Barbara Kay: Sisters on the march


National Post - Tuesday April 14th, 2015

Peter J. Thompson/National Post
My older sister Anne and my younger sister Nancy and I aren’t clones of each other, but sometimes we feel like we are. We look alike, laugh alike (loud), often burst out into old Broadway tunes to make a point, and can count on each other for an honest opinion when we ask for it.

Last Friday was National Siblings Day, a relatively new and as yet unofficial day promoting appreciation of sisters and brothers. Makes sense: Parents raise us, but our identities and future relationships are powerfully influenced by siblings. They’re the only ones who share a literal lifetime of history with us.

My older sister Anne and my younger sister Nancy and I aren’t clones of each other, but sometimes we feel like we are. We look alike, laugh alike (loud), often burst out into old Broadway tunes to make a point, and can count on each other for an honest opinion when we ask for it (as well as when we don’t ask).

When I come to Toronto, we always schedule a brisk “Richmond sisters” walk. All follow a common trajectory.

Before we set out, each session typically begins with anxious head-to-toe eye sweeps to determine if any of us has gained or lost an ounce since our last meeting (thanks, compulsively calorie-counting mom), followed by analysis of who is most appropriately dressed for the weather. (I’m not saying we are competitive, just saying we act as though we were.)

Once we set out, we cover a lot of conversational ground

If someone is purging her wardrobe, this is when it happens. I scored on some very fetching cast-offs from Anne this time, and put in dibs on a spring coat Nancy wasn’t quite ready to part with, even though I earnestly assured her it was wrong for her, but so right for me. Anne coveted the beads Nancy was wearing, and proposed a swap for a scarf, but Nancy wouldn’t budge.

Once we set out, we cover a lot of conversational ground. In addition to being super-fast talkers, familiarity has bred contempt for normal social boundaries: since we can read each other’s minds and know how everyone’s sentences will end, we blithely interrupt and change the subject with frank rudeness we would never dream of exercising with others.

Discussion follows a predictable trajectory, from shallowly deep to deeply shallow.

Sunday we started out ambitiously enough — the Middle East, Cuba, cap-and-trade versus carbon taxes, Mike Duffy — but that’s stuff we can discuss with anyone, so it didn’t last long. Then we caught up on all our kids’ and grandkids’ lives. That was satisfying and informative, but not funny. We need a lot of funny (thanks dad, for whom any social hour without the expert recounting of a Jewish joke and a burst of appreciative laughter was an hour without sunshine).

Whatever she’s pushing, I always feel I have to get it immediately

What was up, I asked, with Margaret Atwood, who told London media she thinks Duchess Kate dresses “uneventfully,” comparing her fashion sense unfavourably to Princess Diana? Sheesh! How would she like it if Prince Harry trotted his horse over to a reporter during a polo match to opine that Atwood sucks as a writer compared to Alice Munro. I got my laugh, but “Don’t say that in writing!” prudent and responsible older sister Anne immediately cautioned. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” I lied.

Health and diet invariably get a big slice of our time. Nancy, who zealously follows Dr. Oz and a popular diet pundit called Hungry Girl, is our resident expert here. She always has something to astonish us with, and her enthusiasm can be infectious. Whatever she’s pushing, I always feel I have to get it immediately.

What’s the latest, we ask. “Instant peanut butter powder,” she says. “No way.” “Way.” Seriously? Yes, apparently you add water and you get peanut butter without the fat and half the calories. She says it’s delicious. I am skeptical, but will probably have to try it.

But wait, there’s something better. The spiralizer! It’s a gadget that turns zucchini into spaghetti! Nancy swears that the extruded zucchini can be dumped into tomato sauce, heated for 10 seconds and it tastes exactly like pasta. “No way.” “Way.”

That reminded Anne she needed croutons for a brunch salad, so Nancy and I happily spent five whole minutes in a grocery store helping her choose the perfect bag. ‘Cuz that’s how siblings roll.

That evening I gave a talk at Anne’s study group. Nancy came as a guest. Afterward, I asked her if she liked the talk. She said, “It was good. More important, where did you get that little black poncho thing you’re wearing? I want it.” As it happened, I had bought two of them, knowing this day would come. I gave her the one I was wearing as a Siblings Day gift. “Don’t tell Anne,” I said. “I won’t,” she lied.