As the oldest in my birth family I can remember when each of my siblings was born. Fifty-five years ago this month our family was completed with the birth of a baby sister.
My first sister had been born nearly three years earlier, bringing a halt to the succession of male babies in our family. Before sister Shirley was born, there were already four Huisman boys in the family, plus a brother that had died shortly after birth. Now, in November 1961, baby sister Trudy – the caboose – was born.
I was nearly 14 years old at the time. That should be read as, “I was old enough to help care for this new sister.” It did fall upon me to help with the younger ones and that’s okay. I learned things that were useful when I had children of my own.
The youngest of my siblings was a colicky baby. Complications from delivery had left our mother weak and baby sister’s incessant crying each night left Mom exhausted. Our maternal grandmother noticed Mom’s fatigue and prescribed a remedy for colic. Oma (our Dutch/German word for “grandma”) knew my parents were total abstainers so she made my mother promise to use the remedy. Our worn-out mother agreed.
In her Old World home, Oma kept a little booze on hand (for medicinal purposes, I’m sure.) She poured a small amount of whisky into a baby food jar and instructed Mom to mix some honey and warm water with the whisky, put it in a baby bottle and feed the cocktail to my baby sister.
When we returned home that evening, Mom mixed the remedy and fed it to my baby sister who turned pink and slept through the night for the first time in a long time.
Baby sister showed signs of independence at an early age. At about 18 months our mother was attempting to put Trudy in her high chair when she decided she didn’t want to sit in the chair. Before Mom could secure her, Trudy jumped to the floor and broke her leg. A little white haired baby girl with a cast on her leg elicited a great deal of sympathy from adults. I swear the kid milked that broken leg for all it was worth.
Growing up with four older brothers made our baby sister tough. She feared nothing.
Brother Dave enjoyed lying on his stomach on the living room floor. He would do or say something to tease Trudy who jumped on Dave’s back, straddling him like a pony. Then she proceeded to beat Dave with all her might, her tiny fists pummeling his back.
Dave laughed at her futile attempts which provoked an even harder “beating.” Unable to injure her older brother, Trudy finally gave up.
Whenever I had some jingle in my pocket I walked my two little sisters “uptown” to Grace’s Café where, just inside the door, was a penny candy counter. By the early ’60s a few things cost more than a penny but you could buy a lot of candy for a small amount of money.
I recall lifting and holding my two little sisters to counter level to select the candies of their choice. My arms grew weak as my small-but-solid sisters took their sweet time selecting their sweets.
I left home in October 1967 when my sisters were 9- and nearly 6-years-old. Thirteen years later Trudy enrolled in Morningside College in Sioux City where my wife, children and I lived at the time.
On her first Saturday in Sioux City Trudy spent the day at our house. She and I reminisced at length about our early years together at home. At one point she said, “I can sort of remember when you still lived at home.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “I was there 14 years before you were.”
It was then that I realized that Trudy and I had effectively been raised in two different homes. A lot of things can change in 14 years.
It wasn’t that long ago, it seems, that I celebrated my double-nickel birthday. Now my baby sister is 55… and I’m not. I have to say she takes good care of herself and could pass for much younger.
I guess that’s what happens when you have a big brother who took such good care of you when you were a little kid.