This is a photo of my mother and her identical twin sister. My mother’s the one on the left. There’s no date on the back so I have no idea how old they were. I’m going to say 20 or 21. They’d be 93 if they were still alive.
Ironically they both died in the month of February, although my aunt preceded my mother by several years. She died February 3, 2000. And this coming Thursday, February 26, my mother will have been gone eight years.
Can’t believe how quickly the time’s passed.
But this isn’t a post about sadness and loss. That’s not the right way to remember my mother; or my aunt, for that matter. They were way too full of life to dwell on anything but what characters they were. And what joy they brought.
They were so much alike — and not just in looks — it was freaky. Especially for me, an only
child. I don’t even know what it’s like to share family traits and characteristics with a sibling, let alone the closeness that comes when you and someone else actually come from the same egg that divides into two once it’s fertilized. There were times my father and I would just look at each other, roll our eyes, shake our heads in disbelief and laugh.
It never failed. My parents and I would be having dinner. Suddenly my mother would ask one of us to remind her to call my aunt when we were done because there was something she’d forgotten to tell her. No sooner would the words be out of her mouth than the phone would ring and it would be my aunt, calling to tell her the exact same thing. I can’t tell you how often it happened. I also can’t figure out how they ever forgot to tell each other anything because if they didn’t speak to each other 40 times a day they didn’t speak once.
And then there were all the conversations they had without ever saying one word. They’d just look at each other and nod.
The two of them would also show up in restaurants or at the movies or at parties in exactly the same dress. For that matter, they’d go shopping separately and would end up buying the same clothes without having ever discussed it. This also happened all the time.
Medically there were some similarities as well. There was the time my mother seemed to be suffering with gallstones. An x-ray revealed she had a benign polyp on her gallbladder. It didn’t require surgery or anything, she just had to watch what she ate whenever she had a flair up. Quite a few years later my aunt started having the same kind of pain.
Yep, you guessed it. She had a polyp, the exact same size and in the exact same location. The doctor didn’t believe it. He thought the technician had, somehow, mixed my aunt’s x-rays up with my mother’s so he sent her again. But it kept happening and by the fourth time my aunt got fed up and refused to go. Curiosity peaked by now, the doctor begged both of them to go one last time. He went with them to make sure there was no confusion. Sure enough, there was the proof, in black and white, side by side, right in front of his eyes. Drew quite a crowd in the radiologist’s office, I was told.
My mother often told me stories of when they were kids. She said they used to sleep holding hands, from the time they were infants. When they first started school they were in the same class but at some point they separated them because their teachers thought they were cheating — which they weren’t. They both got the same answers right, the same answers wrong and always ended up with the same marks.
If one of them had two dates and the other had none, they’d pretend to be each other and go. The only guy who was able to figure out my mother was not my aunt was my uncle, my aunt’s first husband. I think it was only their second date. He knew instantly, the minute my mother answered the door. He just laughed and said, “You’re not Annette.” When my mother had me, my aunt was out of town. But she called my grandmother — who didn’t yet know — and told her my mother was in labour, which she was. She just knew.
Their relationship wasn’t always idyllic, though. They also fought like cats and dogs.
After my uncle (second husband) and dad died my mother and aunt moved in together. A friend of mine, here in Toronto, had a son living in Montreal and he went to have dinner with them one night. My friend called me, cracking up, because when he got back home her son called and told her the two of them had bickered all night, like an old married couple. When two people know each other that well, when there’s no hiding your thoughts from each other, when you’re that close, that ‘connected’, that similar, I think sometimes you have to fight. It’s inevitable. It just gets to be too much.
But they could never stay mad at each other for long.
When my aunt died my mother told me she felt like half of her had been amputated. It had.
I always said I had two mothers. The beauty of it was, though, that when there were things I wouldn’t tell my mother or, for some reason, couldn’t (or didn’t think I could) my aunt became my confidante. I must say, now that I think back on it, I’ll bet she told my mother every word of those conversations. I don’t think she would have been capable of keeping them to herself.
Both of them were feisty, I’ll tell you. My mother taught me every swear word I know, and I have quite an extensive vocabulary. She was five foot nothing but man, oh, man, you didn’t want to mess with her. She didn’t tolerate fools gladly and spoke her mind very freely. Now you know where I get it from.
She was a tad over-protective where I was concerned. Well, okay, maybe it was a tad more than a tad. Even as a young ‘un, as far back as when I was 10, 11, 12 years old, I placed a very high value on my independence, so we did have our battles over it. But we worked our way through it. She listened, saw my point of view and she eased up. A lot. Couldn’t have been easy, but she did it. And we both learned a lot in the process.
She was liberal in her views, accepting and forgiving. She was curious, fun-loving and the eternal optimist. She had an amazing sense of humour and a raucous laugh. Nothing ever got her down. She never sweated the small stuff and always accepted the things she couldn’t control or change with grace. Her zest for life was unmatched. She didn’t look or act her age. Her spirit was at least 30 years younger than she was. And I know when she looked in the mirror she saw a 60-year old, not an 84-year old.
She was kind and generous and loving and faithful, to her family, her friends and even to strangers. She was outgoing and talked to anyone and everyone. She was open and honest and had no secrets. She laid her cards on the table. She was human, after all, so she hoped people would like her, but if they didn’t that was okay too. You could tell her anything without fear of being judged. And you could have trusted her with your life.
None of which is to say she was a pushover. Far from it. She let Rene Levesque, the first separatist Premier of Quebec, have it on St. Catherine Street (one of Montreal’s busiest thoroughfares) one morning. He’d had his chauffeur double park outside a grocery store so he could go in and do some shopping.
Apparently traffic was stalled for blocks and blocks and horns were blaring and motorists swearing and screaming. My mother was one of those frustrated drivers and as she saw him strolling slowly out of the store, munching on an apple, she got out of her car and yelled at the top of her lungs: “Move your damn car! You’re f*cking up the traffic like you’re f*cking up the Province!!”
Roslyn Weinstein, I love you and I miss you. You left me one helluva legacy. I am doing my best to see that it carries on. I am writing this in your name.