In Honor of My Sister, This Yarn Is Stretched Tight
The committee on arrangements has asked me to prepare an encomium to be read at the golden wedding party for my baby sister, who was born on the 24th of August, 1918. I well recall the day she was born, although I was but 10, and it now seems improbable that she is another old woman with grandchildren and I am a grumpy curmudgeon still 10 years older than she.
I remember the exciting day when she was wed. She studied the violin when she was of that age, and our father thought he was stuck with a musician. Nothing like that ever happened in our family. Greatly depressed, he placed an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal, and his spirits were revived at receiving 17 heroic applications. All were from bankers, high school dropouts, and New Deal liberals. The successful applicant, offering the lowest bid, received our father's check at once and came to call. It was love at first sight, and my baby sister tied him to the porch handrail with her jump rope. But, I wander....
That 24th day of August, 1918, dawned with a radiant sun that quickly dissolved the fog bank of Maine's Augusts, and I had come down from my attic chamber earlier than usual because some activity in the house below had disturbed me. Being only 10, I was unaware of some things, and the coming of my baby sister was something I had not known about. Later in the day, I was more broadly informed.
When I descended shortly thereafter to the kitchen, I found our father by the range with a wooden spoon in the oatmeal pot and a cloud of frustration over all. He said to me, "Where's the salt?"
At this moment, the door from our shed opened, and without knocking, Grammie Ganderdonk walked in and said, "On the shelf over the woodbox." She also said that she had noticed a lamp in our bedroom window during the night and she surmised the reason and came right up as soon as she fed Orrin (her husband). Then she took over and began making breakfast for our father, my sister, my brother, and me, and also for our mother upstairs.
Grammie Ganderdonk was no relation to us, but lived one house down the road and wore size 18 men's shoes. She took a poached egg on toast upstairs, surveyed the situation, and came down to tell us it would be a while yet. I remember how her boots shook the front-hall stairs.
After breakfast, our father took his wheelbarrow and went down to fetch Grammie Ganderdonk's trunk. He also brought her surveyor's theodolite and sextant, her jeweler's loupe, her "Palgrave's Golden Treasury," and her souvenir photograph of Homer Rhodeheaver from the visitation of Billy Sunday at Bangor.
Grammie Ganderdonk lived at our house on and off for the next 24 years, and entirely on after she was widowed. She meant well and did good, and we came to love her, but from a distance. She was not much on femininity, if I may put it that way.
When my baby sister was three years old, and no more than five feet tall, Grammie Ganderdonk began teaching her to play the violin. Her name was not Ganderdonk. It was really Wharfflesconce, but what's the difference? At 6, my sister did a complete Puccini opera on the violin at Minniebrook Grange Hall, on three strings. Grammie Ganderdonk on the harp.
My baby sister was over-precocious, and Grammie Ganderdonk was an able teacher. Before entering school, my sister had her surveyor's license, owned the County Ford Agency, managed the Blueberry Growers' Cooperative, repaired pipe organs, wrote a weekly column for The New York Times on playing bridge, taught animal husbandry at Fryeburg Academy, and lectured on weekends. In winter, she was strategy consultant for the Bruins ice-hockey team.
As you can see, Grammie Ganderdonk was a bit of a driver, and my baby sister had little time for childish play. I took her to the brook one time to find a mess of trout, and all she wanted to do was explain to me about prehistoric piscatorial migrations. During the war, she and Grammie Ganderdonk flew B-17s at a USO base at Delhai.
MY baby sister was always sweetly sentimental. The morning she was born, and the excitement had died down and the firemen had gone back to the hose house, I was so overcome at the whole performance that I went to the fields and gathered two lovely bouquets. I carried them with sedate affection up to the bedroom. I handed the first to my mother, who said, "Oh, aren't they beautiful!" She kissed me and said, "What do you think of your baby sister?" with equally sedate affection
My baby sister was in a new crib, with pretty pink rosebud bedclothes, and she was having a hotdog and relish. Grammie Ganderdonk was helping her do a crossword puzzle. My sister looked up at me with evident affection, and I could see how sweet and lovely she was, her long hair in a braid and tied with a pretty pink ribbon. She swallowed, and said, "So how about a big smack for your new sibby sister?"
I handed her my bouquet from the fields. August is not the best time to gather posies in Maine. The spring and summer blooms are gone, and fall flowers are just budding. So I had to hunt, and had done as best as I could. "Here," I said, and my baby sister took my small offering. "Humph!" she said. She looked at the bouquet and then sniffed it. She said, "Pennyroyal, tansy, and thyme! Peeyoo!"
Happy golden wedding, dear baby sister!