Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Today is my brother's birthday. I won't tell you how old he is, but I will say that I was seven years old when he was born, so he is my "baby" brother. I remember my mother being pregnant with him, and I most especially remember the day he was born.

I had just finished the first grade, and at my elementary school, we traditionally went back for an additional morning to pick up our report cards, which would tell us if we had been "promoted" to the next grade. I would be allowed to take my younger brother, Tommy, along, and we could wear shorts to school - something our strictly-enforced dress code did not allow during the school year.

I woke up excited that morning, and found my mother awake and pacing the house. "I think today is the day, honey," she told me. "I think I will have the baby today." "No! Oh no!" was my reaction. "Who'll comb my hair for school?" It is important to know that I wore my hair in a "pixie cut," a hairstyle popular for young girls at that time. It was short, short, short all over, and I can't imagine that combing it was too difficult. My mother assured me that my dad's sister, Aunt Isabel, had already been telephoned, and she, along with my grandmother and cousin, were on their way. They lived over an hour away, however, and I knew they wouldn't arrive in time. My dad would have to comb my hair.

Tommy and I went off to school, and I can remember the two of us sharing the seat at my desk as we waited for the report cards to be handed out. My teacher, Miss Pressler, sang in the church choir with my mother, and asked if she had had the new baby yet. "She's at the hospital now! She's having it now!" I was thrilled to have such important news.

As we started the walk home with dozens of other newly-promoted children, my aunt drove up, yelling out the window, "She had a boy! You have a new little brother!" Then we hopped in her car, and as she drove us to the grocery store to pick up food for lunch, Tommy and I tried to understand what this new addition to the family would mean for us. For one thing, it meant that he would be the one to share his bedroom with the baby, and not me. It meant that the wicker bassinet that my mom had spray-painted baby blue out in the gravel driveway was the right color. And it meant that I would stay my daddy's girl, which was pretty important to me.

We didn't see Billy until he came home from the hospital, of course, and the first clear memory I have of him is in that blue bassinet at the foot of my parent's bed. He had wispy red hair, but it was his little face that was bright red, as he exercised his new lungs and wailed. Tommy and I were fascinated and appalled. We weren't allowed to cry like that.

The memories tumble out after that, and I see my mother holding him and singing, "Oh where have you been, Billy-boy, Billy-boy? Oh where have you been, charming Billy?" I remember learning how to change his diaper and give him a bath, and I remember the endless trips up and down our short, dead-end street, pushing him in his stroller. But I also remember the soft, orange curls that sprang up all over his head and how he would nuzzle into my neck and fall asleep, even on the hottest summer days. Oh yes, I loved my little brother. And I still do.

Happy Birthday, Bill.

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