Baby sisters are a mystery. In my generation that mystery began long before she arrived. Why did Mom get big especially around the middle? Back in the Victorian Age of my childhood proper southerners didn’t use vulgar words like “pregnant.” Women were “in the family way” or “expecting.” All I knew was there was less room to lay my head down in Mom’s lap.
The second mystery was waking up to find Grandma O’Quinn at our house and Momma gone, gone “to get your new baby sister.” What baby sister? I didn’t ask for a baby sister. I just want my mother back. Granny fixed breakfast, fried eggs, grits, bacon, and toast. Exactly what Momma fixed, but nothing like what Momma fixed. It was darker and seemed burned. I didn’t know who this baby sister was but she was already messing up my life, big time.
A few days later they brought her home. I must say she was cute. Everybody scurried around and fawned all over her. I had a simple job, leave her alone. That was easy enough. I had Shirley to play with. But boy could cry.
By the time she was a toddler, Jimmy found a good use for her at church, babe magnet. Before long we all discovered other uses for her, manipulation. Dad would give her almost anything. For years driving home from Georgia we had asked for a coke only to hear, “We have cokes at home.” As soon as Darlene could make the request we would coach her and Dad would answer “Sure baby, we can stop. Anybody want a hamburger?” Wow, she was good for all kinds of goodies.
This baby sister thing was not bad. Not as effectively, but it worked with Mom too.
Darlene was a real joy to be around, easy going, happy, cooperative. But then we moved to Alabama when she was entering fifth grade and Alabama wasn’t good for her. The teachers were not helpful with transitioning from what she had been taught in Florida to what they thought she should have been taught. She seemed depressed, and then pre-pubescence struck and she seemed angry. I was her worst enemy. I didn’t mean to be, but I had no idea what she was going through.
Momma told me to be more understanding. She couldn’t help her mood swings. I quipped, “Mood swings or not, sin is sin. There’s no excuse for her behavior.” Boy was I ignorant. I thought what she needed was cheering up, when what she wanted was to be left alone. In that context she became one of only two people to suggest to me that I should sojourn in a permanently warmer climate. I will never forget the look of anger on her face as she expressed the sentiment. It was for me a transforming moment, my sweet, innocent baby sister was growing up and had a vocabulary we were not supposed to use. I also gained a great resource for blackmail. “Are you sure you don’t want to get me a glass of ice tea? Momma, Darlene has something she would like to tell you.” It worked for a few weeks.
Flash forward a few years and I am standing in front of my home church about to perform my first wedding. I’m nervous, the groom, groomsmen and bridesmaids are all in their places and my Dad steps through the door with the most beautiful bride on his arm. As they slowly moved down the aisle and approached the altar I found my right hand drawing into a fist. “Who is this guy who wants to marry my baby sister? I don’t know if I can do this.” But I did.
As I reflect back on it, being asked by Darlene to perform her wedding was one of the highest honors of my ministry. She may have felt obligated (we’ve never discussed it) but it was a great moment in my life.
It has been rewarding to watch her go through life. She has had more than her share of challenges and dealt with them with courage, grace and strength. She is an excellent wife and mother and a doting grandmother. Surprising to me, she is quite craftsie. The baby who everybody took care of grew up to take care of everybody. As our parents loved us each equally, we each equally loved them. But when they retired it was Darlene who went to check on them most often. And after Mom was gone it was a great comfort to know Darlene who at an hour’s distance was the closest, was looking out for Dad. Did I mention she’s a great cook; it’s genetic.
March 4, 2010