“Hats off to my sibling companions”
By Julie Severson
The melody, itself, is a masterpiece. Full of triumph and nostalgia. But as it whisked each of my older siblings away from me, one by one, year after year, in their long, black robes, square hats and tassels, Pomp and Circumstance started to get on my nerves.
I’m number eight of nine children, with only twelve years between the oldest and youngest (including a set of twins). And, unlike some people who can’t wait for older siblings to move out, I wanted nothing more than for all of us to
live under one roof forever.
Sure, I have recollections of sibling rivalry, childhood barbarities and home-made cookies disappearing so fast that I never had a chance, but it’s the happy memories of constant companionship that prevail.
I relished those snowed-in-Sundays when we’d sled down the steep hill in our yard, often ending up in a tangled heap of bright-colored snowsuits.
And I never tired of living in a home where it seemed like everything I ever thought to call my own was up for grabs, and clothes were passed around so much that no one could remember what belonged to whom.
They were my roommates. My playmates. My role models. As we’ve grown and matured together, each one of my brothers and sisters inspire me in different ways. Mary, sophisticated and soulful. Ben, brilliant gentle. Teresa, compassionate and humble. Liz, practical and direct. Bob, charming and brave. Birdie, resourceful and gracious. Amy, exuberant and crafty. Katie, strong-hearted, loyal and the only one I had the right to boss around.
The mass exodus began with the first high school graduation in the late 70’s and ended with the last college graduation in the early 90’s. The events blur in my mind. I have flashes of watching one ceremony on a large screen in a cafeteria, because each graduate was allowed only two guests in the auditorium. During another limited-seating ceremony, I remember playing frisbee in the school yard, while listening to the faint sounds of that all-too familiar tune wafting from inside.
Each high school graduation was followed by a fall road trip to deliver the graduated sibling to their freshman dormitory. I didn’t get to go on all those trips, but I specifically remember dropping off Ben at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN and waving good-bye from the back window of our red, rusted-out Dodge Aries. As we drove away, Ben continued to wave back, standing in front of his freshman dormitory, “Tommy” Hall, looking smaller and smaller. And my world got quieter and quieter.
Finally, it was just me and Katie left. And now it was my turn to accept a diploma and establish my independence. In the shadows of a theater major, physics major, nursing major, social work major, two business majors and a psychology major, I unloaded my meager belongings at the College of St. Benedict and declared myself an English major. Then slowly, cautiously, I moved into an unfamiliar world in which roommates weren’t so keen about the “your-clothes-are-my-clothes” policy to which I’d become so accustomed.
Eventually, college became a second home, and for the first time in my life, I began to carve out a real identity of my own. By the time I climbed into a black robe once again, I was armed with life-long friends, a strong grasp of semicolons and similes and the confidence to set out to do whatever it is that English majors do.
It now has been nearly 30 years since the first sibling “migrated” from our crowded nest, during which 10 wedding ceremonies and the births of 25 offspring have occurred. Some of us live minutes away from one another. Others are far, far away.
Life has taken us in different directions, and rarely are we all under the same roof, except for an occasional Christmas. But somehow, we’ve managed to preserve the bond formed years ago. And, our shared history becomes more valuable to me each day.
Although I know that the end of one stage of life means the birth of another, it’s often still hard for me to let go. Fortunately, my own children have yet to complete many years of school fire drills before it’s their turn to march to Pomp and Circumstance.
If I thought saying goodbye to my siblings was hard, I cannot imagine the mess I’m going to be in when it’s time to set my children free. But, for now, I enjoy watching them develop their own sibling bonds. And to foster that, I think I’ll sign off now, and go make a big bottomless bowl of buttery popcorn.