An Essay for My Sister on Her 55th Birthday
When I was three years old my parents told me I would be getting a new sibling…a baby. They brought me in their bedroom. Daddy sat on the bed and I stood before him holding his hands. Mom was standing at the end of the bed, smiling happily, as we discussed names for the new baby. In my memory, we only talked about girls names. I’m not sure why. There were no ultra sounds in 1961. The sex of your baby remained a mystery until the doctor revealed it at birth. They had four boys before me and I know they were quite elated when I arrived in 1958…finally, a girl! The story goes that Dad threw a party in our yard that day, which was right down the hill from the hospital room Mom occupied. From time to time the nurses would look out the window and joke with Mom that, at the moment, Dad was down there dancing with a blonde. It was a great story. It made me feel good when I heard it. They were very happy the day I was born. What a blessing. I guess they were hoping for a repeat.
So the names I had to choose from that day were girls names. They were obviously thinking of a new baby girl, and I was thinking of a baby sister for me! Being three years old, I didn’t know lot’s of names, but there were two older girls on the street, sisters, named Susan and Judy. I was quite fond of Judy, but despite thinking hard, momentarily couldn’t remember her name.
“Susie?”, I asked sheepishly. They looked at me with little grins and said “Do you mean Judy?”
“Yes, JUDY!” I answered happily! And so it was. My little sister would be named Judith Ann.
I suspect that Mom and Dad had already decided on a name and deftly steered the conversation in that direction, although I don’t know for certain. Maybe it really was my choice! What I do remember is feeling very pleased that we would be getting our very own little Judy soon!
The day Judy was born I vaguely recall being shuffled off to the neighbors, my parents best friends, Hattie and Joe. I remember being caught up in some excitement, but also feeling a little confused. Where were Mommy and Daddy going? Why couldn’t I be home? And then the next memory I have, I am standing in the hall way outside my parents bedroom door, and people are walking past me and going in there and fussing over the baby in a crib at the foot of the bed. And no one is paying attention to me. There is that same sense of excitement in the air, but I’m not feeling it. I’m confused because the baby doesn’t seem like anything so special, now that she’s here. Just a mysterious little bundle that makes funny noises and that is eating up all the attention my parents, and now everyone else, has to give. I kind of remember thinking “I don’t get it.”
At some point, I got it. She was a little person. Like me and my brothers, only smaller, more fragile and precious. Eventually I would become enamored of that little person. I developed a fiercely protective big sister attitude towards her. I would walk her to school with me when she started Kindergarten. It was my job. She would hang onto the arm of my sweater for dear life, stretching it out grotesquely . After I left her at her classroom, I would sit in my own with a churning stomach, because Judy was not a happy kindergartner. In fact, for the first few weeks, she was terrified. I hated being part of making her do something that caused her such anguish. But it was my job.
I was also plagued with nightmares about bad things happening to Judy. Some I remember to this day. And I would beat up boys that bullied her. I don’t know why my brothers weren’t doing it. I guess they were fighting their own battles. I do know that I felt deeply responsible for Judy’s well-being and happiness. Maybe that’s why we didn’t fight like a lot of my friends and their sisters did. And of course she was a bright, sweet, cute as a bug baby sister, which made it easy to be a good big sister.
Judy soon became the star of the family. Quite literally. At some point, my older brothers and I realized we could tell her to do anything, and she would. She became a favorite form of entertainment for us. Judy, we would say, Die like Snow White. Judy would close her eyes and melt onto the living room floor in an elegant heap, just like Snow White did after eating the poison apple, and we would all clap appreciatively. Before the internet, children were so easily entertained.
Even as a teenager, Judy was still entertaining us. My friends and I would be hanging at our house, and of course Judy would want to hang with us, so we would make her entertain us. Judy, dance! and she would start break dancing for us, jumping up and down like a jack-in-the-box and twirling around on her back with her feet in the air. She turned that little living room into our very own Soul Train stage. She was so multi-talented.
Now here comes the sad part of the essay. When I was twenty-one, I moved to the West Coast with my husband, leaving Judy, and the rest of the family, far behind.Of course things haven’t been the same since. We are still close sisters and talk regularly. We see each other once a year…maybe. We are together when it really matters though, sharing joys and sorrows, like when our parents passed away and on our 50th birthdays.
Today, it seems impossible that we’ve known each other 55 years. Increasingly it seems imperative that we spend more time together in the years we have left to us. Sometimes I feel terrible that I’m not there for her, like when she was nursing her son through thyroid cancer or when she needs help with things because she works two jobs and doesn’t have much energy to spare for herself. My big sister protectiveness is still intact, although I try to be low-key about it now. No beating up on the bosses or anything.
Here is what I really want to say about her on her 55th birthday: My sister Judy has grown to be the funniest, wisest, wittiest sister-friend I could hope for, and I have grown to love her more than any other woman on earth. I’m glad to be with her whenever I can. I miss her when we’re apart. And I will love her forever and for always.
So Happy Birthday to my baby sister Judy–my friend, my confidante, my comfort and my joy…and still, at 55 years old, my favorite entertainer.
©2016 Ilona Elliott