It is years since I have passed along the road, there is no reason to be going there, so the building may be long since gone – the land turned over to retail use, or to building desirable residences. It was on the West Coker Road out of Yeovil, a town in South Somerset. “Balidon” was a private maternity home, though why on 4th October 1964, my mother was in a private hospital, I am not sure. No doubt, I shall be enlightened if I ask.
4th October 1964 is fifty years ago today, the birthday of Sarah, my little sister, though her status as the “little sister” lasted only until 1968 when our younger sister was born.
Sarah was never really a “little sister”, a stronger and more resolute character, she would become the one who would come unruffled through situations that would have defeated me, she was the one who was always positive and always upbeat. Although only four years younger, circumstances dictated that the only time we were at school together was in primary school days, a place which I dreaded and in which she delighted, perhaps because she had always the capacity to see the best in things while my ability was always to see the worst.
In 1980, when I dropped out of university with deep depression and found the days difficult, my fifteen year old little sister became a source of strength and encouragement, always smiling, always positive.
By 1983, when Sarah was still eighteen, I was married and living on the other side of the Irish Sea and our encounters became sporadic, usually no more than twice a year, sometimes, given the difficulty of travel with small children, only once. But as the years passed, there was never one in which Sarah did not seem to triumph over every adversity, to make the best of every situation, to smile when I would have been in tears.
Ten years ago, as new happiness in the form of Martin, her great husband, appeared, there seemed a moment of injustice as Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer, but even cancer could do nothing to quench her spirits. Even going along to the treatment sessions was an opportunity for her to encourage people: we can beat this or let it beat us.
So, we come to today, and I am missing from the family gathering and, being as disorganised as ever, have sent nothing, but Sarah will understand, she has had fifty years of coping with an elder brother who is useless in many respects.
I remember being at a wedding a dozen years ago where the groom was Polish and where at the toast his family all stood and sang “A Hundred Years”, a wish for the couple to enjoy a very long and very happy life. I speak no Polish and cannot sing, but wish Sarah and Mart “A Hundred Years” and hope these few words will be acceptable to Sarah as an apology for having called her “Harry” for most of her life (for reasons too silly to explain).