My earliest memory happens to be the moment I met my baby sister, Michelle. As today is her 51st birthday, that means I have fifty-one years of conscious (and semi-conscious) memories as of today or the next few days.
The most important part of all the above is this: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MICHELLE!
Now, I do not know if in fact what I remember is indeed the moment that baby Michelle was brought home to 4 Sheraton Drive from the hospital. I was two-and-a-half years old, so my parents did not consult with me about any of this. The photo above, with our father, is not the moment I remember but was taken sometime soon after. Also, I do not remember the moment that my mom (she must have been the photographer, as she is the one member of the family unit not in the photo) snapped the photo at top. Is there a companion to this photo, with Michelle and me with my mom?
In more recent years there are:
What I remember of my earliest life memory is that my parents wanted to take a photo of their two offspring together for the first time. I was placed in my high chair, the tray swung over my head and in front of me, and my dad told me to hold my arms out on the tray to hold my baby sister. The moment she was placed in my arms, her smiling face contorted into a grimace of red fear and tears since she had been abandoned by the only parents she knew into the rigid arms of an older brother who didn’t know how to hold a baby.
There is a photo of the moment, since my dad took the photo that they wanted to have anyway. I am smiling awkwardly at the camera and my baby sister is a red ball of fear. I was a red ball of fear inside, but gamely pretended to not be. The photo is in an album somewhere and my sister and mom have probably seen it recently. I always hated that photo when I was a kid, likely because it memorialized the first moment in which I thought to myself, “Things should be different here, but I’ll pretend I am not thinking that.”
The fact of the photo’s existence is why I remember the moment at all, probably, but I remember it from my perspective and remember the surprise I felt at the squirming aliveness of the baby who was suddenly in my arms and permanently in my life. And at how red and loud she was.
It may be that the fifty-one years of my sister sometimes gazing up at me with an expression on her face of “What the hell is he doing?” may have been born at that awkward “first” meeting.
I certainly have earned that expression from her many times through the years.
In March of 1971, I was a big brother all of a sudden, or so it seemed. My parents may have explained things to me during the previous nine months, but the phrase, “You’re going to be a brother,” told to a toddler who is not yet a brother may be a bit like a description of red to a colorblind person. I hated it at first, I think, because in the zero-sum philosophy that every toddler follows, I noticed that I had less attention paid to me and that I was told to share many more times than I had things to share.
Siblings build cereal-box walls at the breakfast table. My sister and I were apprentice architects with ours.
With time, I came to love being a big brother and to love my sister even more than that. She was one of the first people I ever made laugh.
Truth be told, she often seems to be the more mature sibling—even in the photo above—and she often seems to know how to solve most of life’s many puzzles sooner and better than I do, even now, but this is mainly because I kept finding himself distracted by odd byways and paths through life. I did my best to make some of those paths look unattractive for her, so she would not follow. That is what I tell myself, anyway.
Happy birthday to my dear dear sister!
and writer/performer with the Magnificent Glass Pelican radio comedy improv group, now in its thirty-first season:
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