Last week, knowing your birthday was just around the corner, I started casting back in my memory: what were my earliest memories of my little sister?
I realized that I couldn’t recall our parents bringing you home from the hospital—though I vividly recall Dad and Grandpa looking after Bruce and me while Mum was off giving birth to you.
Okay, even that’s not strictly true: I remember one moment in particular. Dad was cooking something in the cast-iron skillet (probably bacon and scrambled eggs, his standard fallback), and I stood on tiptoe next to the stove to peek. In the pictures of your homecoming, I still have a nasty scab on my chin.
I guess it’s normal that a 4-year-old would think more about a painful chin burn than about a momentous event like a new baby sister, but still.
Sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, I have even less recollection of Bruce’s birth a year earlier. Probably because no injuries were involved.
My general feeling about babies was that they were noisy, smelly, and sometimes dangerous—I spent many months ducking the bottles Bruce used to hurl from his crib whenever I entered the room. That kid had a wicked arm on him, even then.
In fact, I’m afraid I didn’t take either of you into consideration for much of our childhood (except for the infamous Chatty Cathy Incident, about which perhaps the less said the better). And when I did pay attention to you, it wasn’t usually in a kind way.
I wish I’d been a better big sister, but I wasn’t, and you can’t go back.
I do remember an incident shortly after we moved to Halifax—a couple of kids on Ravenrock Lane were threatening to beat you up, and you came home crying. I sprang into action. No damn stranger was going to pick on my sister! I grabbed Bruce on my way out the door, and the two of us stormed off in search of the would-be assailants, who wisely turned tail and fled.
Then we went home and resumed our usual squabbling.
Mostly, our battles were likely to be with each other, often having to do with disputed territory. We shared a room, and like WKRP’s Les Nessman with his taped-down “office walls,” I wasn’t very flexible when it came to allowing intruders on “my side of the room.” Yeah, I was a bit of a jerk. Again, sorry.
But it wasn’t until we were both in our teens that I think we came to the mutual realization that if we teamed up, we could be formidable. This realization coincided with us getting our own rooms–pretty sure that was a factor.
We started hanging around together, and for the first time I began to discover that the little sister I’d ignored/tormented for so many years was actually a pretty cool kid. Very cool, in fact.
We found the same things funny; we liked (much of) the same music; and best of all, we could mock our parents behind their backs. Suddenly, it felt like were sisters in more than just name.
I remember sitting out on the roof over the front porch of our house on steamy Ottawa evenings, drinking filched beer and talking long into the night. Or the night you heaved the pillow out the window…
Or when the parental units were at one another’s throats, the two of us taking off together to walk through our suburban neighbourhood until the coast was clear. I remember singing old songs together, ones our parents taught us back before they went mad—“Shine On, Harvest Moon” and “Goodnight, Irene” and “There is a Tavern in the Town” (In the town!). A true sister act, if ever there was one.
I wonder what the neighbours thought—two girls harmonizing as we walked through the dark summer streets. On second thought, does it matter how they saw us?
Those years cemented our bond, and in the 40ish years since then, you’ve been my friend, my trusted confidante, my partner in crime, my dearly loved little sister.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
p.s. Oh, right. Happy birthday! Almost forgot that part.