Only a world map could show how far apart the Plowman sisters

Only a world map could show how far apart the Plowman sisters have lived, but they’ll tell anyone that a sister is always close to the heart.

Forty-three years have passed since they were all at home together in Ipswich, Suffolk County, England.

The women, now in their mid-60s and early 70s, reunited last week at the home of Joan Faust of Tupelo. She is their Southern sister who still has her crisp English accent.

Time spent with their own families has prevented get-togethers for all these years, Faust said. Her gaze rested on her sisters. “Time just slips away so fast.”

She described them all as homebodies and said, “I’m just not a traveling person. We’re all just raising our families and such, and it’s hard to jerk them up and say, ‘Come on, you’re going with us!’ “

Phones and photographs kept the sisters in touch, Faust said. “We’d call each other when we’d get blue. Thank God for phones.”

They planned a reunion last year but had to reschedule when one sister, Pat Barter of Ipswich, became ill. The other sister who also lives in England, Joyce Pudwell, dreads plane flights and didn’t want to travel alone. This year, their brother, Bert Plowman, was ill and not able to leave his home in Ipswich for this Mississippi reunion.

Some of the sisters have visited in the intervening years, but last week’s visit is the first full gathering. Sheila Harris, the youngest sister, stayed for a month 25 years ago when Joan lived in Marks. Barter visited Harris at her Anchorage, Alaska, home about 10 years ago, and the Harrises followed up with an England trip about five years later.

They’ve come full circle from their around-the-globe homes for a gathering at Faust’s house. Last Thursday, they sat on Faust’s shady front porch and talked about memories and family history, and they held hands and laughed.

Fanning away the mid-day heat brought back memories for Faust. Mississippi is home for her now, but it was an adjustment at first for the young Englishwoman. Faust’s husband was in the Air Force when he came to England and fell in love, and he brought his war bride and their baby home to a scorching 103-degree day in Sledge, Miss. Family members had ice cream cones as they waited to greet her. Faust wore a heavy wool suit and was exhausted from tending a hot, irritable baby.

“The baby was crying the whole time,” she said, wincing as she recalled the temperature of that Mississippi summer. “I had to faint at least once a day.”

Making the most of time together

The Plowman sisters aren’t wasting precious time together with lots of traveling. Plans for the week are simple: Talking, bringing out old and new photographs, some touring of Elvis Presley’s home town, a side trip to Memphis and family barbecues with Faust’s children.

They’ve commiserated on the humid Mississippi days and nights, a far cry from the cool of England or Alaska. Southern cooking has been to the sisters’ taste so far, with pork chops and gravy making a big hit. Hot tea has retained the English presence at the table.

Faust laughed as she explained that Southern iced tea, or “cold tea” as the English call it, hasn’t swept her sisters away. “They ask me, ‘What are you going to do with all that ice?’ Even when they drink water, they just put one cube in it.”

It didn’t take long for them to slip back into sisterly roles. Harris said, “We’re so comfortable. You feel like you haven’t been apart.”

The conversation and the emotions have flowed since the sisters got off the planes, Pudwell and Barter arriving on May 13 and Harris and her husband on May 15. Faust said, “All we’ve been doing is hugging and kissing and crying.”

She admitted getting ready two hours before a plane arrived, then getting so excited that she left their flowers at home. “We were all the way to the airport and had to come back and get them,” she said, smiling and shaking her head.

A burst of laughter escaped the group of sisters chatting out on the front porch nearby, and Faust said, “Listen to them. That’s how we’ve been for the last two or three days.”

They’ve talked most about their shared childhood. The oldest sisters recall the war days in England, when their gas masks stayed in their school backpacks just in case of an air raid. The girls never had to use the devices, but they were required to carry the masks everywhere. Harris was a baby then, and her parents had a whole-body shield for her. Barter, who is the next youngest, had her own Mickey Mouse gas mask.

They’ve passed major milestones with births, marriages, funerals, joys and tragedies over the past four decades. Pudwell was widowed 10 years ago, and Barter’s husband died about three years ago. Faust has become a widow within the past month.

The visit was planned long before her husband died, but her sisters’ presence has been a solace, she said. “Just to have them here, just to be able to touch them and hold them and kiss on them again. It’s marvelous to have them here. It just seems like a dream.

It will end all too soon: Harris and her husband, Butch, will head back to Alaska on Friday, and the other two sisters will return to England on May 29.

Now they’re trying to get Faust to visit England. Since she married, she has only visited one sister in Nebraska. “I’m not much on travel,” she said ruefully.

Pudwell said they don’t plan on dropping the links between sisters, whether they visit by phone or in person. “We’ll be little old ladies on a Zimmer frame (a walker).”

Faust said she’s trying not to dread the end of their visit. “I’m probably going to miss them so much I won’t know what to do with myself.”

Still, it has been worth the separation pangs she know will come, she said.

Has the visit been all she had hoped it would be? “More,” Faust said softly.

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