Happy birthday, Sally!
She’s sixteen years older than me and the gap when I was growing up seemed huge. She and my second sister, who is fourteen years older than me, were young women living away from home by the time I can remember them.
Like Laurie Lee, I was the baby in a big family, living on the land in a rural village. It was an idyllic upbringing and I have much to be thankful for. I was the youngest of five, brought up on dairy farm down a country lane edged with campions and gypsy lace, on the edge of a golden-stoned village in Somerset.
The third sister is eight years older than me and my only brother is six years my senior. I shared a double bed with the third sister, who would read me Don Quixote when I was eight and let me have a walk-on part with my deer with two strings in her legendary puppet shows.
My brother I hated, and the feeling was mutual. He disliked me because I was annoying, messed up his train set and had crushes on his friends. I couldn’t stand him because he would tease me (in one oft-quoted family story, he tricked me into eating a snail, complete with shell, which he’d found minding its own business on the side of the road). He also had a cooked breakfast when I had to make do with Weetabix.
The slights, now, seemed enormous then. But, in the grand scheme of things, I count myself extremely lucky, especially in a world where poverty and horrors are not confined to the Third World. I learned that when I was court reporting in little old Bridport thirty years ago. The experience led me to become a regular supporter of the NSPCC. Family life is not necessarily what it’s cracked up to be.
In my family, my brother was spoiled because he was the only boy. I was indulged because I was the youngest. And all our lives the two of us have been getting away with it.
I remember yelling at my brother when he had me in a headlock while mother and father were doing the milking and we were meant to be watching Animal Magic that if a policeman said I was allowed to kill him, I would. (Note the nod to the law, I wasn’t completely stupid. I wanted to commit a crime but without the punishment.) I am ashamed to say that when I was ten and he was critically injured in scooter accident, I really wanted him to die. Fortunately, he didn’t. Now we’re the best of friends.
My sister’s birthday got me thinking about sibling rivalry and whether the position you are in your family can affect you as you are growing up, and even have a bearing on the person you are now. I think it did for me. I still try, one way or another, to always get what I want. There is no such word as can’t and anything is possible. I eat too quickly because, in the back of my mind, is a memory of me dropping something from the table and getting back up to find one of my siblings had stolen two of my roast potatoes. Being the youngest of a bright bunch, I also was expected to do well at school and go on to university. So I didn’t. Thus began the birth of a quiet rebel.
It appears others have interesting stories. I posed a question on Facebook about sibling rivalry. I was inundated with responses:
The Lady Shed’s Sophia recalls: “There was a tall tree in our garden with a brilliant platform in the middle where my two sisters had their den. The only way to reach it was by a ladder my father had propped up against the tree. I was never ever allowed up there and they told me to go away.
“I tried to build my own den in a much smaller tree but it didn’t work terribly well and they didn’t help! They used to call me Soppy instead of Sophia because I cried quite a bit (I wonder why?!)
“As soon as boys started to figure in their lives, they would secret themselves away and whisper/giggle making sure I knew I was never part of the ‘boyfriend club’.”
Sarah: “Being the oldest I felt like mother rather than sister most of the time My mum used to put me under a lot of responsibility looking after my brothers and sometimes I just wanted to be naughty and have fun just like them! When I had my three girls I found it quite difficult not to let history repeat itself! I’m now mother again to my brothers since mother died last year.”
Sally: “Had to be in by 10. Youngest came in anytime! Haven’t got a chip on my shoulder, honest!”
Damon: “When you are young the closer you are in age the more rivalry but also more love, (this evens out when you’re older).
Scene: Primary school playground.
Younger sister: That boy hit me and made me cry.
Me (to that boy): I’m the only one who can hit my sister and make her cry. (whacks that boy and makes him cry).”
Sharon: “I was the youngest and my earliest memories were of ‘don’t let Sharon touch this and don’t let Sharon touch that’ from my older siblings! I’ve forgotten it all now, of course. Now I just touch everything!”
Sue: “Well, where do you want me to start! Not only was I the second-born twin, I was also the babe of the family. Had everyone’s hand me downs. Lived in the shadow of my twin for years! Being a twin, and the younger one, at that we had to go the same class in our early years at school. Why? Never did know why. Even now, in my mid fifties I still think I’m second best! Errrrr…
Maggie: “Had no sibling rivalry, older brother by four years, so he looked after me, I followed him round when he was home from boarding school, then had younger brother by ten years, he followed me around and I was his little mother. Was the only girl so was the apple of my daddy’s eye! Perfect childhood.”
Andrew: “Middle son of three. Older brother five years older, used to punch me black and blue, where it did not show, unless I rowed the dinghy faster! Mind, I did burn down his huge bonfire two days before Guy Fawkes Night, when I was four or five! Love him now though.”
Margaret: “What about only children? I’m feeling left out. LOL, I was being classic only child allegedly..I loved being an only child though as my dad was a psychologist it often felt like I was an experiment.”
Ella: “The whole family….we just don’t understand, your sister is such a good girl.”
Georgina: “Two older brothers (two and four years older) used to put me in a sleeping bag and put an armchair over the end so I couldn’t get out! Then when they were teenagers they made Mum weigh their dinners so they had exactly the same amount each. I had to eat fast for fear of losing my meal!”
Thank you to my friends for sharing their family stories. I’d love to hear yours.