It’s always strange to me that now I have my own family that I don’t often talk about the people I grew up with. It’s not because they’re less important now, it’s just that it seems like such a distant memory, and in the case of my sister, is really is. I was six when she left home. I don’t remember her when we were growing up really, I have a few memories, when she was told to look after me and took me out with her and her friends, or getting told off by her for touching her things. There is a time I vaguely recall, although I might just recall it because the story was told back to me years later, when I had used the drawers in her dresser as stairs (Siobhan has this now) to reach the top of it to touch her things. I’d pulled the drawers out too far and the entire thing fell over and pinned me beneath it.
In my house, this was cause for much hilarity. Like the time I decided to shave my legs in the bath, nicked myself behind the knee and the entire bath turned pink, or at least, it seemed to. I thought I was dying, and screamed and screamed, Michelle and my mother came running in to save me, saw me in the bath, screaming with a razor in my hand and fell around laughing. Is it any wonder I am the mother I am I ask you? She and my brother used to get me out of my cot when I was wee and take me into their room and teach me to swear, then roll around screaming and laughing when I repeated the words. It was all fun and games until dad caught me chasing John around the house with a stick screaming “you f***ing b**tard!” at him while he gleefully kept juuuust out of reach and squealed with laughter infuriating me further so that I’d keep chasing him. Your story is coming big brother. Ah, revenge, sweet, sweet revenge!
Anyway, I spent most of my summers at her place in Takaka when I was between the ages of about 11 and 14. Mum would put me on the bus and six hours later, I’d be over the mountain and she’d pick me up in their really old car and take me home. I’d stay up late in my room reading Narnia and freaking out at the insane silence of the country. She took me everywhere, usually on the back of her pushbike. The smell of the country is still one of my fondest memories. Cow shit and grass. I love it. I loved wearing gumboots and oversized Swandri’s and walking around in the mud and rain in mornings so early that I have literally forgotten what they look like. I remember how crisp and clean everything was. How silent. She had German Shepard’s and I would fall asleep by the fire on top of her male dog. We’d go to the neighbours and I’d ride the clydesdales while they worked.
The beaches in Takaka are amazing. Their is nothing that compares to them in the world. They are rugged and salty and we would go out into caves that you could only reach in low tide, spend too long out there and almost be stranded when the tide came back in. It was frightening and exhilarating all at once. The smell of salt air and the cool breeze that turned your face pink and our curly hair into frizzy oblivion still gives me pangs of nostalgia. Everything always seemed so free and easy when I stayed with her. I never really thought about time, it just passed and every day was always different. She had caves in her backyard. There was always something to do, some place to see, new things to learn. She was mother while I was away from home.
She worked for this woman who’s husband was in the last stages of altzheimers. I remember her pushbiking with me, an 11 or so year old on the back, up the hills to his house and she would take care of him. Feed him, talk to him, and he would lay there in his chair, a shell of a man, thin and making inarticulate noises. I remember knowing that he was going to die, and thinking that that must be what death looks like. It scared me, and fascinated me, and I could never fully come to grips with the reality of it. I really loved spending summers with my sister. She had what I thought, was the most amazing life. I learned a lot there, about myself, other people and what it was like to be away from my parents.
Michelle and I grew close when she moved back from Takaka following her split with her first son’s father. I was 18 and we’d go to bars together and get totally tanked. She was 27 at the time. We had a lot of fun, I stayed at her place as often as she’d have me, we’d listen to music, we’d talk about relationships, sex, vulgar things that you can only talk to sisters about and we finally got to be what I imagine other sisters are like. We were close, we were no longer mother/daughter, but sisters. Our ages, still vastly different stopped being so gapingly obvious now we were grown up. We shared everything, we got rottenly drunk and we enjoyed every minute of it.
Michelle was there when I gave birth to Siobhan, along with both my parents and Ollie. Busy room. She held her moments after she was born. I had one foot on my midwife, one foot on my sister, my father on my left with my mother, my (now) husband on my right when Siobhan came into the world. She was surrounded in family and people who loved her, and so was I. It was an amazing experience, one I was still young enough to be horrified by, and too tired and sore to care at all that all these people were standing around me while I was buck naked and pushing new life into the world. It’s a pretty strange experience when you’re 19.
Michelle met her husband and moved up North, and we have had sparodic contact ever since. She came to my wedding a few years ago, I miss her a lot actually. She taught me a lot about myself and who we are as a family. She has three boys now, and I’ve only meet two of them once. Her oldest I haven’t seen since he was about 10? Apparently he’s a big man now. That amazes me. He was always so little, I can’t imagine him grown up and having a life of his own.
She has her own business now. She owns a shop in Thames and sells crystals, local arts and crafts and all kinds fabulous, crazy stuff. Michelle is one of those people who can find crystals and four leaf clovers almost anywhere. She’d sit on the lawn and come back with a handful of them. I never found one. Every single time she’d go out, she’d come back with more.
She’s also a tarot reader and a healer, she’s an artist and a dreamer and my big sister.