So there we were in Winter Haven and eventually and at long last, my ground-itched foot healed and I made friends and I realized that I was pretty okay in the intellect department and I loved my Girl Scout meetings where we planned camping trips and did crafts and sang, and I was doing things like going to slumber parties and reading, reading, reading from an unlimited supply of library books and all of that was good.
But as Mother's time to deliver grew closer, she became more and more worried and anxious and I surely do understand that. She was thirty-nine, no spring chicken, and her baby was big and a few days before she went into labor she showed me the new sheets she had bought that were washed and folded in the linen closet in the bathroom and told me that if the baby lived, I was to make up her and C.'s bed with these new pink sheets before she got home from the hospital.
If the baby lived.
I was twelve.
The baby lived. My baby brother Chuck and oh, how I adored him and every sweet baby thing about him. Redheaded and perfect and rosy and glorious.
Mother wanted to nurse him. She tried to nurse him. It didn't work and she felt awful. She always blamed the fact that she couldn't nurse on the drugs they gave her after her stillbirth to dry up the vast amounts of milk she had then. This could be true, I suppose, but I also blame the thinking on nursing when Chuck was born. A strict schedule had to be adhered to. The nipples had to be cleaned with alcohol before nursing. So many minutes (exactly) on one side, then that many minutes again on the other side. Done.
Soon I had learned to sterilize bottles and make formula.
Soylac. I remember that.
I was also washing diapers and cooking simple meals for the family.
Mother may have had postpartum depression. I don't know. But things weren't perfect around the house. That I know.
She was pregnant again in three months. She began to get headaches. Terrible, have-to-go-to-bed headaches. Her OB put her on a no-salt diet. It didn't help. She spent a lot of time in a darkened bedroom. C. had headaches too.
I don't remember a lot from then.
I remember my birthday the summer I turned 13. C. took me on another date. Another steakhouse. He wrote me a poem.
I remember before 7th grade started C. took me clothes shopping. Again- Mother thought this was so ducky. He took me to Montgomery Wards. Fashion plus, oh yes.
He bought me bras.
I read the Bible. I watched Billy Graham on the TV telling us to take our sins and cares to Jesus on our knees. I knelt beside my bed and prayed and prayed.
Often, while I was praying, C. would come into my room to "tell me goodnight."
They found a house for us to buy. It was right around the corner, across the street from a lake. Everything in Winter Haven is on a lake. It is the City of One Hundred Lakes. This is what I remember from right before we moved:
Mother and C. and Granny M. were talking about who would sleep in each bedroom. There were three. Mother and Granny M. thought I should get the room the daughter of the former owners had had. It was at the front of the house, the farthest from the room that Mother and C. would sleep in because Chuck and the new baby's cribs would be in a sort of closed-in breezeway right next and connected to that one.
C. protested about this.
(And I was eavesdropping on this conversation AND it got loud.)
"What's she going to do?" he thundered? "Have boyfriends sneak into her room and have sex with them?"
I was twelve. Maybe thirteen. Had not even started my period. The idea of me having any sort of boyfriend whatsoever was far in the distant future. I spent my days going to school, doing homework, helping with baby care, cooking, laundry, reading, and playing with friends.
Mother and Mrs. M. were horrified, shocked, incredulous.
"What are you talking about?" they asked, their voices filled with disbelief.
He was so upset. So upset.
I think that's when Granny M. got a clue or at least was put on alert.
I have no idea what Mother thought. None at all.
And meanwhile, Chuck's crib had been put in my room and frankly, I was so happy to have him there.