I was born in 1961. The same year that Germany built the Berlin Wall, the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Cuba, and 2,000 military advisers were sent to Vietnam. As a doctor smacked my bottom to elicit my first cry, the country was poised for a decade of chaos.
You would think this unrest would have somehow trickled down to affect my parents' sixth child. To somehow mark her with the political, economic, and social turmoil that rocked the nation.
But it didn't. Quite the opposite, in fact.
For me, the 1960's was a decade filled with carefree days. Because from the moment I was born I was loved.
By my mother.
By my father.
By my two beautiful older sisters.
And by my three handsome older brothers.
Together they gave me the gift of an idyllic childhood and taught me a life-long lesson about the importance, the wonder, of unconditional love.
Join me in celebrating this love story, a story written by my parents and five older siblings for a little girl born in 1961.
I was born four years after my parents' fifth child. Clearly I was an "accident," yet I was never, ever referred to as anything but a "gift from God" by my beautiful mother. Mom would pack me up and take me to work with her, to sleep or not in a playpen while she entertained me with one hand and penned numbers in a ledger with the other.
Later she would walk me to school, down The Avenue and through the center and up the big hill at the church. In the wintertime when we got to the top she would zip my parka a little higher and tie my hat a little more snugly beneath my chin before trusting me to finish the last leg of the journey without her.
Mom didn't own a car until I was in middle school. She was so proud of that car. She purchased it for $200, and she named it Betsy. Mom would drive me to school, and many times Betsy wouldn't quite make it up Church Hill. Mom would get out of the car, take a cinder block from the trunk, place it on one of the pedals, and tinker beneath the hood. Then she'd reverse the process, get back in the car with a smile on her face, give Betsy an encouraging pat, and off we'd go.
Mom never spoke of the fact that I hid beneath the dash board each time Betsy failed, embarrassed by the very thing that made Mom so proud. Her mother's heart excused the awkwardness of adolescence.
Dad, who photographed our family's history, didn't make it into many pictures himself, yet memories of him are frozen like still frames in my mind. Holding out his arms to catch me again and again as I faced my fear of jumping off the diving board . . . paddling our canoe right to the very edge of the waterfall as I squealed in delight . . . patiently counting out points in Cribbage but never patronizing me by allowing me to keep the ones I'd missed.
Dad loved nothing more than sitting down at the beat-up kitchen table with me to flex our mental muscles. He always accepted my challenges, even after I finally got to the point where I could (sometimes) beat him. Cards. Scribbage. Reader's Digest Word Power. Dad had a quick mind and a dry wit, and he generously shared both.
Dad was content to let others be in the limelight because, well, they just needed it more than he did. In his mind his role was to provide for and keep his family safe, and these he did so very well. The bogeyman stayed away during Dad's watch.
My oldest sister S was 14 when I was born. By the time I was 4, she was out of the house and off to college. On school vacations I'd climb the stairs to her attic room, squirm my way under her bed, and kick as hard as my little feet could kick until she got up. I don't recall her yelling, but I sure do remember her laughing. A lot.
In my eyes S was the most beautiful grown-up in the world. She married a few years later and moved to the western part of the state, but she never forgot me. She'd drive her ancient Saab and pick me up for weekend visits where we'd cook and hike and ride bikes. When I was with S, she treated me like a grown-up instead of the little kid that I was. She knew that, as the youngest of six kids, that's what I wanted more than anything.
M, one year younger than S, was a majorette in high school, and I was always so excited and proud when she'd march past, baton flying, in the Memorial Day Parade. She made me a pretty dress in Home Ec class once. When it came time for the end-of-term fashion show, M chose that dress to showcase, which meant that she wanted me to model it! I vividly remember sitting on a bench that had been placed on the stage just for me and feeling as beautiful -- and grown up -- as the teenaged models who strutted past.
When M started dating, she made a point to bring me along from time to time. I'd sit up front between my big sis and her date, and M made me feel like I belonged there.
M gave me my first nephew when I was 8, and she let me hold him right away. Even facing new motherhood alone with her husband in Vietnam, M would invite her kid sister to visit, and she'd do little things to let me know that I was there as her friend, not my nephew's.
I was born three day's before and came home from the hospital on the day of my brother KD's tenth birthday. I'm sure things were a bit hectic which is why my parents completely forget to get him a birthday present. Mom didn't miss a beat when she placed me in KD's arms and proclaimed, "Happy Birthday!" You'd think he would've been peeved, but KD was thrilled with his gift, and he took his baby-owning responsibilities seriously. As the story goes he got me up each morning to feed me breakfast, and it was several years before he figured out that I wasn't really "his."
KD joined the marines when I was seven, and I was devastated. I spent many an hour leafing through his boot camp yearbook, and I learned the Marine's Hymn by heart. On his weekend leaves, KD would walk into the house in his uniform and the first thing he'd do is plop his great big soldier hat on my little head.
When I needed a ride to the Registry to get my learner's permit, I was thrilled when KD volunteered. True to form, KD went against Mom's directive not to let me drive, and my first experience behind the wheel was in his brand-new 5-speed Mustang. Picture a one-way street, a wrong-way truck, and a stone wall, and you'll understand the depth of KD's generosity.
My brother P was always such a gentle soul. He was the last of the four-kids-in-six-years baby boom in our house and didn't like to be the center of attention. P had a rough time as a teenager, and I remember him trying to run away once. Dad was chasing him through the house, and P made for the back door. I -- all 40 pounds of me -- grabbed his shirt-tail and triumphed, "I've got him! I've got him!" Even in his haste to get away, P took the time to gently remove my fingers before taking off like a bat outta hell down the back stairs.
Once P was watching me while my parents were out, and I went against my parents' orders to wait until they got home before finishing a craft project. P was sleeping on the couch when I snuck out the bottle of brown stain and proceeded to spill it all over the kitchen. "P! P! P!" I screamed, and he leapt from the sofa, for surely I was dying. P silently helped me remove all traces of the stain, his only words, "Oh no, you got some on your picture."
Like KD, P joined the marines at 17. He was stationed aboard a ship for months, and my parents charted its course on a map hanging on the wall in the den. When P returned, he had the perfect exotic gift for everyone; mine was a beautiful Spanish doll with a red dress of satin and velvet. It was the most luxurious doll I'd ever seen.
When it was time for me to go to college, P was the one to take me for my first glimpse of the university campus. I was disengaged, for I was not attending my college of choice due to financial reasons. Undeterred, P checked the map and showed me the buildings where I'd spend much of my time. He gently but firmly took me into classrooms and lecture halls. P took me out to lunch, and all the while he ignored the sullen, spoiled brat nature that I so shamelessly displayed.
KG was the closest in age at just four years older than me. Equal parts playmate and tormenter, he could only put up with his little sister shadowing his every movement for so long. Everything KG did, I did. KG taught me how to bait a hook with a worm, make backyard forts out of sticks, and climb trees. How to pop a wheelie on my bike and dig for sea worms at the ocean (they bite!). Growing up we had a typical sibling love-hate relationship, but he was always there when I needed him. When I nearly lost an eye in an accident with the neighborhood kids, it was KG who lifted me into his arms and carried me home.
KG was a daredevil, and as we got older he loved speed. In the summer he'd race his dirt bike around the yard, and in the winter he'd do the same on a snowmobile. I remember climbing aboard his Skidoo, cautiously wrapping my arms around his waist and begging him not to go fast. He promised it would be an easy ride then punched the throttle. He continued to accelerate and didn't stop until we flew off the three-foot drop at the point and tumbled over each other across the frozen pond behind our house. I yelled and I cried and I told KG that I hated him. Then I climbed back on, wrapped my arms back around him, and we continued our ride. I couldn't let him know it, but I trusted KG to keep me safe.
We lost KG this year at the age of 52, the first of the six of us to die. My tormenter, my playmate, my brother, is gone. I miss all three.
For most people the 1960's were punctuated by turmoil and loss and heartache, but not for me. My family made sure of that.
Amidst the Cuban Missile Crisis and the looming threat of nuclear war, my sister was guiding my first steps.
She held on tightly with both hands and made sure that I didn't fall.
While the country was mourning the death of JFK and the end of Camelot, I was placed at the front of the line to marvel at the magic of Santa Claus.
My five older siblings were as excited to see their own bounty as they were to see the wonder of Christmas in their little sister's eyes.
As our first young men were being sent to combat in Vietnam and the nation was rioting in Watts and erupting in protest, I was dancing with my brother while my sister and her friend looked on.
My big brother was never too cool to hold my hand.
When more than 500,000 troops were fighting a non-war overseas, and the neighbors down the street welcomed their son home in a pine box, and the country was reacting to the assassinations of Martin and Bobby and taking out their frustrations on the very soldiers who were finally coming home and just wanted peace and acceptance and understanding, I was learning to be a princess in a pumpkin carriage with the help of a beautiful woman in a blue dress.
Of course, Cinderella really didn't need to teach me that much.
My family had been treating me like a very loved princess since the day I was born.