Sixty years ago today
There is something very wrong with this picture.
Yes, this specific picture.
The one you see here on this page.
Not to mention the one that greets me every day when I stagger down the hall and see that … that … that grown-up staring back at me in the bathroom mirror.
It’s hard enough to come to terms with that: I cannot possibly be the age I appear to be.
But it just isn’t possible … no way, no how …
It’s simply out of the question …
There is no way that I could possibly be old enough to remember something that happened sixty years ago today.
It was a Monday, that 28th day of February, 1955.
We had been back in the United States for only a few months after a year of living in The Netherlands and had only been living in the house in central New Jersey for perhaps 90 or 120 days.
Just long enough for the house to be a little less new to our family of four.
My parents, my older sister Diana and me.
Long enough to be settled in the room Diana and I shared at the front of the big Dutch colonial.
Long enough to marvel at all the infant furniture being assembled and installed in the room at the other end of the hall, at the top of the stairs.
Long enough to understand what that, and our mother’s expanding waistline, meant.
Long enough to know we weren’t staying a family of four.
And definitely long enough to have formed an unshakeable preference.
Each of us had a sister.
We wanted a brother.
And so it was that I remember that very early Monday morning, sixty years ago today. Now I was a very little girl that day. Not yet four years old.
But my memory tells me that we were awakened early by our father. Dressed in neat little dresses with what were likely saddle shoes and given sweaters — not coats, but only sweaters — to wear for warmth. Taken next door to the house where Bailey and Peg Pepper lived and given into Mrs. Pepper’s care.
Given breakfast. Sent out to play in the backyard. Given lunch. Sent out to play again in the backyard. Wearing only those sweaters for warmth.
And then came the news.
Mrs. Pepper came running out of the back door. “Girls,” she called. “Girls, you have a baby brother!”
I looked at Diana. She looked at me. Good. I’m not sure how we would have reacted to the news if it hadn’t been a brother. We probably would have tried to send the baby back.
Now I really don’t remember much else until they brought him home from what was then Middlesex General Hospital. All nine pounds, 15 ounces, of little boy with a little butch haircut.1
And sitting outside on the front steps with a very determined look on my face (and — no surprise — a dirty forehead), I got to hold my brother for the very first time.
I was not yet four years old. And, at that age, you have to wonder just how much of what you remember is actual memory and how much you may think you remember because of stories told down the road.
So… memory? Or stories I was told?
I have only one real clue to go on.
It’s the memory that tells me about those sweaters. Only sweaters to wear, there on the 28th of February, in New Jersey. Not warm coats. Just sweaters.
The end of February isn’t nearly spring yet. We surely won’t be wearing sweaters here in New Jersey today.2 When we talked a few weeks ago about this upcoming natal anniversary, my older sister didn’t remember what the weather was like the day Paul was born; I don’t remember ever discussing it before with anyone.
But I remember sweaters. Only sweaters.
So I did what any self-respecting genealogist would do.
I checked the newspapers.
“March is coming in like a lamb tomorrow–” reported the Trenton Evening Times of 28 February 1955, “and February is going out the same way. The temperature climbe(d) to a Spring-like 61 degrees by mid-afternoon today and was expected to read a high of 62.”3
It’s really true.
I really do remember something that happened sixty years ago.
Sixty years ago today.
Happy birthday, Paul. Love you dearly.
But this getting-older bit has got to stop, okay?
- The nurses nicknamed him while he was in the nursery and it stuck. He was Butch, or Butchie, until he was 12 and came home from school one day and announced that his name was Paul and he wasn’t answering to anything else. Only the most beloved of our aunts and uncles were ever allowed to call him Butch after that. I hope his children and grandson call him Butchie all day today. ↩
- Today’s high may reach a whopping 30 degrees, if we’re lucky. See Weather.com, forecast for 28 Feb 2015, Middlesex County seat of New Brunswick (http://www.weather.com/ : accessed 27 Feb 2015). ↩
- “March Comes Like A Lamb,” Trenton Evening Times, 28 Feb 1955, p. 1, col. 4; GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ : accessed 27 Feb 2015). ↩