I have three little brothers. When I say the word “little” I mean it in the way that all older sisters use that word, to express my sibling’s age, relative to my own. An older sister is more apt than a brother to use the “little” part as a term of affection; because she will always remember that her baby brother was once the most treasured baby doll she ever received. Even if that baby doll grows almost as heavy as she is she will carry him around on her bony little hip— all day long if necessary. My sisters, Marsha, Jeannie, Kathy and Janice can affirm this I’m sure, as will my brother Keith. Although he had no Betsy Wetsy doll, he did get to experience a similar joy with a soggy Jimmy hitching a ride on his back, hip or shoulder whenever he could. With that kind of shared intimacy a special affection for a much-loved sibling will last ‘til that very last breath. It brings to memory the words of Robert Munsch in his book, Love You Forever, the one children’s book that always brings tears to my eyes:
I’ll love you forever,
I’ll love you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.
Those readers who already know that there are eight in my family will catch that I neglected to mention my baby brother Donny. Not because I forgot him of course, who could ever forget Donny? With so many siblings every baby had his own personal porter to carry him around in his infancy and there was never any reason for them to have to crawl through the dirt like Popeye’s little Swee’pea, (unless they wanted to). Actually there were a few that wanted to— when going it alone seemed preferable to being jogged and jostled on a hurrying hip like a ride on a bony-backed pony. My stainophobic Mom immediately erased the evidence that any of her kids were the kind of dirty-bottomed waifs usually seen only in coal mining towns. Bleach was her secret weapon—that and prayer. When I was a very young Mom taught me to say my prayers every night before going to sleep. I always said the same prayer:
“Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray to the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray to the Lord my soul to take
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Bless this bed that I lay on.
God bless Mummy, Daddy, Marsha and I, Keith, Norma Jean, Kathy, Janice, Jimmy and Donny” ( In later years when Norma Jean insisted that we call her Jeannie, because of our cruel taunts of “You’re not normal you’re just Norma!” I altered my prayer accordingly.I’m still sorry for all that we put you through Jeannie.
People may wonder why I still call these grown men Jimmy and Donny. I think in part it comes from years of asking the Lord to bless them using those names. After years of practice in getting through that lengthy list, while kneeling on the cold wooden floors of childhood, I achieved the dubious talent of rhyming them off rapid fire— auctioneer style.( I knew that the Lord would understand me, no matter how fast I said it.)
I was a practising pragmatist at the time, although I’m not sure how the census had me listed, as Mom was a Roman Catholic and Dad a Presbyterian when they married. As time passed, gradually more and more little requests or thankyous were tacked on to the end of that original child’s prayer until one day the original “Now I lay me ” part of it was eliminated altogether. When I finally picked up the phone on my end of the line, prayer suddenly became real communication.
Over the years, I have grown a lot and I have changed a lot too. And little Donny and little Jimmy and all of you siblings of mine are entirely different people, big people, now. But I can still lift you up you know; don’t ever think that you are so big that I can’t! In the middle of the night, like the mother in Love You Forever who sneaks in to her grown son’s room and picks him up to rock him while he is asleep, I can’t resist the urge to lift you up too. And what do I do with you in those sleepless moments after midnight? Well I lift you up to the Lord in prayer of course! You didn’t think I was going to rock you did you? You know my back!