I had planned to work this image into the longer entry about Rachel below, but then it didn’t fit…the photo does speak about our early years together but since I’m 5 years old and she’s an infant, it shows much more about me than about Rachel.
The color comics hanging behind me indicate that it’s Sunday after church. My dress was one of my favorites, a purple-striped number that I once accessorized with a purple crayon in the pocket…I don’t know how my mother cleaned up all that mess after a warm-water wash and a hot dryer finish. Rachel was born in February, and my nylon-wooly slippers indicate it’s not summer yet, despite the short sleeves of my dress. (The seasons blur in temperate Tomball, anyway.)
I think the purple fabric was thrown over the couch because it needed recovering – not long afterward, my mother had the faded and ripped Early American print replaced with another Early American print, but not much better stuffing. The stripes seem rather bold for Mother, at least in decorating (she did wear some bold florals), so it may have been a gift. We used the sofa throw when we acted out the Christmas Story at home – wrapped about the head and shoulders, it looked to us Texans...Tomballians...like Middle Eastern garb.
I was not naturally adept with babies, at that age or since, so my mother must have carefully lined up the bottle in Rachel's mouth. Legend has it that the night before we claimed Rachel from the hospital (she was adopted as an infant), I stayed up past my bedtime, practicing big-sistering with my doll, the same gnarly-haired thing you see in the photo (doll hair has come a long way since the 1960s), tossed to the end of the couch so I could perform a real feeding.
That excited night before is vivid in my memory, since it marked the end of the Before Rachel time. The reality of Rachel was not as I had fantasized. She took more of Mother's attention than I would have liked, and when she got older she was brattily intrusive in my lifestyle, her more extreme behavior reaching a level unknown by my placid family. My parents, worn down by my cries of "Make her stop!", would advise me to ignore her, not understanding that such a passive approach was useless against Rachel's forcefield of energy. Five years was an awkward age difference - we couldn't share friends or activities, although my parents seemed oblivious to that, always wanting to pair up their children as The Boys (my brothers were 2 years apart) and The Girls.
In 1st or 2nd grade I brought home a red zinnia carefully grown from seeds in a Dixie cup - this passed for a science project in those days. Toward the end of the school year it was large enough to be transplanted to our flower bed. The dry clay in front of our house was pretty much a dead zone, and the zinnia really stood out, more colorfully than toddler Rachel could resist. Less than 10 minutes after planting, she had yanked my flower out by its roots, and her face held dark emotion that proved to me she wasn't one bit sorry. Oh, my screams of righteous anger...
She had more toys and more friends than I did, so I couldn't figure out why she bothered to hassle me. I guess I should have taken an early lesson from the zinnia incident - she wanted what I had, because I had it. Not so different from sisters anywhere, but a new experience for me.
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