“Is your mother ready to make her purchases yet?” the shop assistant was getting impatient. I had already made my purchases but my sister Doris was still making up her mind.
“She’s my sister,” I informed her.
“I’m sorry,” the assistant blushed ashamedly.
I later told the story to my husband Bruce, giggling over the assistant’s error.
“It’s not so silly when you look at it. Doris is 18 years older than you and could easily be your mother had she married young,” Bruce pointed out.
It was true, my sister could have been my mother, she was the eldest in a family of five and I, the youngest.
That was where the idea that Doris was my mother began and grew over the years.
We lived 4 miles from the nearest school. Our property had been carved out of the scrub and very isolated. Getting a little six-year-old to school was going to be a problem. My brother Reg had just bought a small property nearer the school on which a house, in near ruins, stood. My parents decided that Doris, Reg and I would go and live in the house. Reg would be closer to his work though he would only be home weekends. I would be a mile from school and Doris would look after both of us and see I went to school safely. The arrangement suited Reg and me for Doris, it was a hard and lonely life.
Six months later, the Second World War was declared and Reg was called up. Doris and I returned home.
It became her lot to catch the horse morning and afternoon harnessed it into the cart and drive me to and fro from school. Doris would drop me off about half-way and I would have to walk the rest of the way. After school, I would have to start walking home. When in grade three I was given a bike, taught to ride and take myself to school.
On hot summer nights, as girls, we would sleep out on the front veranda, in search of a cool breath of air. We would stargaze and share confidences even though Doris was so much older.
Cold winter nights we slept cuddled together for warmth in a double bed inside. We took comfort from each other. Doris found a salve for her hurtful and broken relationship with Mum, and I found the comfort of a mother.

A peahen ready to protect her chics. My sister protected me similarly

The war dragged on for several more years and Doris enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service, serving as a cook in the Officers Mess.
Unhappy and unable to fit back into civilian life, Doris married and moved away from home. By this time I had left school and was unemployable and uneducated. My father’s philosophy that girls only married so what was the use of education left me with no hope but to marry.
Doris came to the rescue, her husband owned a dairy and employed me as his girl Friday. I loved the work in the dairy and amongst the animals. My brother-in-law taught me how to work and when I left the dairy I was employable.
While working on the dairy I met and married the man of my dreams. He too was a dairyman although he didn’t remain one. Doris was always there to shape my life.
Doris was widowed, alone and aging. It was my turn to care of her and return to her the love that she had given so unconditionally to me.
The country town where we now lived we were continually mistaken for mother and daughter. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances we would admit we were sisters, at other times we would allow the misconception to continue rather than go into a great story of how Doris was not my mother. As she aged confusion set in and at the last she believed I was the daughter she never had.

On Mother’s Day, I gave her cards. It all added to the myth. I didn’t care. Doris may not have given me life, but she was forced to assume the role of a mother as an elder daughter. Without her, I would not be the person I am today.

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