The Little Sister

I cannot choose but think upon the time
When our two lives grew like two buds that kiss
At lightest thrill from the bee’s swinging chime,
Because the one so near the other is.
—George Eliot from “Brother and Sister”

George Eliots’ poem, “Brother and Sister” touches a place deep in my heart.  Like Eliot, I am a younger sister.  My sister Carol and I were nearly inseparable in our childhood.  In fact, my memory sometimes confuses what happened to her with what happened to me.  I remember that one time my mom left a little red pill on the shelf above the sink, and thinking it was a piece of candy I climbed up on the counter and ate it.  My sister Carol has the same memory, only she remembers she was the one who climbed up and ate it. One of us got in big trouble over that one. Eventually my mom settled the debate when she verified that it was in fact Carol who did it. And this makes sense to me because I was often the watcher while she was the doer.

I have very few childhood memories of which Carol is not an integral part.

People many times thought we were twins as we were only a year apart in age.  My mother often dressed us alike and I was near in size to Carol.  But I never felt I was her equal; she was the older and the wiser one

I held him wise, and when [she] talked to me
Of snakes and birds, and which God loved the best,
I thought [her] knowledge marked the boundary
Where men grew blind though angels knew the rest.
If [she] said “Hush!” I tried to hold my breath;
Whenever [she] said “Come!” I stepped in faith. . .

We lived in a childhood paradise in our humble single-story three bedroom home on the very outskirts of Piqua, Ohio.  We had two cherry trees in the back yard, a swing set, a sandbox made from an old large rubber tractor tire, and a wonderful lilac bush.  We spent long and lazy days in the trees, or in the sand, or on our bikes.  Sometimes we would skate on the sidewalk with metal skates that fit over our shoes and came with a key.  I can still remember the fierce vibrating sensation as we rolled down the rough concrete sidewalk on the little metal wheels of our skates.

One day Carol wanted to make paint.  She had the brilliant idea that if we crushed small colorful pebbles into a fine powder and added water we could use it to paint pictures.  We collected our pebbles and each found a larger stone to use as a grinding or crushing tool and set about our business on the concrete patio beside our kitchen door.  When we finally produced enough crushed rock to mix with water and paint with we ended up with only wet paper covered with tiny rock specks.  We were lucky we didn’t put our eyes out with flying rock chips.

In retrospect I guess Carol wasn’t as wise as I thought she was at the time. But my memories of those days by her side are precious to me.  I can recall them and feel again as I did then; I can almost smell the fresh cool air and hear the birds that used to sing as we’d play outside in the early morning hours.

Long years have left their writing on my brow,
But yet the freshness and the dew-fed beam
Of those young mornings are about me now,
When we two wandered toward the far-off stream . . .

[Her] sorrow was my sorrow, and [her] joy
Sent little leaps and laughs through all my frame. . .

School parted us; we never found again
That childish world where our two spirits mingled. . .

But were another childhood-world my share,
I would be born a little sister there.


Swinging with my two "big sisters" — Carol on the left and Kathy in the middle. 1960.

Photo by Jerry A. Smith

Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

 

An excerpt from a paper written September 2004 for the course Survey of Women Writers at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Work Cited: Eliot, George.  “Brother and Sister.”  The Norton Anthology: Literature by Women. Eds. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar.  New York: Norton, 1996. 831-835. Pronouns in brackets replace the masculine ones Eliot wrote about her brother.


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