The Two Sisters: A Tale of Perspectives

“Thank you so much, Carl.” Pearl took the box from her cousin’s arms and set it on the table in her hallway. “I feel so privileged to be entrusted with these heirlooms! You can be sure I’ll take good care of them.”

“Sure. Whatever.” Carl shrugged. “I still think we should just burn them. Why dredge up old bones? As I recall,  Mom had a lot of “old bones” she worked over.”

“Maybe.” Pearl smiled sympathetically. His mother, her Aunt Matilda, seemed too focused on bones of contention.

“But you’re young yet,” she said. “When I was your age the past was ancient history; I was out to remake the world. Since I’m retired I think more about our past and what we’ve inherited. I’ll try to be discreet, though, when I compile the Family History. If the Aunties wrote anything nasty about someone I certainly won’t record it. Maybe I should even tear those pages out of the journals?”

“Who cares? I’m sure most of the folks they wrote about are dead now. Anyway, suit yourself, I’d best be off.”

“Chip off the old block,” Pearl murmured after the door was shut. She looked at the stacks of books in the box and thought of the two sisters, Mabel and Matilda. Each of them had her own way of looking at life; each recorded her perspective in these journals.

The years had been good to Mabel and Matilda, both of them lived into their nineties before they passed away. Both women had kept journals most of their lives and after their deaths Pearl heard that all their journals were going to be destroyed. Hoping to write a family history book someday she begged permission to look through them before the grim sentence was carried out. Then her cousins decided since Pearl was the only one in the family with enough patience to pore through them, and prudent enough not to blab the contents, she could have the lot.

Pearl had breathed a sigh of relief; so much information would have been lost! Now the precious books were in her hands. She carried the box to the coffee table, set it down and started sorting the collection into years.

Skimming through Aunt Mabel’s slapdash version of the late 20’s, Pearl could picture her so clearly, a teenager eager for life. She smiled. Aunt Mabel would have been a flapper! It will be interesting to see how she coped during the Depression years, Pearl thought. Good thing she couldn’t see the future right then.

She set 1928 down and slowly leafed through the years to 1985. At this point Mabel was widowed and lonely at times, yet enjoyed outings with her children and grandchildren. Then Pearl picked up her journal from 2000 and noted that she still found interesting little news items to report every day. Perhaps a caller popped in or she took a walk. If Mabel couldn’t get out she wrote about the weather and other things she observed from her window.

Spring blossoms excited her; birds in nearby branches were noted in her books; she described in detail the trees turning color in fall. She mentioned the activities of her neighbors. She wrote with humor about the Y2K panic. Thinking back, Pearl could see again how Mabel’s eyes had twinkled when she talked about the disaster that was “going to put us all back in the stone age” and how it fizzled.

Yes, that was Aunt Mabel. Always interested in life and the people around her, always ready to visit and relate humorous little stories that gave everyone a chuckle. She stayed as active as she could for as long as possible and when she was too frail to get out family members stopped in to share her good cheer.

Then Pearl picked up one of Aunt Matilda’s 1990s diaries to read, but soon found herself fighting sleep. “Nothing much happened today” was the most frequent entry, coupled with complaints about the rheumatism which kept her from getting out or the fact that no one had called.

Pearl remembered Aunt Matilda telling her once, “I never phone anyone. They might be busy when the phone rings and I know how I hate that! I don’t want to be a bother. Anyway, if they want to talk to me, they know my number.”

Another time she complained, “Seems like whenever I do phone someone they’re quick to say they have something pressing and have to run. Folks these days are just too busy to talk.” Though Pearl was sympathetic and never contradicted, she got the feeling folks were eager to get away from Matilda’s rehash of all her woes.

As elderly widows these two sisters had lived together for over fifteen years, looked out the same windows at the same changing scenes, but one had seen beauty and one had seen monotony.

Pearl could remember Aunt Mabel grabbing her raincoat and umbrella, off for a walk in the rain while her sister sat by the fire with her sore joints and wouldn’t do handwork or read for fear she’d ruin her eyes. Mabel went out to search for life while Aunt Matilda expected life to come in and tickle her. Which seldom happened, sad to say.

Such a shame, she thought as she closed the bleak diary. She stood up and walked over to the window, savoring the bright morning. She watched a robin dashing in and out of the sprinkler spray.

“Now,” she said, “I know some people I should be calling.”

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