Starving for Sisterly Conversation | Part 1 of 3

by Elouise

Hunger.  A fierce, relentless presence.  Sometimes for food when I was a child, later for sisterly conversation.  Not friendly polite talk, but safe, open, honest two-way conversation about our fears, agonies and dreams as we were growing up in the 1950s.

It wasn’t that we consciously chose not to talk with each other as sisters; it just wasn’t safe.  Besides, back then I wasn’t aware of being hungry for this.  I focused instead on staying out of trouble.  Sadly, I didn’t pull that off very well.

Starvation Rations
The Good Girls Rule about not talking with my sisters after lights out was high on my must-keep list.  I knew Daddy was waiting outside the door, listening for any hint of rebellion—not necessarily angry voices, but even happy, giggly, having fun voices.  No matter which voices we used, it was wrong.  Nothing but dead (!) silence would do.

I carried this dead silence with me right into my adult years.  It was easy.  I married and we moved away.  Only once did I live in the same city as one of my sisters—for a very short time.

Telephone conversations and occasional letters to and from my three sisters were informational and interesting.  Occasional visits with each other were pleasant and fun, especially when we began having babies.  I didn’t feel the need for more—which might only complicate my already busy home and professional life.

Sometimes as I observed other adult sisters who were actually best of friends, I felt a twinge of regret.  But I had no stomach or time for doing anything about it.   Besides, I didn’t seem to need that kind of relationship with my sisters.

Yes, I had developed a severe case of IBS, and had become seriously depressed.  But my relationship lack of relationship with my sisters didn’t seem connected to any of that.

In fact, there’s a lot my sisters and I did with each other when we were growing up:

  • Played games indoors—caroms, Chinese checkers, Pit, pretend school (I’m the teacher!), guessing games….to name a few
  • And outdoors—dodge ball, bike riding, hide and seek, jump rope, Simon Says, swinging on tree branches and climbing trees….to name a few
  • Presented home-made skits and plays for the family
  • Collected pecans from the pecan grove on each side of the driveway and shelled them in the fall; crabbed from our dock and picked crabmeat in the summer
  • Went to school and to church in the family car—no arguing about who gets the window seat
  • Got Mother’s Day breakfast ready for Mother and surprised her in bed with breakfast and cards and a gift
  • Went visiting on Sunday afternoons with our parents to see elderly people in retirement homes, and friends from church—no arguing, no loud voices, best behavior required
  • Sang in church and elsewhere in 3-part harmony while Mother played the piano or small portable electric organ
  • Competed consciously and unconsciously for limited resources and parental approval
  • Argued a lot, pushing and shoving and sometimes hitting
  • Told on each other as needed

A Dream
I had a dream in September 2012, over six years after Sister #3, Diane, died of ALS.  It helps me identify what was missing in my relationship with my sisters–what my hunger was then and sometimes still is about.  From my dream journal—

I’m in a room with other women, listening to a presentation about food and health.  The setting is informal.  I’m sitting on a large bed with two other women.  They’re seated just behind me, to my right.

The room is semi-dark so we can see the PowerPoint slides the speaker is using.  Though I already know much of what’s being discussed, I’m happy for the reminders and am picking up new ideas.  As the speaker gets close to the end of the presentation, the two women behind me begin making comments to each other about the presentation.

Soon I’m having difficulty focusing on the presentation, and turn to ask them please to lower their voices or wait until the end of the presentation.  They don’t seem to like this interference, but they lower their voices.

The presentation ends, and I decide to try one of the ideas the speaker talked about.  There’s a kitchen counter in the room.  I begin preparing a simple food item—carrots (I think) and some kind of nut butter or mashed white beans.

The [cooked] carrots are already cut up; my task is to use a large fork to mash the items together so they’re easy to swallow.  I put them on a large white square-shaped dinner plate and begin mashing them together.   I’m standing just next to a doorway.

One of the two women who were behind me walks up to the door, facing me.  She’s very tall and looks quite strong.  She makes a somewhat snide remark about me and what I’m doing.  I keep mashing away and think about how to respond.

I decide to tell her why I’m doing this.  I’m doing it because it reminds me of my sister Diane who died of ALS.  The woman goes very silent.  I tell her I learned a lot from being with Diane–including how to prepare her food so it was easy to swallow, and how to be with people who are dying.  I’m feeling strong and happy as I do this.  I tell her I’m planning to eat what I’m preparing, as a way of remembering Diane and her influence in my life.

I’m also hoping I can engage this woman in conversation.  She seems lonely for someone to talk with about real life.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 July 2014

Part 2 preview:  how this dream helps me identify what was missing