Lying in bed in my sister’s guest room, I notice the dressers on the other side of the room. They are painted white with a flowered decal on the top drawer. If I peel away the paint, I can peel away sixty years and see the maple dressers which stood in our apartment on Aldine Street in Newark. Even the mirror which stands above the smaller dresser is the same mirror, though the person staring back at me bears little resemblance to the young girl of bygone days.
I won’t open the drawers. After all, my belongings are no longer in those drawers. Most of my things are in my apartment in Herzliya and then there’s what I packed in my suitcase and bought with me to West Orange New Jersey. But how well I remember so much of what was in those drawers. There were sweater sets carefully folded and placed in plastic bags. There were white bobby socks. There were one-piece blue gym uniforms. Hidden in the underwear drawer was a diary in which I shared all my secrets about unrequited love, fears, hopes and thoughts.
My dresser was the smaller one. My sister’s the bigger. The room also contained twin beds, a night table and a piano. My mother would play The Moonlight Sonata every night before I went to sleep. It all sounds so idyllic, but oh the wars that were waged in that room on Aldine St. My sister and I found so much to fight about, driving my mother to cry, ‘You will be the death of me.”
And what did we fight about? Everything and anything. First, we shared a room. Should the light be on or off? What about the window shade, up or down and the window, open or closed? Then there was the telephone. I am waiting for a call and she doesn’t get off the phone. She has to make a call and I am in the midst of a most important conversation that cannot be interrupted. And of course one bathroom/toilet for all five family members to share and obviously at the same time. Then there were the major and minor skirmishes about clothing. My sister had the most beautiful purple sweater set that was a perfect match for my purple checked skirt. How could she possibly object to my wearing it? Oh, and one 12 inch television set which was a constant source of warfare, a war that began in 1948 when we got our first TV. I was all for Howdy Doody, but my sister who was three years older was far too sophisticated for Howdy, Clarabelle and company. In short, it wasn’t hard to find reasons to fight, and we did.
All this makes me wonder why siblings fight so much today. They have their own rooms, their own telephones, multi-bathroom houses, an abundance of clothes and toys, televisions, computers and other electronic devices to amuse them. Yet they still find endless reasons to fight. Could it be that sibling fighting is simply an intrinsic part of the human condition regardless of the circumstances?
But as I sit here looking at the dressers which have survived well over sixty years, I think of all that hasn’t survived. My parents and grandfather with whom we shared our railroad flat are long since dead. The years of family warfare when my sister and I fought over the same living space have faded into the distant past, replaced by a relationship of love, caring and respect. Fortunately, my mother did live to see that we hadn’t been the death of her and that the many miles that separate Herzliya from West Orange only strengthened the love of two sisters.
Those dressers have witnessed many a change over the years.