When I was a little girl, I had a treasure of a little sister. She was not my best-friend-sister like Bonita, and she was not my Pal like Frank. She was not my personal blessing like Marcia, and she was nothing like Loren Deedee Bopper. Back then, I never wanted to be like her, like I did with Deanna; I was almost eight years old, when she was born. Still, this little sister taught me something special: Julie taught me how to love.
Julie was the first baby I really took care of. Sure, I changed Loren Deedee Bopper’s diapers, but that was when he was old enough to learn “Up-a-Butt”, which I taught him: That’s when a baby does a bridge with his feet and shoulders so the diaper can slip right under. You gotta be careful with diapering: bring the back corner over the front, right under the belly button; make sure the pin goes through all layers, front and back; and always, always put your fingers in the back, so your own fingers get poked before the pin can poke the baby; and don’t forget the rubber-pants over the diaper, or as soon as she wets, all the her clothes will be wet, too. I changed Julie when she was too little to even hold her head up by herself. That’s when a baby needs to be loved more than anything, ’cause she depended on you to be careful, and to know what she wanted. I learned a bit about what different cries meant, like ‘I want to play’, or ‘I’m hungry’, or ‘Please leave me alone, but first rock me to sleep, ’cause I like rocking more than anything’, and ‘wait a minute, I want some more rocking.’ Julie had that last cry quite a bit.
I loved to play with Julie, ’cause I could make her laugh so easy. Mom had this little bouncer seat that was nothing much to look at. Just a sling of white duckie printed on blue canvas and stretched, over a thick, wire frame. Mom laid Julie down in the sling and gave the wire frame a little push. That made Julie smile. The sling kinda reminded me of Grandma Z’s garden swing. I was supposed to just give it a little push, so it soothed Julie, but I could make her laugh out loud; that kind of laugh only babies can do, the kind they do with their whole body, not just their mouths and eyes. Here’s how, but you need a partner to make it safe: Put the rocker on a table, and have one person stand at the back and another at the front; The back person pushes the back of the bouncer all the way down to the table, and then really quick let go; The front person catches the baby. Julie went sproinging right on out of the bouncer, right into my arms, ’cause I liked to be the catcher best. Julie’s arms and legs opened wide, tiny wisps of her strawberry blond hair, same color as mine, fanned out like a halo all around her wide-opened eyes and her rosebud lips formed a capital O. I liked the catching part the best, ’cause Julie’s whole body vibrated happiness, and I could feel that vibration all the way down to my tippy-toes and up to the top of my head, so that even my hair felt happy. I squeezed her chubby little body tight to mine and she squeezed right back, so that forever after, love smelled just like Ivory Soap Flakes and Johnson & Johnson baby powder.
Julie loved to be rocked to sleep. She was a tinsy bit of a fussy baby, but that’s just because she had the X-Zema, just like me. She itched all over, just like I did some times. Of course that made it hard to sleep, even for a baby; babies slept almost all day long, except when they are eating or sproinging out of a bouncer seat. Julie got milk from Mom, ’cause that’s the way mammals feed their babies. I found out the part about all the mammals at school, but I already knew how Mom fed babies, ’cause there was always a baby around at my house. And we had cows and pigs who fed babies the same way, except mammals have teats instead of bowls like moms, and they had way more teats; moms only have two. I probably could have figured out that all mammals do that, but Teacher just told me flat-out, so I never got a chance to figure it out.
Julie liked to rock almost all day long. Mom had a perfect rocker for rocking babies to sleep; it creaked and groaned in a way that could hypnotize just about anybody, including me, the baby-rocker-to-sleeper. I rocked Julie back and forth, back and forth, with her head against my shoulder, and my cheek resting on the crown of her head, until she seemed to be fast asleep. You have to hold a tiny baby like that, if you want them to go asleep. If you hold them down in your arms, across your chest, they get confused and think it’s time to nurse. I stopped to test whether Julie was really, truly asleep. Nope, she wriggled around and grunted; still awake. I rocked some more.
Sometimes it seemed like I rocked her for hours. I got up and walked her toward her crib, trying to keep the rocking going: step, rock forward, step, rock back… Then I laid her gently down on her tummy, ’cause if you laid a baby on her back, she could catch the ‘crib death’, and never wake up again. I patted Julie’s back, just to let her know I was still there for her, slowly, slowly, making the pats get further and further apart until I stopped altogether. I just stood there awhile, breathing easy, but loud enough that Julie could hear, and rest easy. Then I tiptoed out of the bedroom. Most times, just when I reached the doorway, Julie’s head moved back and forth across the sheets and she started to cry. I started all over again, back to Mom’s rocking chair.
By the time I left home, Julie was still a little girl. Mom made her a Little Red Riding Hood costume for Halloween the year before, which was the best costume anyone thought up, because that red cape was so nice Julie got to wear it to church and to school and anywhere she wanted to. I wished I would have thought of such a nice costume. I found out years later, that Julie was fed-up wearing that cape and rued the day she wanted to be Little Red Riding Hood.
Mom’s rocker wore out: the mechanism broke, and the seat busted through. G-Money saved it from the Garbage Man and fixed it up for me. He’s a real genius at fixing mechanisms. Every time I pass that rocker, I think of Julie and rocking her to sleep. Of course, now she is a mother and a grandmother herself. She’s one of my best friends, so wise and compassionate. I still love to laugh with her; she can make me laugh so hard, I forget we are both grown-up grandmothers. I still love to hug her: she still smells so good, it makes my heart happy. One thing’s for sure, she never stopped teaching people to love. I’m still learning from my little sister. She is a treasure.
Happy Birthday, Julie.