Sisters Growing Up
© Marie Guillot
All night, alone in the empty house, I was unwittingly
watching a slow motion movie of my younger years, as I waited for the lorry of destruction. At dawn, I dragged the last remnants out into the street, to add to the pile of household leftovers dumped the day before. I watched a box of books follow a mattress into the refuse truck's compactor, which gobbled them with a crunching jerk. My books. My mattress, possibly the one I was born on, some fifty years ago.
Three boys and three girls. Geraldine was the last child and I came just before her. The two of us were brought up together, reared by hand, you could say. But our interests were totally apart: she was a vulnerable and artistic soul, and I, a rational but impulsive mind.
I used dolls, all lined up on a bed, to teach them. She used fabrics to dress them and jewelry for their embellishment. Both of us had a pram. In mine, I often carried around one of our cats, quite at ease since he could jump out any time he wanted.
At night, after our family curfew, I used a small flash light to read under the sheet. Geraldine was horrified by my boldness and was actually afraid for me.
I did not fear punishment. To me, it was the logical result of my actions. I thought it fun to bully my small sister, or to write on a wall, or to try plugging a wire directly into the wall socket. Then, I denied doing it which, most of the time, was the reason for being punished. My parents knew their progeny.
Christmas was family time, as in most European countries. Le petit Jésus (Baby Jesus) was our benefactor. There were Santas in town but they did not seem to have much importance at the time. I suppose their business took off later, maybe in the sixties.
Around mid-December, my mother would cover a wooden box with brown paper to make up a barn and take out the santons (figurines) from a cupboard. During the following days, each child in turn placed one character or animal into the crib, until all were there but le petit Jésus.
On Christmas morning, no matter how early we got up, we found the baby already lying in the minuscule manger. The alerted parents came downstairs and all of us opened the gifts with great expectations.
It was the only time of the year when I was getting my own sweets. One year, I was spoiled with a fancy box where about twenty chocolate squares of different colours were aligned neatly inside golden cups. I resisted for a while but surrendered soon: it took me only fifteen minutes to eat all of them.
Another time, my Christmas present was a small table and a chair, something I had always wanted. Geraldine got a second chair and the right to sit at my table. Our parents should have known better! I immediately wrote my name under my chair with a chalk (mine, all mine), but the table became a perpetual subject of conflict between us. My wicked brain would always find a good reason to prevent my sister to sit with me. Our mother used to say: “If two sisters cannot live peacefully under the same roof, it is not surprising that there are wars in the world.” I was certainly not ready to hear that.
The eldest siblings were in-and-out during the week, but came back for the week-ends. Our brothers spoke freely, made stupid jokes and were not fussy about most things. With their little sisters, they were patient and caring. Geraldine and I always agreed on the fact that it was great fun when they were present.
At special celebrations, the children were provided with an elegant verre à pied (wine glass) and my father poured an amount of wine proportional to each age. Before drinking, he would demonstrate how to look at the colours and shades, to smell deeply into the glass and to taste the wine with very small sips. I never went pass the first sip: the smell of alcohol disgusted me, every time. Geraldine thrived during those sessions and was praised, while they made fun of me. That did not bother me at all. I did not feel that it was shameful not to like something, even if the whole world liked it.
Two sisters growing up, finally reconciled through a shared interest in nature. With a clatter that shook the awakening city of Versailles, the lorry took off, leaving the three hundred-year-old house empty and lonely.