Tag Archives: siblings

Retrospective 7: 1969 — Stubborn memories

My mother drives her flower-painted moped, and we wave her goodbye. She always turns her bright face back towards us, smiling, waving. And then she is gone.

That is not what I remember. I remember driving in the van out to the country, up a winding road to a farmhouse with a view. It must have been in the foothills of the Alps. The landscape was wide and rich with growth, and I turned around and around to pull it all into my heart. I felt like Heidi or one of the children from The Sound of Music.

I wrote about that time, those memories, here. Nothing has changed. The memories remain stubbornly the same. The man who was bearded and booming-voiced, and who pulled francs out from behind our ears.The wine and picnic baskets in the Alps. Swimming in a blue lake.

But something else intervenes. My baby sister is born, Ruth May, late in the year. My mother says Dad took her hand after the birth, and said, “Don’t worry, dear. The next one will be a boy.” My mother’s response: “Doctor. Tie my tubes!”

And that indeed did happen. Four children in five years was enough for her, four girls, each so different, each so lively and also so needy.

There are more snapshots. My aunt came, Dad’s brother’s ex-wife. She was blond and brassy, with a loud voice, and she filled the apartment. No. Wait. I have mixed her up. She came earlier, when Leah was born, so my mother could go alone to Nashville. No. She came before Leah’s birth, and cared for us when my mother went to Nashville for her mother’s funeral. No. My mother went to Nashville for the funeral, and took Rachel and me, and stood in the airport with her belly growing, feeling desperation. That’s when she went to the doctor to ask for an abortion. Aunt M never came.

But I remember her. I remember snapshots. They might have been taken on the same day, or not. They might be years apart. Aunt M with her commanding voice, and my mother at the airport with us in tow, and Ruth May’s blond wispy hair caught in a flare of sunshine as she reaches her plump hand towards me. I remember all of them, but their relationship to one another, their grounding in time and space, is long lost.

When did it start raining?

Retrospective 6: 1968 — Days without Rain

Snapshots of the early days in Switzerland.

  • I was three for most of 1968. Rachel had diarrhea and exczema and I spent an afternoon running from the bathroom to my mother, carrying clean cotton nappies, and then from my mother to the bathroom with the dirty ones. We couldn’t keep her clean. It was a game for me, helping with Rachel’s nappies. Leah was little and compliant that day and didn’t cry much, and the sun made a square on the floor of the living room. I passed through it over and over again, and marveled.
  • I found a stuffed toy fox in the dumpster underneath the apartments. I climbed into the dumpster and pulled the ragged creature out. Where was my mother? Perhaps I was older than three or four. Time was meaningless in those years. I have only snapshot memories of that time anyway, and they are jumbled up. Still, they were happy times. I took the fox home and Mum sewed it up and washed it and it became mine. I still have it, 40 years later, sitting in my room with my other stuffed animal, a bear, this one 60 years old, my mother’s own childhood toy. None of my sisters wanted him. His button eyes were gone, and his nose, and he had brown coffee stains on his worn yellow pelt, and he wasn’t new and shiny. But I love(d) him, and he and the fox share space on my bedside table.
  • I don’t remember rain in those days.