Among the rocky crags

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My mother and her sister and brothers had a tradition where every few years when they came together as grown ups, they sat in the same position they occupied as children for the family photo. A tradition that lasted several decades until the first one died.

Now there is only one left, nothing remains but the memories and the photographs.

This last weekend my family of siblings, not all, but seven of us came together for yet another reunion and this time in the Blue Mountains. It was a long way to travel for all of us scattered throughout Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT, but we made the trip to reconnect and I’m glad we did.

I find myself censoring here, fearful that any of my siblings might read about my thoughts and fearful they might disapprove given I am not a spokesperson for us as a group and yet something impels me to write about this time away under the bluest of skies in the brittle cold of those rocky crags.

Most of us grew up together though the oldest had left home by the time the youngest of us was still in primary school and then the youngest among us stayed home a number of years after we older ones had left.

She did not remember where I was in my last year living at home. I am not there in her memory. And it’s strange how hard it is for me to hold her in my memory given that last year when I lived at home and my sister, the one younger than me, had gone back to boarding school because she could not bear the thought of living at home and getting through her final school year while I was starting university and had no such option. Not that I’d have wanted to go back to boarding school.

I thought I knew the Blue Mountains well given I’ve stayed at Varuna, The Writers House, in Katoomba a number of times, but somehow I managed to get us down to the wrong entrance to the cable cars, which meant we needed to pay for tickets on arrival at the main building from where all the scenic tours begin.

To be in such amazing structures slipping down to the rainforest floor and dangling across the sky thousands of metres above the ground in a yellow cable car was exhilarating.

My sisters and I share the same concern over heights and found ourselves reminding one another to look forward, not down, as a way of protecting ourselves from the dreaded vertigo and jelly legs that come to me whenever I rise to any height above ceiling level.

We stood at Echo Point and asked a passing tourist to oblige us with a photo. He took pleasure in capturing this group of aging siblings against the back drop of The Three Sisters.

The tourist also took photos of our four sisters in front of that sisterly rock formation and we stood together arms linked.

My brothers present, three tall greying bearded men stood side by side when it came their turn to pose for the camera. The two on the ends crossed their arms while the one in the middle dropped his arms to his sides.

We sisters urged them to move in closer and to smile.

‘That’s as much intimacy you’ll get out of us,’ one of my brothers said, as if we had asked for too much.

1962

1972

2009

The boys in my family find displays of affection even harder to muster than the girls. And speaking as one of those girls, I recognise how hard it is to get close and yet when it came to say goodbye on the Sunday, and each one of us hugged the other in turn, and the boys shook hands, there was a sadness, albeit tinged with eagerness to get back to our other lives.

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6 Comments on Among the rocky crags

  1. Jim Murdoch
    May 12, 2017 at 7:09 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I’ve never hugged my brother and I can only remember shaking his hand once, the last time we met in person or to be precise the last time we parted. As an adult I can remember hugging my mother once but never ever my father. My sister was more affectionate and we often hugged and kissed but only once she’d grown up. She initiated it and I remember that first hug clearly. My first marriage had come to an end and I was back living with my parents. My sister had her first proper boyfriend and I sat in the front room and I told them the story of my marriage from beginning to end after which she came over, kneeled in front of me (I was still seated) and wrapped her arms around me. It was completely unexpected and not at all unpleasant. I don’t know if she kissed me that day or not but somewhere along the line she started kissing we when we parted and on the lips too so that was the last physical contact I had with her. Her husband (thankfully not that first boyfriend) drove Carrie and me to the railway station and that’s where we said our last goodbyes. She said she’d let me know when she was passing through Glasgow and we could meet for a coffee but that’s never happened; I never expected it to although I believe she was sincere.

    My daughter and are hug and kiss all the time. I know there was a bit of a kerfuffle in the press a while ago after Victoria Beckham shared a snap showing her pecking her daughter on the lips. I couldn’t understand it personally. It’s all down to intent. The lack of physical contact between me and my parents did us no good whatsoever. And the same with my brother. We didn’t roughhouse or anything like that.

    The last time we met (after Mum died) I asked Carrie to take a photo of my sister, my brother and me for posterity as I never thought I’d see either of them again. A copy sits on the unit to my right as I write this. I’m not sure any other photo exists of the three of us together.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      May 12, 2017 at 11:53 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Now that’s sad, Jim, no shots other than a relatively recent one of you and your sibs together. You make it sound as though your family was more physically remote than mine. At least your contemporary family of Carrie and your daughter can enjoy closer contact. Thanks.

      Reply
  2. Karen C
    May 12, 2017 at 7:52 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I can’t imagine having relationships with 8 other siblings. I only have one and it has taken us the best part of 58 years to find a comfortable space.
    Like you, we both hold very different memories of the same people and events.
    On my husband’s side, we have a tradition of lining up the 10 cousins (getting harder and harder) in order of 1. family grouping, 2. age, 3. height. 4. goofballs.
    It’s been a must over 40 years and now they line up automatically like well-trained puppies.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      May 12, 2017 at 11:49 pm (2 weeks ago)

      It’s not easy, these wide sibships Karen, but they have their rewards. As for lining up, unlike my mother and her siblings, we gave it up long ago. Thanks Karen.

      Reply
  3. Marian Armstrong Rogers
    May 22, 2017 at 3:00 am (5 days ago)

    I’m glad I stumbled on this site when I began investigating memoir blogs to see if I could manage one. I’m working on stories for my second book, in particular one about my sisters and I. One was 13 years older, and we were in touch all my life — though for half she was like my second mother, and I was often her baby-sitter. My second sister was 10 years older, and in writing I am amazed to find that we were so seldom together after her marriage when she and her husband moved to Illinois (I was 11). And there were no easy phone calls then, since they were so expensive.
    I’m having trouble writing this story. Yet somehow we had a connection, and the three of us were together more in the last 10 years of their lives than we were when children.
    Still, I’m having a hard time writing: “The Armstrong Girls”. By the way each of my sisters had 8 children. I only had 4. And no brothers, no sons — I would have liked to have a bother or son, as well as sisters and daughters. (Have grandsons, though.)
    Thanks for these comments, and thanks, Karen, for the blog.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      May 23, 2017 at 8:30 am (4 days ago)

      Glad you’re finding this blog useful, Marion. It is hard to write memoir, harder than I first imagined but worth persevering. Blogging is easier and in many ways more fun though people tend to take blogs far less seriously for obvious reasons. Thanks, Marion.

      Reply

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