`Sugar and spice and everything nice'

IT was one of those nippy October mornings when the frost on the pumpkin slept a bit late before disappearing. Despite the morning chill, Mallie and I knew it was going to be a fine day, what with our daughter Debbie and her best friend Jack taking leave of their law school studies to share breakfast with us. To be sure, it was more than a fine day; it was a memorable one. For Jack asked permission to marry Debbie. I had prepared for this auspicious day, as I had for Debbie's birth, first day at school, purchase of her first two-wheel bike, graduation from college, and departure from the nest; each preparation was made easier by reliance on my bank of memories.

I can still recall the rainy, late summer night of Debbie's birth when I walked home from the hospital telling stranger and friend alike of our beautiful first-born. Then there were the late-night feedings when Mallie rocked Debbie and sang soft lyrics that somehow just seemed to be pretenses for the two women to get together while I tried to sleep.

Debbie had the hardest time learning to kiss. For months she licked my cheek, and not until age 2 or so did her pucker-power emerge.

That wasn't the case with her mind, however. When brother Tommy was born, Debbie spent some time with our Aunt Jerushia: One day when the two were taking a walk, an elderly gentleman attempted to make sport of four-year-old Debbie wearing jeans instead of a dress. ``And what is your name, little boy?'' the man asked. ``David,'' Debbie retorted without losing a stride, much to the delight of Aunt Jerushia.

My favorite memory of Debbie was a picture we took of her at the top of a sliding board. It was at the end of one of those rare summer days when sun and wind combined to make for a tolerable playtime. After several slides without taking so much as a breath between maneuvers, Debbie paused to look down at her world below. The sun made her hair sparkle, and her cheeks had that natural rouge color that no cosmetics company could duplicate. The scene reminded me of the nursery rhyme that argues that little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.

These memories raced through my mind as Jack explained to me how much he loved Debbie and that marriage was not only a solemn commitment but a permanent one.

Yes, that's what married life is all about, I thought, with love as the tie that binds. So the four of us laughed and cried and ate very little breakfast that autumn morn, looking forward instead to the wedding and subsequent years that will expand our bank of memories with the addition of new family members - and maybe including more sugar and spice or even snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails.

Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.

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