I spent last weekend with my mom and my aunts, who just happen to be four of my favorite humans on the planet. We gathered in Cincinnati to celebrate a milestone birthday and it was perfect. We shopped at thrift stores, grooved to a 40s big band concert, and watched movies, but mostly we ate and talked. Then we napped. And then we ate some more and talked some more.
There are only eight years between my mom (the oldest) and her youngest sister, and the fab four are about as close as siblings can get. They are smart and sharp and hilariously funny. They razz each other constantly with laughing ‘zingers’ rooted in deep affection. They care about politics, good books, and healthy food and will talk for hours on those and other topics – drinking wine and eating cookies and catching up.
In addition to being each other’s friends, confidants, wardrobe critics, and nutrition coaches, what I see whenever we’re together is that my aunts are – above all – the keepers of each other’s memories. I lost count of how many conversations during the weekend started with the words – “do you remember…” followed by a tale from their childhood. Memories of dresses made and meals eaten, events celebrated and gifts given. One sister would start the narrative and the others would jump in, adding their own details, arguing affably when the decades-old memories didn’t perfectly align.
My family’s stories form the heart of our identity. They are the threads that weave us together.
When I spend time with my extended family, I’m very conscious of my status as an only child. I recognize that my own narrative isn’t as strong as theirs is because it is formed from a single set of memories. I marvel at the details my mothers and my aunts are able to conjure together and I harbor strong suspicions that my own ability to recount childhood escapades thirty years from now will be paltry in comparison.
When I found out that I was expecting a second daughter, I started browsing Etsy for cute room décor ideas. I came across a plaque that read: “Sister: keeper of secrets, sharer of stories.” I didn’t buy it, due to an inexplicable aversion to calligraphy wall art, but the sentiment still makes me smile as I watch my girls grow up.
At the moment, my children aren’t particularly good at being the keepers of each other’s secrets. They’re still in the “blabber of all secrets, particularly if someone gets in trouble” phase. But I look at them playing together, scheming together, brawling together – and I know that they’re building the memories that they will someday become their shared childhood narrative.
For example: the time they got up early on April Fool’s Day to write messages on the bathroom mirror in shaving cream, only to have their carefully-crafted missive slide down off the mirror before it could be fully appreciated. And how we’d spent the night before camped out at their grandparents’ house because the plumbing in our house had gone haywire and the toilets wouldn’t flush and there was standing water in the bathroom. And so their mom was tired and cranky and not entirely amused by their sudden interest in April Fool’s Day pranks, but she was an amazing good sport. (At least I hope that last part makes it into the story.)
My mom and her sisters are the reason I have three kids. Although I enjoyed the privileged life of a financially-secure only child (we took a lot of great vacations), I decided pretty early on in my adulthood that I wanted my children to have siblings because it just looked like so much fun. I wanted them to have built-in friends and a life-long support system. I want them to text each other recipe suggestions and inside jokes, even if they live hundreds of miles apart. I hope to one day preside, as the white-haired matriarch, over rowdy family gatherings full of loving partners, happy grandchildren, great food, and stories that begin with the words “do you remember…?”