Today my youngest sister turns 40-something. (I’ll never tell.) I was six years old and in first grade when Mom brought B home from the hospital. I don’t recall being much aware that Mom was pregnant. But then, there was B! And Dad declared our family to be complete.
My earliest memories of B are of holding her, feeding her a bottle, proudly playing the big sister to our tiny addition. Then there’s a jump. All of a sudden she’s two, with sweet blonde curls and a mind of her own. She loved a miniature cup of sugary, milky coffee. Our parents indulged her on the building site of the new house, where they were hard at work and often distracted. She was two years old when we moved in, her bedroom carefully positioned next to theirs. Years later Dad made a dollhouse replica of the house just for her. Mom completed it with original wallpapers and carpets.
I felt protective of B from her early years well into my adulthood. As a pre-teen, I confided in the Burke girls on the school bus, “I spoil her.” Their younger sister was quite a handful so they were quick to discourage me from continuing! Of course, I wasn’t in any position to truly “spoil” her. All that matters is I thought so. I hope she did, too. And I hope she knows how much she was loved.
My favorite memories of my sisters are immersed in good old-fashioned play, long before technology got in the way. We also did a healthy amount of old-fashioned work together. (Hmmm. Perhaps I am becoming old and old-fashioned!) To balance work and play, and value both, were childhood lessons well learned. If only we had known how fleeting our season of togetherness.
Spring, summer, and fall, we rode bikes and our pony, climbed trees and rocks, and picnicked in woods and fields. There were garden chores and lawn chores. There was lots of time for reading and too much lousy network TV. We received more Canadian than U.S. channels with rabbit-ear reception. Public Broadcasting saved us. Sesame Street made its debut just in time for B.
In late summer we picked berries — blackcaps, raspberries, blackberries — at camp, when we weren’t gathering wood or fishing. In the fall we trudged off behind Mom to gather butternuts for winter time cracking by the wood stove. The woodshed was always well stocked.
Through fall and winter and well into spring, we girls took turns hauling wood into the basement by wheelbarrow or sled. Dad always said wood warmed you three times over in cutting, splitting and stacking. He did the heavy lifting but we got our fair share. Yet for all of our complaining, we appreciated a toasty fire, especially coming in from the cold. We might have been skating on small stretches of frozen pasture. Or sledding down Hastings’ hill. Cross-country skiing across a frozen field. Snowmobiling after dark, playing hide ‘n seek around islands of trees. North Country winters were long but seldom boring.
We older girls created fantasies for little sister B. One time I played Santa Claus, faking a chimney entrance, only black vinyl boots and red pajamas stuffed with a pillow viewable in the Polaroid pic. “See, B? There is a Santa Claus!” I don’t think she bought it.
My favorite fantasy was much more elaborate. E. B White’s book, Stuart Little, became our guide in setting the stage for Little family adventures. We built tiny sets with dollhouse furnishings tucked into pine trees and cedar boughs. We invented story lines for their escapades, leaving notes and clues. This continued for an entire summer. B was convinced that the Little family and their friends had migrated to our back yard. It was magical.
Alas, summer must come to an end. Seasons pass. Things change. But connections of heart made in childhood endure. I’m thankful for those reels of memories, readily available, on replay loop. I’m forever thankful for B, too. Happy birthday, sister!