Monday, April 2, 2012

Goddesses in the Dirt: Sisters, Then and Now



In the mid-1960s, my mother and her sisters, brothers and mother stayed for several days at a beach house on the California coast, gathering for a family reunion - Mom is pictured here, in the middle, with her mother and two sisters, sharing a laugh and relishing in each other's company. Over the intervening decades, all have passed on except for my aunt Nonie, the woman seated on the floor with the impish grin.


This past week, I came out to California to stay at a beach house located not far down the coast, to gather with my sisters and brother for a family reunion some 40 years later, in celebration of Nonie's 85th birthday - the last surviving sister.


The party was held at a favorite seaside restaurant of Nonie's, with about 30 family members who came in from all over the country for the celebration. As with my mother's reunion, there were lots of laughs, jokes and memories shared. Afterwards, we took Aunt Nonie back to her house and saw these photographs on her bookcase, of my mother, Nonie and my aunt Mary Kay. Looking at the images of these beautiful women, it struck me how full of life they were, ready to set out in the world. I knew the paths their lives would take: one of them would fly airplanes, one would travel to points far east and west, eventually meeting her husband in postwar Germany, one would stay close to home, faithfully caring for their mother. 


My sisters and I took a moment to gather with Aunt Nonie for a photograph, another generation with their own set of unique stories.

Sisters, family and memories were on my mind as I set out for an early run this morning along the boardwalk near our beach house. Gunmetal gray waves washed onshore, silvered rays broke through clouds, surfers speckled the water.

Just as I passed the Crystal Pier an old man approached me. He was clutching a bouquet of flowers and smiled, a gap where two teeth were missing. I slowed, then stopped. He reached out and handed me a tiny spring of olive leaves. Beaming, he pronounced, in a thick eastern European accent:

Is for you.


I couldn't detect from his accent what country he was from, but for a moment I toyed with the idea it might be Slovenia, the land of my mother's ancestors. I took the branch with a smile, thanking him. For a moment I wondered if I should leave it on a bench once he walked away, but then I changed my mind. Some people looked at me strangely as I sprinted by, clutching the branch, the leaves bobbing as I dodged dogs and skateboarders.

Returning to the house, we sorted through old family photographs. We shared stories from the past, some sad, some happy. We read from my mother's diary and learned things we didn't know about her. My brother eventually returned to his home, leaving us, three sisters, once again; laughing, sharing stories and memories, in a house by the sea.


Later on in the day, I was packing, setting the last pieces of clothing in my suitcase. Underneath my running clothes, I spied the leaves. I thought of the old man, coming out of nowhere, offering the olive branch. Maybe he was from Slovenia, maybe not, but it didn't matter - he was a messenger. 

To me, the olive is a symbol of beauty, peace, and love - these things we wish for anyone who is near and dear to us. I am thinking of three sisters who are here now, honoring the lives and memory of three sisters who were here, decades ago. Taking my cue from the old man on the boardwalk, I'll pass his message along. As I get ready to leave tomorrow morning, I'll leave the olive branch behind, but not before I whisper to myself: 


To Nonie, Mary Kay and Margaret....


Is for you.

23 comments:

  1. These photos are much like those of my mom's and her sisters. They provide a very special bond for us and a certain way of seeing ourselves in the world. It's a trip isn't it? Seeing yourself in your older relatives and of course, in your present family. Thanks for sharing these Amanda!

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    1. rubye,

      i do see myself and my sisters in our mom and aunts, but we certainly never had such lovely portraits taken as were done back then - they are true classics.

      you are so right - connecting with our family elders does offer a very powerful way of seeing ourselves in the world~

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  2. What a lovely story! I love the olive branch part especially, it seems so symbolic of long life, and love, family etc.
    And the photos of the sisters (both sets), how beautiful they all are.

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  3. Why is it that when we view photographs from decades past, the eyes of the subjects seem more clear? So is Nonie the one in the center of the framed photographs?

    (Reading this and trying to get a proper visual of you running with the bouquet makes me wonder how large it was.)

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    1. suze, that is nonie in the middle, the beloved little sister. i will take another look to see what you're saying about the eyes being more clear, but there is something about these older portraits that is very distinct from those taken these days.

      the branch was not that big - but enough so that i garnered a few strange looks!

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  4. What a wonderful story, amanda. Thanks you for sharing it.

    I wish I had some pictures like yours. I don't think I have ever seen a picture of my mothers whole family together. Though I have vague recollections of having met most of her brothers and sisters, if not all.

    I live now far away from the rest of my cousins, and their children. Just recently I began looking into my father's family. Not many of us. But worth recovering.

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    1. such a beautiful post amanda, the photos and your moving words. last year i lost my aunt, my grandmother and my mom. having photos along with memories mean so much.
      safe travels back home. xxx

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  5. good that you have such a tradition of meetings of the family! Nice to see such pictures when many years have gone...

    Life and travelling
    Cooking

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  6. i love this; love the sense of family and continuity - i miss that so much. My mother had identical photos taken with the string of pearls and same hairstyle - except she was blonde. Wonderful meeting with the old man and the olive branch gift.

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  7. This was a wonderful read this morning...I have three daughters...each a sister to the others...Thank you, Glenn

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  8. What a beautiful post Amanda - so touching. I love old family photos. I have a collection of them. I love the glimpses I get of people who have passed on and of the lives they led. I am the collector of memories in the family, it seems.

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  9. Thank you sweet Amanda for sharing this and for giving us a peak of the wonderful woman in photos. I think once you write it and share it,it continues to live on and on. Big hugs friend,Cat

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  10. "Is for you" ... what a magical gift!

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  11. I have always wished for a sister - my two brothers did not count, I thought. How much more can you share with a sister!
    A few weeks ago an unknown second cousin of my husband`s called us and sent us old documents and pictures of their common grandmothers (sisters), along with memories that her own granny had shared on her 90th birthday which she had written down... She (Granny) talked of her youth and the woollen long stockings she had to wear and mornings at the beach and the games she and her sisters had played... young folks then like ours now. How quickly time passes, and yet, how much there is in each life! Oh, and I also cherish such encounters with strangers. There is a sudden nearness, out of the blue. And you don`t need to have known them before - at this moment you do!

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  12. I was deeply moved by your post. Thank you. Wish I would have been the old man with the olive branch.
    Paul C.

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  13. What a wonderful family you have with such interesting and lively faces.

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  14. This is a wonderful tradition!! Keep it on Amanda! Happy Easter time for you and your lovely family!!

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  15. amanda.....

    the circle of life, that's what i keep thinking as i read and respond to this. your mother and her sisters, you and your sisters.

    it all gives me chills, the kind of chills that reassure me that we are all connected, that we never really pass on, that an old man with an olive branch is no more a coincidence that the sun that rises every morning no matter what

    thank you for this lovely lovely post, amanda. you may know my mother has been hallucinating and she is talking to her sisters, often in french, in a way that is so casual and comfortable that i feel privy to a part of her i did not know

    happy easter ♥
    love
    kj

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  16. Dear *Twin*.....ah, YOU know I understand all of this powerful post. It is truly beautiful, meaningful and inspirational. That's all I can say....je comprehend...

    Much love on this Easter Morning,

    ♥ Robin ♥

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  17. A really lovely post,great photos and wonderful faces!

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  18. An archaeologist's beautiful incursion into your own "personal" past and present; and the incident of the mysterious bearer of the olive branch is eerie and perfect.

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  19. Very touching post, Amanda. The olive branch is a powerful symbol you received and gave to your sisters. Thank you for sharing this with us, for reminding us that a family always holds the most important element in our lives.

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  20. I've just discovered you while researching Brigid, whose spirit inspires me. Such a lovely blog. Thank you for taking the time. Peace.

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