“Very good!” she said with a smile. “Keep going, you can do it.”
“He saw a slice of pep-per-oni!” I exclaimed.
Vicki giggled and said, “Can you imagine a silly old mouse eating pepperoni?” I laughed at the thought and continued reading to her.
Vicki was my second-to-the-oldest sister. She had married her high school sweetheart, Tinker, when I was just four years old. Despite a near casualty just days before her wedding, involving my brother, a huge rock and some stitches, I was the chosen one – the ceremonial flower girl. My mom begged the doctor to save my beautiful long, blonde curly hair for the sake of the wedding. I had only received three stitches, but my tender head made combing the thick locks painful to endure.
I was pretty convinced at the age of four that most people go to weddings merely to see the flower girl and ring bearer’s performances. At the ceremony rehearsal, regardless of the numerous pep talks from my sisters and mom, I assumed my job was to skip my way to the altar carrying a basket of spring flowers. My brother walked beside me, carefully balancing a pillow on his palm. It wore tiny, gold-painted plastic rings in the center of it. We began our journey down the aisle, side-by-side before I gave into the urge to swing my basket high in the air, skipping to my destination.
“Whoa, whoa,” said the preacher, but I didn’t hear his caution.
“Good grief,” mumbled my brother, shaking his head in disbelief.
I put my heart into my assigned task, giving my basket a spirited ride and skipping clumsily with my knees raised above my navel with each step. Just as I neared the wedding party, my basket slipped out of my tiny hand and launched into the air, sailing across the room and landing behind the pews.
“That’s it!” my brother yelled, throwing the pillow to the ground. “I’m NOT walking with her!”
The following day, the preacher chose to send my brother down the aisle by himself. He was dressed in a powder blue suit and black shoes. As much as I hated to admit it, he looked handsome. He took careful steps, concentrating on the pillow.
“But I’m s’pose to go with him,” I argued.
“Well, let’s let him go first so he doesn’t slip on any of your beautiful flowers,” the preacher scrambled. Apparently his excuse sounded reasonable enough to me because I waited quietly for my turn. Once given the go-ahead, I slowly removed each tiny petal, one-by-one and dropped it to the ground. I knew how important the flowers were. It’s all I had heard about for the past month, and I wanted everything to be perfect for my sister’s entrance. In the back of my mind, I wondered why the preacher wasn’t worried about her slipping too, but I guessed she had special shoes that possessed magic non-slipping powers. I saw Dad place a lucky coin inside one shoe just before the ceremony. I walked side-to-side down the aisle, making sure the entire area was covered evenly with a carpet of flowers. I eventually reached the front and was quickly swiped to the side by one of my sisters.
“What’s going on? When is she coming?” I asked my sister, Jacki.
“Shhh,” she said.
“But I want to see her. And I don’t have any flowers left. Can I get a flower?” I continued on. Jacki tried her best to distract me and spoke in whispers, hoping I would do the same. Suddenly the crowd rose to their feet as the organist pounded a single chord multiple times to announce the grand entrance.
“Where is she? I can’t see her,” I asked my sister, getting restless from her attempt to contain me.
“Shhh! Look, where’s Daddy?” she asked to distract me once again. I looked around, then darted into the aisle.
“There he is!” I yelled loudly. “There’s my Daddy! Hi Daddy!” I yelled as I waved to him. He smiled and gave me a small wave while holding Vicki’s arm. ‘Maybe she was afraid of slipping on my flowers,’ I thought to myself. ‘Good thing Daddy is there to help.’ Suddenly I felt the entire crowd staring and giggling at my toddler antics. Jacki pulled me aside again and held my hand firmly for the duration of the entrance.
“Belch!” said the mouse as he finished his pepperoni. And off he went to his hole in the wall. The end,” I read.
“That was very good reading, Sweetie,” my sister said. “Now let’s put these books away and go tell Mom what a great reader you are.”
I hopped to my feet, threw the book on the bookshelf at the end of the hallway and ran down the stairs, leaving the rest for my sister to pick up.
“Mom, guess what! I read the whole book and I even read the word ‘excitement’,” I said as I bounced into the kitchen where Mom was washing the lunch dishes by hand.
“That’s good,” Mom said in her exhausted voice.
“I need to run,” Vicki said.
“Congratulations, Vicki,” my mom said with a wink.
Vicki gave her a shy smile. “Thanks,” she whispered and gave Mom a quick hug.
I followed my sister out the door and waved goodbye from the front step. I always loved it when Vicki came to visit. She gave me lots of attention and encouraged me in whatever silly project I was interested in for the week. One time we spent hours curling strips of paper for a quillery project. Another time we replenished my mom’s stash of potholders with my weaving loom.
My oldest sister, Cheri, had moved out of the house before I was two years old. I don’t remember what it was like for the year that all five of us kids and my parents lived in our tiny basement while our house was being erected above our heads. According to Mom, ground broke on the house the day I was born. Cheri had two children of her own and her hands were full. Her visits were usually accompanied by chaos and me screaming at her two kids for trashing my bedroom. One particularly disheartening calamity occurred when my 45 records were strewn across my bed. Her son, Ladell, spotted my little league softball bat in the corner, grabbed it, raised it above his head and slammed it down onto the bed, shattering my 45’s into multiple pieces. My favorite record, “A tisket a tasket, a green and yellow basket,” would never play again. I cried authentic, devastating tears this time and ran to my mom to tell her of the injustice.
“Why were your records on your bed?” she questioned, instead of seeing the obvious crime that had taken place. As far as I know, she didn’t punish Ladell for destroying one of my favorite possessions.
Jacki was the middle of our five children and had become known as the gentle peace-maker. She was ten-years old when I was born and not yet interested in boys, so some of the menial child-rearing duties fell on her – most of which involved entertaining my brother and me. As she got older and spent less time with us, I would resort to pouncing on her for attention the moment she walked in the door.
“Jacki, can I do your latch hook rug with you?” I would ask.
“No, you’ll mess it up,” she would say.
“Well, can I hold the yarn for you?” I bargained.
“No, you’re too little,” she said every time.
Then one night, she must have had a change of heart. We were snuggled next to each other on the couch, watching TV – well, she was watching TV. I was studying her every move with the rug, latch hook and yarn when she said, “Hey, do you want to sort my yarn pieces for me?”
I was so excited. I had finally won her trust. I dumped all the yarn on the couch and put each color in its designated compartment. I even got to hand her the small yarn sprigs as she asked for them. I got good at it too and could anticipate which color she needed next.
I thought Jacki was so beautiful. Her long, feathered hair formed large rolls down her cheeks. She wore shiny lip gloss that lived in a peanut-shaped applicator we bought from our Avon-selling cousin. I wished so badly she would let me wear it, but her basement bedroom was off-limits to me. Sometimes I would sneak down the stairs and stand outside of her closed door to listen to her and her friends talking about boys. I couldn’t hear every word, but I assumed they were talking about kissing.
Then there was my brother. He was not fun, nor was he beautiful. He was mean and wore a constant scowl on his face when I came within three feet of his perceived bubble. If only I could make him like me.