My two youngest sisters are Kathy and Janice. They are the girls who arrived before the brother who was promised to my brother Keith— and if not actually promised, at least maybe’d. I actually remember the way that Keith’s belief that Kathy was going to be a baby boy began. Mummy was sitting on the kitchen table in front of the big mirror in the little kitchen of our first little white house. That way she could see herself well enough to put her hair into pin curls because she was too short otherwise. I guess Daddy hadn’t asked her to stand in front of the mirror before he hung it up, and it was too high.
All at once she said to us, as we sat on our new kitchen chairs, wearing our new pajamas while watching her twirling her hair: “I’m going to be going to the hospital soon to pick out a new baby for us.” “Can we come with you to pick one out?” Marsha asked, and Mummy told us that they don’t let children into the hospital. Keith asked if he could have a brother this time as he already had Marsha and I and Norma Jean, who was the sister who was younger than he was.Whatever Mummy said, whether it was “Maybe.” or “We’ll see.” or “I”ll try.” he took it to mean a promise and was all excited at the prospect of getting a brother.
I guess he didn’t realize at the time that this brother he was expecting to get, was going to take a very long time to get big enough to share in games with him and with the plastic army men that he hadn’t buried yet. All the rest of them were under the dirt beneath the big old maple tree that grew in front of the house, the one that got hit by lightning a few months before. Keith seemed to like burying things a lot that summer. Maybe he was just copying our black dog Judy. Maybe that was the reason that he ate the June bug when he was little too, the one that was crawling across the porch by the kitchen door. Maybe he had seen a dog do that once.
Keith liked to howl like a dog sometimes too; he did that one time when we were waiting in Daddy’s red pick up truck in Melbourne, when Daddy had gone into a store to pay a bill. After awhile a whole pack of dogs were gathered around our truck. It was really terrible what trouble little brothers could be— even if you only had to look after one of them for a minute or two.I didn’t know how he could ever want a brother of his own so very much.Girls sure didn’t do stuff like that!
I suppose if we had noticed Mummy getting any bigger before baby Kathy arrived we would have just thought that she was just eating a lot, and growing very fast like our puppy Judy had that summer. We didn’t know anything different about babies coming than that they were picked out at the hospital. Keith, who was called Butchy when he was little, was too young to remember Norma Jean’s arrival. She was called Baby until she was much older, and then Jeannie after that, and Marsha and I will always remember everything about her coming.
Both of us had been crying a lot, especially in the last few days before our Mummy finally came back. Our Grandmother, Mum, had been staying with us, and she told us that Mummy had to stay at the hospital for awhile, because when she went there to pick a baby she got a terrible kopfschmerzen. We were glad when we found out that a kopfschmerzen was not a really cranky screaming baby but just the German word for headache.When we thought we wouldn’t be able to stand Mummy being away for a single minute longer she finally came home to us with a little bundle all wrapped up in a white fuzzy blanket.
When it was unwrapped it was wearing a lot of pink so we knew for certain it was a girl. Butchy was so little himself at the time that he couldn’t have cared less what it was— even a cat— as long as it didn’t take up more than its fair share of space on Mummy’s lap. The idea that a cat would ever be sitting on Mummy’s lap was a silly one of course. Mummy didn’t like cats very much. She thought they only rubbed up against your legs to get rid of their fleas. When we were little we never truly believed that story because we liked to rub up against Mummy’s legs too, and even hang onto the back of them if we could. Butchy would even try to sit down on her feet, right on top of her nice warm slippers if she was standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes and we knew we didn’t have any fleas!
When Mummy was off picking up the baby who turned out to be Kathy, we weren’t moping around crying all the like we were when she was away picking up baby Norma Jean. It might have been because we were a little older and there were more of us to keep each other busy. It might have been because we had heard this headache story not so long ago before and we remembered that at the end of it our Mother really did come home. Mummy and Daddy came in and she was carrying another white fuzzy bundle. We all came running towards her and hugged and kissed her and when she sat down in the middle of the couch and unwrapped the bundle it was the same pink bow-covered baby doll outfit on this baby as the time before. “But it’s not a boy!” Keith said as he stood beside the couch, with his little arms at his side when Mummy asked him if he would like to climb up and sit with us and take a turn holding the baby. Then, in less time than it takes to sing Rock A Bye Baby, he was up on the couch too, and demanding his turn. As he sat and looked at her and touched the her fuzzy little head he loved her just as much as we all did.
Mummy brought another beautiful baby home to us after we had moved to the big house my grandparents had lived in, and they had moved into our small one next door. That was baby Janice, the baby who never hardly ever cried. Everybody was just as happy that time as they always were whenever we got a brand new sister. Even our brother Keith didn’t seem to mind when he saw all those pink bows and ribbons.
And because Keith was such a patient boy, God decided to make sure that there were enough baby boys to go around after that and he finally got his brother— two of them actually— first Jimmy, and then Donny. That’s when he really got to know what it is like to have one of your very own.They are really a lot of work sometimes, and they break your toys and they spill your perfume, and they would rather make moats than mud pies, but I guess if you were another boy you would understand. And no matter how they act, you always love them anyway… just because they are yours.