Main events in a child’s life add up quickly and the listing order of importance usually begins with the most current event. My sister’s birth was one that seemed to rank high on the list of what’s happening now. We had gone to Massachusetts to visit my mother’s relatives while she was very pregnant. Evidently she wasn’t close enough to set off any caution lights in my mother’s or father’s list of things to worry about, but on our way back to Cavendish Vermont we had to make an emergency stop at the Brattleboro Hospital. My mother went into labor in the car. At three years old, I remember pulling up to the hospital steps and my father leaving with my mother up the steps and bringing her inside. He rushed back outside to move the car and take me to the front door of the lobby. We had just gotten inside and the nurse came to tell Dad that he was the proud father of a new baby girl. I’m not sure how he worked out the babysitting for me while we had to go home without either one of them, because during that decade each birth meant the mother would stay in the hospital for at least a couple of days or more. My sister’s birth was actually on Mother’s Day that year, May 13th. I had to make some major adjustments to coexist with this new person in the house. I recall she was never to be subjected to any discomfort due to my actions or interference.
My sister got a little older and became mobile. My mother took a lot of pictures of her and her exaggerated smile, which was a cute sideways mouth with squinted eyes. Whenever my mother said “smile”, she went into that pose and scrunched up her face that way. She often wore some sort of bonnet. Still I was supposed to play with her and not hurt her in any way nor let her get hurt either evidently. After a while, it wasn’t much fun because it seemed I was always too rough or mischievous, and I ended up with what seemed now as an inordinate amount of spankings. Most, I still wonder what I did wrong to receive, some I definitely deserved. One of the latter such occasions was the time that I decided a caterpillar was soft and fuzzy, she looked at it in my hand and though I still don’t know why, I said “here, you eat it!” As soon as she put it in her mouth, a look of disgust came over her and she started crying hysterically. My mother ran out and asked me, the verbal one, what happened. I said matter-of-factly, but still kind of sheepishly, “she ate a caterpillar”. My mother frantically removed what she could from her mouth, and evidently the quills stick to your tongue, if you’re ever inclined to eat one. I received what is known as an old fashioned licking at that point, accompanied by a scolding at the top of my mother’s voice. She’s still got a good set of lungs; largely I can take credit for that.
Over time, my sister became more and more aware that I would get punished if she cried or complained. I think sometimes, she did both at once just to see if it would work better in assuring I’d become her entertainment with a licking from either of my parents. My father called her “Sis” so she was quite precious, and not apt to do as many wrongs as I did. It became quite apparent that I had to tread lightly around her when she was small. She still fits into the psychology of the sibling birth order where the middle child requires the most attention.
(c) Rick Wyman