I'm the oldest of three, with a younger sister and brother, all of us born in a span of less than two and a half years. People didn't mess around back then after marrying, I guess. Well, actually I guess they did, based on the evidence. :c) (As an aside: Oddly, most people, relatives included, assumed - and still assume - that I was the youngest and my brother was the oldest. My brother, actually the youngest, was big for his age, much more outgoing, and a natural athlete and leader. By contrast, I was very small for my age, quiet, artistic, and, in retrospect, pretty sensitive, especially for a boy.
My sister, the middle child, was more than a bit of a tomboy back then. She loved nothing more than to be outside playing baseball, football, or whatever sport was in season. I played too, but in spite of being a diehard baseball and hockey fan, I didn't really have any aptitude for sports in general. I have a long list of sports-related injuries, mostly self-inflicted, to prove it too. :c)
Anyway, like all tomboys she hated having to wear a dress at any time. And on this Thanksgiving day, I have a vivid memory of standing in my uncle's living room next to the television set, The Carpenters singing "Top of the World." I'm styling, albeit somewhat uncomfortably, in all the sartorial splendor of a hip kindergartner circa 1971-ish. At least hip as imagined by a baby-boomer mother who listens to Danny Davis & The Nashville Brass on 8-track (think plaid pants, polka dot tie, purple shirt with collars pointy enough to use around the fondue pot - you get the picture).
I'm looking at my sister standing in the hallway. She's wearing a pretty white dress with strawberries on it, white knee socks, white patent leather shoes, and a white ribbon in her hair. Arms rigid, hands balled into fists, legs spread defiantly, a scowl etched across her face, she remains consumed by the righteous fury of the wronged that only a four-year-old can muster, a fury that remains undimmed even after an hour-plus car ride.
My cousin N, a teenager at the time, is attempting, without much success, to draw my sister out of her funk.
"That dress is so pretty!"
My sister remains unmoved.
"And look at all of those strawberries! Can I have one of your strawberries, please?"
"Well, I'll just take that as a yes!" She reaches down, plucks off an imaginary strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and savors it for a few moments.
"Mmm! That is the *best* strawberry I've ever had! I'm so glad you wore that dress, or I wouldn't have been able to enjoy it. Thank you so much!"
Sighing mightily, my sister stomps off, determined to nurse her rage in indignant solitude.
N watches her departure, shaking her head slightly, then turns to me and smiles as she walks away.
"Why can't your sister be more like you, L?"
A thought flashes across my mind:
"I'd wear that every day if I could."
Instantly, my heart flutters. My legs feel like Silly Putty. I sit down on the couch, a strange tingling sensation in my stomach.
And I know I can't ever, ever tell anyone what I just thought.
Even if I don't understand why.
In fact, I know I can't ever let myself think anything like that ever again.
And so I don't.
Until I'm thirteen.