A Tale of Three Sisters

3 sisters

pretty sisters

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There are three sisters living in my spare bathroom. They are very beautiful girls, each different from the other and I love them all. Their names are Joelle, Amelie, and Elodie. They are in fact triplets, although there is a big, middle, little connotation to their size and attitudes.

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Joelle
Joelle, the big sister. Confident and social, and physically the biggest as well. She’s also great at IT.
Amelie
Amelie, the middle sister. A bit of a loner but always gentle with her sisters.
Elodie
Last but not least, tiny Elodie. Never underestimate the smallest!

I find myself reflecting on sisters and sisterhood. I am the youngest of three sisters (the youngest of four siblings, but my brother isn’t getting much space in this post; sorry Steve!). Our mother gave us each one of these pins several years ago. I rarely wear mine, not because it doesn’t have meaning, but because I just don’t wear pins often. Mom, bless her heart, never seemed to understand that we didn’t really want to dress alike or get the same gifts.

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Maybe I don’t wear it because the Far Fetched label makes it seem like an impossibility that three sisters are getting along?

There are many stories of sisters. I found several versions of Native American legends of the three sisters and planting “three sisters gardens”. This version is from the Cherokee:

Once upon a time there were three sisters. The first sister was very tall and strong; her name was Corn Girl, and she wore a pale green dress and had long yellow hair that blew in the wind. Corn Girl liked to stand straight and tall, but the hot sun burned her feet and hurt her. And the longer Corn Girl stood in her field, the hungrier she got. And every day more weeds were growing up around her and choking her.

The second sister was very thin and quick and fast, and her name was Bean Girl, but she wasn’t very strong. She couldn’t even stand up on her own. She was good at making food, but she just had to lie there stretched out on the ground, and she would get dirty and wet, which wasn’t good for her.

The third sister, Squash Girl, was short and fat and wore a yellow dress. She was hungry too.

For a long time, the sisters didn’t get along. They each wanted to be independent and free, and not have anything to do with the other two. So Corn Girl stood there with her sunburned feet and got hungrier and hungrier. And Bean Girl lay there on the ground and got dirtier and wetter. And the little fat sister Squash Girl was hungry too.

So Bean Girl talked to her sister Corn Girl and said, “What if I feed you some good food, and you can hold me up so I don’t have to lie on the ground and get all dirty?” And Corn Girl thought that was a great idea. Then little Squash Girl called up to her tall sister, “How about if I lie on your feet and shade them so you won’t get sunburned?” Corn Girl thought that was a great idea too.

So the Three Sisters learned to work together, so that everyone would be healthier and happier. Corn Girl helped Bean Girl stand up. Bean Girl fed Corn Girl and Squash Girl good food. And Squash Girl shaded Corn Girl’s feet and kept the weeds from growing up around them all.

And that’s why the Iroquois and the Pueblo people and the Aztecs and everybody in between planted their corn, their beans, and their squash together in the same field – the Three Sisters.

I accept my role as Squash Girl happily!

Unfortunately, my sisters live more than 3,000 miles away and we don’t get to see each other very often. I don’t have many photos of us together, and it is very rare that there is a photo in which all three of look as gorgeous as we really are. Pictures from our childhood are all packed away and not yet digitized.

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Not so great photo from a few years ago after an Atlanta Braves game.
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Yes, the brother is in this time.

Continuing the exploration of sisters, on the serious side there is the play The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, written in 1900 and first performed in 1901.

 

The three sisters in Chekhov’s play, Olga, Masha and Irina, are living in a drab town a year after their father’s death and finding life tedious. From IMDb:

Olga, Masha, and Irina Prozoroff lead lonely and purposeless lives following the death of their father who has commanded the local army post. Olga attempts to find satisfaction in teaching but secretly longs for a home and family. Masha, unhappy with her marriage to a timid schoolmaster, falls hopelessly in love with a married colonel. Irina works in the local telegraph office but longs for gaiety. Their sense of futility is increased by their brother’s marriage to Natasha, a coarse peasant girl. She gradually encroaches on the family home until even the private refuge of the sisters is destroyed. They dream of starting a new life in Moscow but are saddled with the practicalities of their quiet existence. Despite their past failures, they resolve to seek some purpose and hope when the army post is withdrawn from the town.

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There are also several geographical sites named Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters in der Abendsonne
The The Three Sisters, Alberta, Canada.
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Three Sisters, in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia.
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The Three Sisters islands, Queensland, Australia.

But I prefer popular culture sisters. In Little Women, there are four sisters, so that never worked out for me to label them as me and my sisters. Meg was clearly my sister Cathy, sweet and nurturing and maternal. Jo was obviously Ellen, funny and athletic and the one who holds them together. But was I kind, sweet, sickly Beth or artistic, selfish and temperamental Amy? I think I was a bit of a mix, without the sickly part. Of course, we all had a bit of each sister in us.

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Then we get to the Gabor sisters. I don’t think there are any personality matches there (thank goodness).

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As a child of the 1960s, I watched endless reruns of Petticoat Junction.

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And I can’t leave out the Brady sisters! Oddly, my favorite was poor maligned middle sister Jan. I couldn’t stand goody two-shoes Marsha or insipid youngest Cindy. And Jan had the long beautiful hair.

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My favorite isn’t a story of three sisters but of two. The 1954 movie White Christmas is not the best (or the worst), but at the beginning of the movie  comes the song Sisters, by Irving Berlin.

Sisters
Sisters
There were never such devoted sisters

Never had to have a chaperone “No, sir”
I’m there to keep my eye on her

Caring
Sharing
Every little thing that we are wearing

When a certain gentleman arrived from Rome
She wore the dress and I stayed home

All kinds of weather
We stick together
The same in the rain or sun
Two diff’rent faces
But in tight places
We think and we act as one

Those who’ve
Seen us
Know that not a thing could come between us

Many men have tried to split us up but no one can
Lord help the mister
Who comes between me and my sister
And Lord help the sister
Who comes between me and my man

In the film, the song is performed by the Haynes sisters, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Vera-Ellen was a dancer, not a singer, so for this song, her lines were actually performed by Clooney as well (i.e., Rosemary Clooney sang a duet with herself).

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I, however, am partial to the version done in the film by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

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But you are here to see kitten pictures! Here you go, the three beautiful sisters at their weigh-in yesterday.

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Joelle
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Amelie
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Elodie

Please consider fostering for your local shelter or other animal rescue organization. Not only do you help them save more lives, you get the wonderful opportunity to spend time with some amazing animals such as Joelle, Amelie, and Elodie. I foster for the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, CA. It’s one of the best things I do in my life.

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Some of the books that made me a life-long reader

As I get older I get nostalgic for more and more things from my youth. There are certain books I carry in my heart; I read and reread them. Thinking about them brings back sense memories of the time and place in which I read them. The Wind in the Willows takes me back to the den in our house in Atlanta, in the green nubby-fabric wing chair, with our cat Whiskers and a sunbeam coming through the windows just so–it’s keeping me warm and cozy and I can see the little dust motes floating in the light. The Borrowers I associate with reading in bed; Mom would let me sleep in her bed when I was afraid to sleep in my own room. I read The Borrowers propped up on pillows while she read her book next to me.

In no particular order, here are some of the books that helped instill my deep loving of reading. Of course my mother gets credit too; she was a voracious reader and was very open minded about giving me free rein to decide what to read. There was a time when instead of an allowance, she would take me to buy a new book every week at Rich’s department store (now a Macy’s). The book section was directly across from the candy counter, so I would sometimes get a little bag “fruit slices” if I had been especially good that week. Many of the books, like The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, were already on our bookshelves.

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Rich’s was an Atlanta institution. We went to the one at North Dekalb mall.
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Fruit slices. A little paper bag of those and a new book, and I was good to go.

 

The books that touched my heart and  imagination:

Amelia Bedelia  (by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Fritz Siebel, 1963)

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Of course I have my own story that goes with this book. I forget what grade it was, but my best friend Leila Greiff and I used this book for a class project in which we were to present a book to the class. Leila played Amelia Bedelia, we made props (somewhere we managed to get a rubber chicken), I was the narrator, and I think my mother contributed one of her delicious lemon meringue pies. Our teacher liked it so much that she had us go with her to her university to present to a class she was taking. She played Mrs. Rogers (who gets to eat the pie).

The other thing I adored about this book is how it teaches about the different meanings of words and phrases, the concept of taking something literally (Mrts. Rogers did say to draw the drapes), and not to make assumptions. Bonus lesson: being a good cook goes a long way toward getting you approval!

 

The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (by Margaret Sidney, illustrated by Hermann Heyer, 1881)

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Yes, it was written in 1881 (the first of a series); I read it in the late 1960s.

As the youngest of 4 children in a house headed by our young, widowed mother, I was understandably drawn to any stories of hard-working widows and their spunky children. And there would pretty much always be a dog and a cat, too. Mrs. Pepper, called Mamsie by the children, works hard to make ends meet, with the help of the children Ben (Ebenezer), Polly (Mary), Joel, Davie, and little Phronsie (Saphronia). Joel is the one who always gets in trouble. Davie is the quiet one. Ben is ultra responsible. Polly is sweet and pretty and tries her hardest to help Mamsie.  Phronsie is only 3 at the beginning of the book, but she’s a little blonde cherub who everyone adores, of course.

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Again we have cooking. And of course there is a dog! I think Phronsie acquires a kitten as well.

 

Little Women and Little Men (by Louisa May Alcott, 1868 and 1871)

These were in combination in a flip book; the bookshelf in my older sisters’ shared room contained a complete set of the Companion Library flip books, a set of children’s classics published in 1963. I’m pretty sure I read them all along the way, but this was my particular favorite.

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In my usual way, I tried to assign a sister from Little Women to each of the Cottraux sisters. There are 3 of us, not 4, but it kind of works. Cathy was clearly Meg, the beauty, the eldest and the one most set on a life as a wife and mother. And Ellen was so obviously Jo, the smart, funny, irrepressible sister. My brother Steve didn’t really fit into my scheme here, but I doubt it bothered him. That leaves kind, shy, musical Beth and the artistic, spoiled youngest, Amy. Which am I? I think a bit of both. I’m not musical and of course I wasn’t sickly like Beth, but  I hope I am not so thoughtless and narcissistic as Amy.

The Borrowers (by Mary Norton, illustrated by Beth Krush and Joel Krush, 1952)

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This is the book that I read snuggled under the covers in Mom’s bed. I was afraid to sleep in my own room for some period. There was a metal fence post outside my window and a light somewhere glinted off of it at night. The twin gleams looked like eyes to me and even if I pulled down the shade I could see them through the gap. I would crawl in Mom’s bed, where the dog Tripp was always asleep too. It was probably kind of crowded but I only remember it being cozy and safe.

The Borrowers so spoke to my imagination. I wanted there to be a family of Borrowers like the Clock family–Pod, Homily and their daughter Arrietty–living under the floorboards of our house. Their matchbox beds and thread spool tables and their distrust of the “human beans” who they borrow from seemed perfectly reasonable to me. I hoped to see things that Borrowers could use slowly disappear from the house, but I never did find a family like the Clocks.

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The Wind in the Willows (by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Paul Bransom, 1908)

Perhaps my favorite of all time, the adventures of Mole, Rat, Mr. Toad, Mr. Badger and the sporty Otter are at times sad, frightening, and heartwarming. Mr. Toad tends to get a lot of attention (as he would say is only right), but it was always Mole who tugged at my heart. He has a kind of innocence and a longing for something, but also a sense of nostalgia that make him so much more of a real character to me than the incredibly silly Mr. Toad.

 

Heidi (by Johanna Spyri, 1881; pictured 1929 edition translated by Philip Schuyler Allen and illustrated by Maginel Wright Enright)

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Set in a place and time that I had no comprehension of, this children’s classic will forever be associated with the Swiss Alps in my mind. If I ever go there, I am sure I will be disappointed that it’s not all beautiful meadows, goats, and hay lofts. The first night Heidi is at her grandfather’s and makes a bed in the sweet-smelling hay and looks out at the stars; oh, I wanted to be Heidi. And I loved a cute dress with a pinafore back then. I would tuck my Crayons in the waistband and forget they were there and then they’d get run through the washer and dryer…Heidi would never do something so careless.

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The copy I have of Heidi was my mother’s when she was young. Her bookplate is inside the front cover.

 

Daddy-Longlegs (written and illustrated by Jean Webster, 1912)

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The letters of spunky orphan Jerusha Abbott, who calls herself Judy, to her anonymous benefactor who she nicknames Daddy-Longlegs, was probably the first book I read that really had a clear sense of romance (between people, not cartoon animals like Lady and the Tramp). Even though I know the book and its ending by heart, I’ve read it at least 50 times and it makes me happy every time. Her adventures at a women’s college also put the seed in my head that I wanted to go to Mount Holyoke to college when I was a teenager. That didn’t happen. And again, would 1970s-1980s Mount Holyoke have been remotely like the college depicted in early 1900s Daddy-Longlegs? I think not. But I can still wonder how different my life would’ve been if I had been able to follow that dream.

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Tomorrow Will Be Better, and Joy in the Morning (by Betty Smith, 1943, 1947, and 1963)

I couldn’t choose one so I listed all three. There is a fourth book that Betty Smith wrote in 1958, Maggie Now, that I haven’t read. I’m not sure why! Much of her writing is based on her own life experiences. Side note: when she was a girl in the tenements of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it was a very poor, hard place. I wonder what she would think of the hipster culture there now.

Queenie Peavy (by Robert Burch, illustrated by Lerry Lazare, 1966)

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I have a feeling this is one not so many people will be familiar with. Queenie is growing up in rural Georgia during the Depression; her father is in jail and her mother is always working at the local canning plant. Poor and with a chip on her shoulder, Queenie’s temper tends to get her into trouble. I remember being particularly struck by a scene in which there is very little to eat in the house; I had never thought before about children going hungry.

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Queenie talking to her friend, the roster Ol’ Dominick, about how they are both going to go hungry that night.

 

The Summer of the Swans (by Betsy Byars, illustrated by Ted CoConis, 1970)

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Lest you think I only ever read really old books or books written about the past, I did read contemporary books as well. One of my favorites, probably attained on an aforementioned trip to Rich’s, was The Summer of the Swans, about sisters Wanda (19) and Sara (14) Godfrey, their brother Charlie (10), and dog Boysie (old). It’s essentially Sara’s coming of age story during a difficult summer. When mentally-challenged Charlie wanders off, Sara, as the one closest to him, must set aside her angst while learning about the nature of love and family. The illustration of Sara and Charlie also influenced my artistic sensibility.

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I tried to recreate this as a 3-D shadow box diorama in 4th grade.

 

Harriet the Spy (written and illustrated by Lousie Fitzhugh, 1964)

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I still like to imagine I am Harriet. Among my takeaways from this book (maybe not what Louise Fitzhugh intended): a period when I wouldn’t take anything in my school lunch but tomato sandwiches, just like Harriet. And a to-this-day unaccomplished desire to try an “egg cream” in New York, which I understand contains neither eggs nor cream. I think a lot of people focus on Harriet as a spy, but what Harriet wanted was to be a writer and her spying was a way to fill her notebook with observances. You go, Harriet!

 

I could keep going (Nancy Drew, anyone?), but I’ll leave you with Harriet.

Keep reading!