Parallel lives converge


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 2001

Be nice to your siblings. They're the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. -- from an e-mail list.

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My sister, Davadene Barker, says that as children we lived parallel lives. Four years apart, we were companions in the same household, but, because of our age differences, we did not always have the same interests. You can tell by our names that our parents hoped for boys whom they could name Nieland David. Our father said he was not going to fill up the house with girls, hoping for a boy.

My sister was born in the front bedroom of the white frame house in Jamestown, N.D. People didn't go to the hospital to have babies in 1934. My father carried me in to meet her the next morning. I was not very excited to hear of her birth. I had not asked for a baby sister and didn't need one. In fact, one day when she was several months old, I pushed her in her buggy to the bottom of the hill on our street and left her there. My mother was not pleased.

By the time we were both in school, we lived in Denver and shared a bedroom as well as a bed. Our mother sometimes rolled a blanket and put it down the middle of the bed to preserve our spaces and cut down on the territorial discussions.

As we grew up, we shared paper dolls, chicken pox and hollyhock weddings -- dolls made from hollyhock blossoms and toothpicks.

We were allowed to go to the dime store, Woolworth's, by ourselves on the street car. We each had 10 cents a week allowance. We would pool 5 cents each for one book of paper dolls and still have 5 cents each left over for things like red wax lips.

"In our later years," Davadene writes, "you helped me with growing concerns: the metamorphosis from braids to curls in junior high school and, later, what to do about my first period, birth control, morning sickness." This was the sort of thing our mother was not comfortable discussing. My sister remembers the World War II years and the excitement that went through the neighborhood if there were bananas or coffee at the grocery store.

When our parents got old and needed attention, Davadene was the one who had the responsibility; they lived near each other in Escondido, Calif. I tried to help as much as I could with phone and letter support and trips from time to time, but she was the one who bore the burden, and I will be forever grateful to her. She was brave and never complained.

We became big buddies during that time. When we had to move Mama to a Hospice residence, (Daddy already had already died of Alzheimer's disease), we worked easily together. We still had the same way of looking at things, the same values and the same sense of humor.

About then, we began to communicate daily with e-mail. We write to each other every day, and that is one reason we are so close. We are now best friends.

She is a teacher. I admire the work she did for years helping people studying for their U.S. citizenship. There is nothing more important than literacy, and she made a tremendous contribution.

One of my favorite memories is her 60th birthday party. Her husband, Vernon, a math textbook writer, planned a surprise party. Although more than 50 people were invited, no one spilled the beans, and she was completely surprised. We traveled from Florida to Southern California for the party. I carefully left an e-mail message just before we left, ending it with "See ya" so that she would get her daily message and not know we were in transit or that I would indeed be seeing her the next day. I felt a little guilty because we and her family had been laughing and planning all this time, and she knew nothing about it, had not shared in our fun.

Ways we are alike:

We both like "Army" (tailored) dresses, office-supply stores and the sound of trains. We both chose good men for husbands. We both have short hair. When we are anxious, we each tell ourselves, "This will all be over by noon, or tomorrow or next week."

Ways we are not alike:

She likes garlic; I don't. I like roller-coasters; she doesn't. She lives on the West Coast in Washington, and I live on the West Coast in Florida. She is allergic to chocolate; I'm not.

I'm very proud of her. I love to be with her. Even though our early life was simply parallel, our lives now are shared, and I'm grateful to her for her friendship and love.

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- Write to Niela M. Eliason in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; or send e-mail to

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