Sibling relationships hold powerful bonds

From our April 2014 issue

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

By Hilda Born – Abbotsford, B.C.

Sibling relationships are some of the strongest and most enduring. My sisters share my memories, only in a different way.

We 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 and there was no variety of choices. We ate what was there or we did without.

When visitors came to see our parents, they couldn’t tell my sister Tena and me apart. 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.

I had three sisters: Mary is six years older; 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 and we often saw it in the pretty clothes her four daughters wore. Mary also took care of mother’s clothing alterations during her dozen years in the long term care home.

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

A sibling discovery

In 1965, I accompanied my widowed mother on a visit to her remaining sister in Manitoba. There I made a remarkable sibling discovery. Although separated by miles and provinces, their speech and gestures were very similar. Their jokes and tastes in food and dress were almost alike.

We were even more surprised to find sisterly likenesses in my husband Jake’s family. My mother-in-law, an orphan, lived with her oldest sister until she married at 19. That same year, 1926, she and my father-in-law left the Ukraine and came to Canada. She was the youngest of 10 and never saw her siblings again.

During the war and Stalinist purges, even letter contact was impossible. She clung to her immediate family, but missed her faraway siblings. In 1997, Jake and I managed to connect with relatives and visit his 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 and her speech and mannerisms were similar to the way we remembered my mother-in-law! The family resemblance was clearly there, despite decades and continents of separation.

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

We tried to visit Mary and her husband Henry Wiens weekly before pancreatic cancer took him. 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.

Time has shown me how fortunate I was to grow up with three sisters and two brothers. Our feelings changed as we matured and we learned to live with our own limitations and accept each other’s shortcomings. I am grateful to have had such strong bonds with my siblings.

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