Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, September 23, 2010

the baby in the family

My baby brother is ten years younger than I. This means that at 10 or 11, I was changing his diaper, making his bottle and rocking him to sleep. Between my brother and me were three other siblings, two girls and one boy. Although our mother cared for each of us and all of us, it often fell to the elder children - three girls - to look after the younger ones - special and long-awaited precious boys.

At seven, eight and five, the three girls were "old aunts"  with the first boy. He became our living baby doll. And we rolled him around the yard in a dolly's pram which would tip backwards whenever we let go of the handle, resulting in loud wails as the live baby fell backwards.

By the time the baby brother came along, we knew better how not to treat him like a doll. What stays in my mind is the evening ritual, shared with my sisters, one nine and the other a mature seven at that time. Maybe we took turns, I don't remember. At or around seven, the bottle would be made - it had cereal in it so he would have been six months  - and baby on one shoulder, bottle and bib in one hand, we mounted the stairs to my parents' big bed. Baby would be fed - or coaxed to feed if he was fussy - burped, changed and lulled to sleep. If he had trouble falling asleep, I would sing hymns from my prayer book. All things bright and beautiful, and For all the saints, to Hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea! Good or bad, the hymn singing usually did the trick.

In the next ten years of growing, life on the farm is a blur of memory with moments like stills that stand out with technicolour clarity. The Poppy Club: Saturday afternoons shared with close cousins. Cleaning and grading eggs after school. Searching for secret places to hide and read. The brothers grew up too, largely unnoticed. By the time I was back from university, they were young men in high school, trying to grow their hair past the tops of their shirt collars under the eye of a vigilant principal.

Eventually they both went to the USA for university education, where they remain to this day. I can't say how like me they might be, or how different, what - apart from the parents genes - bind us together. I don't often look down that long tunnel of memory; but today is the baby brother's birthday and there's that love that lingers since he was ours to look after.

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