The things a mother taught her daughters

From our April 2014 issue

By Hilda Born – Abbotsford, B.C.

Sibling relationships are some of the strongest and most enduring. Sisters share your memories, only in a different way. You had the same parents and lived in the same house, but it looked different to each of us. We even had the same kind of clothes mostly, but we didn’t always like them equally well.

It was the same with food. The menu was plain and simple – no variety of choices – and you ate what was there or did without.

When visitors came to see our parents, they couldn’t tell Tena and me apart because we were similar in size. But we knew we were different in almost everything. Even in shoes – Tena’s had holes in the soles in no time, and mine seldom wore out, although I could run faster and beat her in tag and races.

I had three sisters: Mary is six years older and Tena was just a year older. Our youngest sister, Lore, arrived when Mary was grown and away from home and I was a teenager. Mother taught all four of us girls how to mend, embroider, and sew essential things like aprons and curtains.

Mary excelled in dressmaking which we often saw in pretty clothes her four daughters wore. Mary also took care of mother’s clothing alterations during her dozen years in the Menno home.

In my scrap bag, I still have remnants of a matched plaid outfit that Mary sewed for me. Nearby are swatches of the ruffled white baptism frocks that Tena sewed for both of us.

Gifts with flair

Our youngest sister, Lore, is noted for her artistry in floral and hair design. Every gift from her is wrapped with flair. Often I am reluctant to open the pretty package.

In 1965, I accompanied my widowed mother on a visit to her remaining sister in Manitoba. There I made a sibling discovery. Although separated by miles and provinces, their speech and gestures were similar. Their jokes and tastes in food and dress were almost alike. We were even more surprised to find sisterly likeness in Jake’s family.

My mother-in-law, an orphan, lived with her oldest sister until she married at age 19. That same year, she and my father-in-law, left the Ukraine and came to Canada in 1926. She, the youngest of 10, never saw her siblings again.

During the war and Stalinist purges, even letter contact was impossible. She clung to her own family, but missed her faraway siblings. However, in 1997, Jake and I managed to connect with relatives and visit mom’s youngest sister, who had moved to Germany.

In a flower-decorated, four-generation home, we met Jake’s frail aunt, Helena. She sure looked like his mom. She had high colour in her cheeks and her speech and mannerisms were similar to the way we remembered my mother-in-law! The family resemblance was clearly there in spite of decades and continents of separation.

When we sisters grew up, we were fortunate that our husbands were also good friends. Even after the Teichrobs moved to Chilliwack, we visited often and camped and travelled together. But cancer changed all that.

In 1990, we tried to visit Mary and Henry Wiens weekly before pancreatic cancer took him on Oct. 10. Soon Tena, too, was operated on and treated for breast cancer.

A hopeful hostess

Her cancer came and went and we didn’t talk much about the disease she hoped to overcome. On our last visit, just a week before she died she assured us: “When I get stronger, we’ll have friends over and serve them a simple meal of soup and pie.”  She was still a hopeful hostess.

For her final ambulance ride she insisted on being presentable in her new Christmas nightie. No doubt the angels had an even more sparkling gown for her that evening!

Cancer also took both our brothers. Frank, the younger, finished his 12-year kidney tumour fight in 1998. John followed three years later, after a short bout of pancreatic-liver cancer. He bravely accepted its course with painkillers, but no chemo or radiation.

Time has shown me how fortunate I was to grow up with three sisters and two brothers. Our feelings changed as we matured. We learned to live with our own limitations and accept each other’s shortcomings.

I am grateful that I have strong bonds with both my sisters. We will always need each other!

Klassen kids (back left) Hilda, Tena, (front) Frank, and John.