It took me a Google search to remember this, but “seven sisters” is the common name for the Pleiades, a star cluster named for mythological characters. Last night, I witnessed a version of this astronomical phenomenon when I walked into Blu and immediately was drawn to the seven Murphy sisters who were clustered in a cozy corner section of the lounge, shining.
Susan, Pat, Ann, Mary, Rita, Ruth and the “baby,” Jane, hadn’t been together in the same space for two years and they were clearly enjoying each other’s company.
There was so much laughing and talking and interrupting, I imagined it must have resembled their dinner table growing up decades ago. Except for Jane (who will later bestow an honor upon me), I can’t even tell you who said what: there was so much banter that it melded together into one collective Murphy sister conversation and laugh fest.
Every two years, the sisters meet in the city of one sibling and catch up, reminisce and wear crazy hats. (More on this later.) This time, it was taking place at the Pfister. The sisters rented two adjoining rooms with a salon and they paired up in beds with their childhood sleeping partner. This meant the youngest who, as the seventh and the “odd Murphy out,” slept on a rollaway bed.
“Well, it makes sense because she was always the one in the crib,” says a sister.
In three short days, they would again part for another couple years and that reminded me of this Irish blessing:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Although they are a mix of nationalities, the sisters identify with their Irish roots, particularly because of their Irish last name. Jane’s oldest daughter married a full-blooded Irishman and her other daughter lived in Ireland, so she considers herself more Irish than the others.
I told them I am not even one percent Irish, but because my name’s Molly and my beer of choice is Guinness, I’ve often considered myself an honorary Irish gal.
“You’re in!” declares Jane.
“Hooray!” I cheer.
The sisters started the tradition of the biannual reunion more than a decade ago when they got together for their dad’s 80th birthday.
Their dad – to whom they lovingly refer as “not much of a speller” and the reason why they all have such simple names – passed away a couple of years ago, but their mom, who will turn 88 next month, still lives in Racine.
The family grew up in Racine, but now live all over the country, from California to New Mexico to Illinois.
The sisters also have four brothers.
When they were young, their dad owned a grocery store, which helped immensely with expenses, and later he owned a meat market, but they also remember their mom ordering four gallons of milk every other day and routinely baking four loaves of bread at a time.
“We were never rich but we we never went without. Dad always made sure the house was big enough for everyone,” says a sister.
There is a 16-year age gap between the oldest and the youngest sister and because of the age difference, half the sisters grew up in a different generation. At one time, the range of ages might have distanced the sisters, but today it just enriches their perspective.
And like all siblings, even though they lived under the same roof, they interpret family events in completely different ways.
“It’s fascinating,” says a sister.
Within five minutes, I felt temporarily absorbed into the large clan of ladies. And because I grew up with only one sister, I had a zillion questions.
Me: Did you share clothes?
Sister: No, she stole my clothes. (Points at Jane.)
Me: How many bathrooms were in your house?
A few sisters in unison: Three! (Phew!)
Me: So Jane, as the youngest, were you spoiled or ignored?
A sister: She was spoiled.
Another sister: She was fussy. We used to ask our mom to put her in her room at meal time.
Jane: I was neglected and abused consistently.
A sister: You got ice cream for breakfast!
But despite growing up in a very large family, and all of the sibling camaraderie, most of the sisters went on to have no more than two children.
“We did a lot of mothering growing up. Especially the first four of us,” says a sister.
“I changed her diaper more than anyone,” says another sister, pointing at Jane.
On the first night of their reunions, the sisters always have an opening ceremony where they “honor their elders.”
And then there’s the hats.
The now ornately-decorated hats started out years ago as naked straw hats. When they’re apart, the sisters add adornments and, when they reunite, they explain the new additions. Basically, the hat decorations represent changes, achievements or struggles in their lives and serve as a vehicle to share information that might have been missed or glossed over during phone or email communications.
Plus, the hats are really fun to wear. Especially when wearing pajamas and drinking wine.
One time, the ladies let their brothers attend a reunion. The guys loved it – they even decorated cowboy hats to be a part of the hat ceremonies – but they’re most likely not going to be invited again.
“They’re jealous, but we gotta keep it a sister thing,” says a sister.
“A sister is as close as you can get to anyone,” another sister chimes. “It’s a true friendship.”