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Sisters gather in gaggles of giggles
By Mary K. Nolan

The Augustine Sisters are not an order of cloistered nuns.

The very notion would probably send them into fits of the uncontrollable giggling that always threatens to get them kicked out of respectable places.

They’ve been spoken to by more than one manager over the years, as recently as two weekends ago when the five siblings were reproached at a chi-chi Niagara-on-the-Lake spa. They simply can’t help getting a little carried away when they gather for their much-anticipated annual Au­gustine Girls Weekend Getaway.

That's AGWG, pronounced "agweg," explains Sue the eldest of the sisters at 56. Someday they hope to have a Semi-Annual Augustine Girls Weekend Get­away, SAGWG - which they think would be a more appropriate name, Sue says, given that everyone's getting older and droopier.

It's just that kind of corny joke that gets them into trouble. Someone says something nonsensical and the five of them seize upon it, erupting into shrieks of mirth, squeezing every last laugh out of a line and adding it to an archive of inside jokes that get dusted off and recycled year after year.

"We all have this similar sense of humour," says sister Ticha. "We all think the same things are funny."

"... even if nobody else does," laughs Sue.

But there were tears mixed with the hilarity at the 2004 AGWG.

This was the sisters' first get-to­gether since their mother, Thelma, died on Boxing Day at the age of 76. Hamiltonians may remember her from her Merle Norman Cosmetics outlet at Mountain Plaza Mall, where Ticha now works as a Shoppers Drug Mart cosmetician. The weekend also marked the 8lst birthday of their fa­ther, who died nearly 30 years ago.

"There was a lot of laughing and a lot of crying," admits Ticha, the fourth of Thelma's effervescent daughters. "I was in tears with the rolling pin."

The kitchen gadget was among the items extracted from 12 big boxes that had been sitting unopened in Sue's garage since she went to Vancouver Is -land in February to clear out Thelma's home. At her sisters' wishes, she gave almost everything to charity and shipped home only the truly priceless stuff — the cookbooks and journals, the photo albums and letters, and memorabilia of their lives growing up just outside Niagara - on - the - Lake.

The pretty riverside town was the obvious choice for this year's reunion, which has taken place in locations as widely separated as Halifax, where baby sister Ruth lives, and Boynton Beach, Fla., home to middle sister Carol. With Lots, sister No. 2, in Hol­land Landing, Sue in St. Catharines and Ticha in Selkirk, their annual weekends are inviolably precious.

The whole idea of a getaway began, oddly, at their grandfather’s funeral when the sisters landed in the same limousine. Despite the solemnity of the occasion, they so enjoyed the nov­elty of being together that one of them suggested they call their husbands and announce that they weren't coming home but going directly to Florida. Within a year, they'd arranged their first sisters - only weekend.

"This year was amazing," Sue said the other day.

"It always is," Ticha agreed.

"We didn't want it to end," said Sue, an author and motivational speaker.

"It was probably the most relaxing ever "Ticha judged.

"That's because I was in charge of organizing it and didn't pack it full of activity," said Sue, laughing.

That assertion is debatable, by ordi­nary standards.

On the Thursday, after initial greetings were exchanged and the boxes opened, the sisters retired to The An­tique Pine Cottage, which they'd rented in N-0-T-L. Retired may not be quite the right word, seeing as they stayed up half the night reconnecting.

"Yip, yip, yip, yip, yip," Ticha demonstrates with hand action. "Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh."

Over the course of the weekend, they visited a former neighbour who plied them with homemade Danish pastries, dressed up in '50s garb for a rock'n'roll oldies show at Carmen's, tooled around the town on rented bicycles, stopped at the local chocolatier, visited the spa at a swank inn, and played cards and board games into the wee hours while munching on popcorn and low-fat Spudz in consideration of their "South Beached Whale" diet.

"We never play by the rules," con­fesses Sue. "We just lie around in our pyjamas and make up our own rules."

They scrapped plans to go out for dinner and instead contributed $25 each toward a Saturday-night feast of salmon steaks, turkey kebabs, stuffed portobello mushrooms, shrimp on the barbie, Ticha's famous stir-fried broc­coli with Montreal steak sauce, one of Lois's always exceptional tossed salads and, the family favourite, a carrot pud­ding with hot caramel sauce made from Thelma's recipe.

AGWG is over for another year, but the girls are already planning the next one.

"It revives us, all that laughter," says Sue. "It refreshes us."

Adds Ticha: "It's like we're all back in the nest."



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