It is always a cliché that comes to mind when I think of describing my sister: she's larger than life, as tough as old boots and she can talk the leg off an iron pot. She is also, on occasion, as mad a cut snake. However, in the flesh, she is absolutely original.A natural antagonist, she was unable, while I sat quietly at the verandah table doing my homework, to walk past me without hitting me, pulling my hair, or poking me. I might have retaliated once or twice, by getting up and punching her, but it never resolved anything. In later years, as I mellowed, she found herself disappointed that she couldn't wind me up the way she used to.
As the eldest child, born three years before me, she made mistakes that I learnt from, and is possessed with an admirable practicality. She fixes everything, from replacing the putty in windows to sorting out my problems. I remember calling her in tears from a payphone one lunchtime in Wynyard when I was on a temping assignment that I didn't think I was doing well enough. She pointed out that if the company didn't think I could do it, they wouldn't have employed me. This was enough to help me get back and get on with my day. When my Mac died and the Mac Doctors were rotten at fixing it, she took the computer to a man she knew in Stones Corner, at Geekworks, who had exceptional customer service and fixed the computer free of charge to make up for The Mac Doctors leaving it inoperable. And today, when I needed to go to the doctor, I found myself distraught that she wasn't here to call on. I didn't begrudge that, as J1 helped, and she is having a wonderful time with the dogs at the Australian National Flyball Championships.
For my sister is dog-mad. She has always had cocker spaniels, and the highlight of her week is taking them to flyball training, and catching up with other dog-mad people. She comes home with stories that make me sore with laughter.
She is a born communicator, hence her job in public relations, and often amuses me with the phrases she picks up, such as “pocket-rocket”, viz. a dog so small it can fit in a pocket, but which goes really fast. She understands people's motivations much better than I do, and can often see the other side of a story. She is also the loudest person I know. Sometimes I say, “I can hear you, you know,” and she replies, “I always talk like this. It's automatic, in case you're not wearing your hearing aid.”
However, when she and the family went camping, her husband commented how loud their children were. “And what excuse will they use?” he asked. “That their aunt is deaf?”
Once, on a bus travelling from Randwick to Bondi Junction where there were some red wedding shoes I wanted her to look at, she began telling me a story at great volume. A scrawny old woman sitting behind the driver turned around and snarled, “Do you have to talk so loud that the rest of the bus can hear?”
She retaliated so fast it took me a couple of seconds to work out what was going on. “Actually, yes I do,” she replied, “my sister's deaf.”
The woman retorted with something I didn't hear and my sister said, “I just told you, my sister's deaf.”
By this point I realised the bus had halted at a stop outside a petrol station, its doors open.
“I've paid for my ticket,” said the woman, “why don't you get off here?”
“And I've paid for mine,” said my sister, just as fast, “so why don't you get off?”
Realising that she was defeated, the woman turned around in a huff. The bus started up again and pulled away from the kerb.
At other times my sister's speed with speech turns to foot-and-mouth disease. In her university job at Hungry Jacks she couldn't get the cash register to work and swore at it in front of a customer. The customer complained and my sister was nearly sacked but, fittingly, she talked her way back into the job.
My sister is one of the toughest people I know. When her marriage began to fall apart she held onto it for grim life and made it work. She has a determination that I recognise in myself, but where I apply this to my writing, she uses it to protect her family.
Like my brother, she has a shocking memory, but this is her coping mechanism. She forgets the things that upset her, whereas I, hurt more easily, file them away and process them through writing. My brother, meanwhile, just forgets things as a matter-of-course (many are the times I have told him a joke he has heard before and, having forgotten it, he laughs in exactly the same places).
My sister began her PR career in the beauty industry, then in haircare and fashion. This provoked my obsession with these selfsame fields as, always a generous person, she kept giving me samples of Guinot and Ella Bache, and sent me to the hairdresser she represented. Now she keeps me supplied in frocks, which is heavenly, but the expensive tastes never went away and I find myself scrabbling to pay for SKII cleanser and my gay Vietnamese hairdresser in the 'burbs on my miserly writer's income.
When you meet my sister, it's like being hit with a hurricane of noise, colour and laughter. Eventually she calms down and you realise there's a sharp wit and astute brain at work amidst the chaos, and that she's unlike any person you've ever met before.
Happy Birthday Bec. I wouldn't exchange you for anyone else in the world.