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52 Stories #26–Siblings

My parents had four children. I am the oldest, and I have two brothers and a sister. With a nine-year spread in our ages, I can remember clearly the births of my two youngest siblings, but I do not recall the day my first brother was born.

He arrived just 20 months after my own birth. To me, he has always been there. I am told we moved from a second-floor apartment to the main floor of a rental house to make room for him. Perhaps we shared a bedroom, but I do not remember this either. I recall the house as a noisy place with another family living in the basement. Understandably, my parents were eager to get us into a place solely occupied by the four of us. We did that about 6 months later when I was 2 ½. We rented a two-bedroom place known as The Dream House because it had once been a prize in a contest. For as long as we lived in that house, my brother and I shared a small bedroom. At first, he had a crib and I had a trundle bed. Later, we got bunk beds from the local Ethan Allen store.

We passed the crib along to our new baby brother when I was in kindergarten. From the beginning, the poor boy had more than his share of health problems. The day he came home from the hospital he was coated in a white salve to calm his eczema. That first year, he returned to the hospital a couple of times because severe allergies caused him to catch pneumonia easily. Life changed for all of us because of the elevated level of care he needed from the beginning and still needs today. We were glad to have my maternal grandmother there to help out for a while.

By the time I was nine, we lived in another state. A year later, a baby sister joined us. I stayed home from school that day to watch my brothers when my dad took my mom to the hospital for the birth. The process took longer than he anticipated. He came home at lunch time to make sure I had sent one brother to school and lunch ready. He also attempted to do a load of laundry, washing my brother’s red hoodie with our white underwear. Bad idea–everything turned pink. When the telephone range with the message that my sister was born, my dad returned to the hospital while I minded one brother and awaited the arrival of the other from school. Dad spent the afternoon viewing my new sister in the hospital nursery and visiting my mom. That evening he returned to make burned scrambled eggs for us for supper. That was the last straw. He gave up on housewifery and called in my grandmother. She arrived the next day. Finally, I could go back to school and he could escape to his office. My mom and sister came home from the hospital a few days later. The boys and I had only a brief glimpse of the baby before they put her in for a nap in the bassinet.

Her arrival completed our family. In many ways, we siblings became two groups of two. My oldest brother and I do not remember a time without each other, but we can recall our family life together from the earliest days. To our young minds, it seemed a long time before the other two children arrived on the scene. Everything changed when they did. No longer were we a family with two big and independent children. We became a family that needed to accommodate babies again.

The day each the siblings arrived marked a successive turning point in my family life. I acquired new companions and shouldered new responsibilities each time. Overall, I remember it being a hard adjustment, and I was not always as gracious as I should have been. Sibling rivalry was alive and well at my house.

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