My sister wrote an article the other day which brought back into focus a memory … it was Christmas.
Me and the ex-husband-to-be had flown home, across several thousand miles so my family could meet him before we got hitched. It was one of those “he hasn’t proposed yet but we’re going to get married next April” type scenarios that happen when you are the only one living the other side of the world from your closest relations.
My brother was engaged in yet another a war against my poor parents so wasn’t speaking to them apart from telling them what awful parents they were (they weren’t), we had jetted home safely, only to come a little bit unstuck when the plane in front of us on the last lap (18 hours later) decided to fail in unloading its landing gear and in true African style, we were made aware and asked to pray for the crew and passengers (it landed safely but ex-HTB was green around the gills by the time we landed, delayed by the emergency in front of us).
We arrived shortly after the plane in front was guided down (bizarrely but luckily for them by a friend of the family who is an excellent air traffic controller) and made our way back to the lovely suburb in which I grew up and in which my parents still lived.
Much joy greeted us (my god, she was getting married at last, at the ripe old age of 34, old for Africa, whose brides tend to start at 16) and my sister arrived. Now my sister looks very much like me, except she has managed to inherit the slim build of my Mum and the hair of my Dad (thick, curly).
I got the chunky build of women in my Dad’s family (tits, hips, arse) and my other grandmother’s hair (thin, straight).
So it was with some surprise that I noticed her sporting a rather evident tummy. My sister also inherited my paternal grandmother’s height (under 5 foot) so it was very noticeable.
My first thought was that she was pregnant. But no-one had mentioned a thing. Okay, said brain rationalising, maybe she’s just you know … giving into those old Quick (we can kick start jumbo jets with our thighs) genes.
Nah, said brain again, she’s preggers. Okay, so why hasn’t anyone mentioned it?! Oh said brain again, its because you are getting engaged and as you are so old and everything, no-one wanted to steal your thunder.
Except, except, except … from the age of about 16 I knew that anyone in our family having a baby was BIG NEWS. In wedlock, out of wedlock, in a relationshit, out of one, it didn’t matter.
My parents had always wanted four kids (they were both only children) and had been talked out of having a fourth by doctors who said Mum was getting too old. When I was in my 20s, my Dad said to Mum, “go on Eve, let’s get your tubes untied and go for another one”. My Mum, in her 40s at the time (she only hit the menopause in her late 50s) sadly declined.
But it lingered … and I realised that there was no way on earth my parents would be able to keep a secret like “we have a baby coming into the family” under wraps. No way at all.
My sister was going to be my bridesmaid in five months time. Looking at her tummy, I figured she was about 4 months along. Doing the maths … hmmmm …
The day dawned when we went shopping for bridesmaid’s dresses. My sister, high on hormones, was rushing round the shopping centre like a demon.
So there we were, on top of the highest escalator in our sleepy little town and my sister mentioned her weight. Not one to pass up an opportunity, but trying to be, you know, a bit sensitive, I said “C, are you sure you’re not up the duff?”. “Nah” she said.
Me, trying again to find my sensitive spot and failing madly “C, come on, you’re about four months fucking pregnant, when were you gonna tell me?”
My sister, bless her, party animal of reknown, in a state of complete denial (which is, apparently a river in Egypt), had a mini panic attack on the escalator. In front of about 50,000 Christmas shoppers. Way to go, elder sister, way to go.
To cut a long story sideways (as a good friend of mine would say), instead of bridesmaid dresses we went to the chemist and got a pregnancy kit.
Getting home, apart from “nah, we didn’t find any dresses”, not much was said.
It was the day before Christmas Eve. Christmas was a big thing in our family. It didn’t matter where you were in the world, you made it home for Christmas. Otherwise, it wasn’t Christmas at all, just some random day on the calendar when shops weren’t open.
Dad tended in later years to only dress the tree when I was home. This year, disheartened by my brother’s behaviour, (he had decided we were beyond the pale so wouldn’t be joining us) we had all left it a bit late.
We got home, I made Dad some tea and he settled down with the newspaper and I shuffled my sister off to the bathroom to pee on a stick.
She peed, we watched and she said, “Ha, told you I wasn’t pregnant”.
And then had to swallow those words as we watched a blue line streak across the stick.
I won’t go into the conversation that followed. Except that it involved dressing the tree, making copious amounts of tea and discussing her options.
She didn’t have any and she knew full well that she was going to have this baby but she had to do the “I’m an emancipated woman” thang for a few hours.
I let her.
We dressed the tree, in between hissing at each other in a mixture of English, Afrikaans, Zulu and a few completely fucking made up words. And swearing. There was lots of swearing.
Dad put his paper down and declared that it was the worst tree we had ever done and asked if we were drunk.
“Not yet and not for her at all” hissed out under my breath before I had a chance to swallow the words…
And this fast became the story of How To Be The WORST Sister in the World …
Because … my sister and her very stunned boyf went off to get an official test done the next day …
Not only did I not see the text she sent me (yup, about four months along) but when she came back from the doctor’s still a little stunned, I made her wait, got my father away from painting the windows and sat them all down and positioned them whilst I set up my video camera and my photo camera to take photos of my parents’ reaction as she told them.
Looking back, I had no excuse but then I was so used to FILMING EVERYTHING that it just seemed the natural thing to do.
Both my parents were shocked, (Dad wondering whether Mum already knew) both of them were over the moon (lucky that, really otherwise we would have had really uncomfortable photos :-)).
I was thrilled. No doubts, no worries, just thrilled.
Seven years later, I still am.