helen Thomson

Nana’s life wasn’t an easy one. She was a white Finn who emigrated to Canada as a girl. She didn’t believe in socialism and worried about what the neighbours would think. She loved to invite her neighbours in to play canasta or bridge and she loved to win. She was tough, competitive in her own way and often rigid. Things were right or they were wrong, black or white. She knew with certainty which was which. Regardless of whether I would have agreed with her had I been old enough to have an opinion, I have no doubt that whatever decisions she made, she did what she thought was best for her family.

As a role model, there were many things about her to admire and many that weren’t for me.

So when I look in the mirror and see an image of Nana, it’s a bit scary and more than a little disconcerting. She was in her fifties when I was born, about my age now. She wore dresses every day and pinned up her hair. When she was my age, she had put on some weight and had become a substantial woman. And her face, with its broad cheekbones, high forehead and squarish shape, had begun to sag so that small jowls rode gently along her jawline and her neck had begun to gather in folds. I guess I always knew that some day I would look more like her. We share genes after all and I favour that side of the family.

What’s the good of news if you haven’t a sister to share it?  ~Jenny DeVries

I lamented this look with my sister in a series of text messages. She travels a lot for work too so texting has become one of our favourite means of communication. I wrote: OMG! I’M SICK, I’M EXHAUSTED AND I LOOK LIKE NANA! She wrote back, like a true sister, “I’m at a conference and someone just guessed my age at 40.” She’s fifty.

This would be very satisfying for her. She and I are seven years apart. But for years, when people would meet us together, they often asked who was older. “You look so much alike!” they`d say, “It’s easy to see you two are sisters!” In fact, we don’t look much alike at all but we do share mannerisms and speech patterns so it’s an understandable mistake.

Our siblings.  They resemble us just enough to make all their differences confusing, and no matter what we choose to make of this, we are cast in relation to them our whole lives long.  ~Susan Scarf Merrell

And now I suppose it’s time for payback.

I asked Baby Sister what she knew about facelifts. Not surprisingly, she had lots of data at her fingertips. That’s just the kind of person she is. Whenever I need to know something quickly, I call her. She’s frighteningly smart. She suggested a procedure involving what sounds like fishing line that runs along your jaw line and lifts it all up. Threading or something. I envision this fishing line exiting just in front of my ears and winding around them so I can just crank it around another turn every morning.

Then she suggested that maybe I should accept the philosophy of “The Velveteen Rabbit” and be real and beautiful. Real and beautiful is easiest, said I, but least satisfying. We tossed around the idea of putting it on a t-shirt: I’m beautiful because I’m real. Not sure I’d wear it though. I think people would accept real. Not so sure about beautiful.

You can kid the world.  But not your sister.  ~Charlotte Gray 

Eventually Baby Sister said she liked the way Nana looked. That unless I had changed drastically since we last saw each other a few weeks ago, I did not in fact look like Nana. And maybe I’d look better when I wasn’t sick and tired. A true sister.

I related all this to Sweetie who said, “You always look real and beautiful to me.” I gave him his Valentine present early. (It’s a book. I’m sick.)

From the 1954 movie White Christmas which, if you must know, was made the year after I was born.


About saxbergonstuff

I'm a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a daughter, an auntie. When I'm not focusing on that, I'm an educator, facilitator and content designer. When I feel like it.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Aging Gracefully (or trying to), Books, Life and Family Stories and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Genes, Generations and The Sisterhood

  1. Kai Lai says:

    Barb, I loved this post! I found it amusing, introspective, retrospective, prospective, sad and happy.

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