Friday, April 9, 2010


“I love you, Mother,” said little John;
Then, forgetting his work, his cap went on,
And he was off to the garden swing,
Leaving his mother the wood to bring.

“I love you, Mother,” said little Nell;
“I love you better than tongue can tell!”
Then she teased and pouted half the day,
Till Mother rejoiced when she went to play.

“I love you, Mother,” said little Fran;
“Today I’ll help you all I can.”
To the cradle then she did softly creep,
And rocked the baby till it fell asleep.

Then stepping softly, she took the broom
And swept the floor and dusted the room;
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and cheerful as she could be.

“I love you, Mother,” again they said,
Three little children going to bed.
How do you think that Mother guessed
Which of them really loved her best'

My mother once told me that her mom was a psychologist before there even was such a thing as psychology. Her mom had seven children, raised them under difficult circumstances, and had all of them grow up to be happy adults and good parents. These were my aunts and uncles who by and large liked each other and were close all their lives. They were from a generation who didn’t talk a lot about unpleasant matters, and if there had been any difficulties, they certainly didn’t talk about it in front of us children.

I think, then, that my mother must have been truly horrified to find that she had bred two daughters who really didn’t much like each other. Before my sister and I were old enough to have distinct personalities I think we got along ok, but as our little psyches began being distinct, she must have wondered if one of us had been swapped with another family’s baby when we were born. We tangled over everything!

The poem above is one that our mother often shared with us. She knew lots of poems and she’d sit with us on the couch and we’d ask her to recite the one above or “Abou Ben Adhem” or “Trees” or “The Duel” or “The Children’s Hour.” I’m sure Mother came to dread that request, because my sister and I always had a problem with which one of us was Little Nell. The minute the name “Little Nell” came up in the recitation my sister would accuse me of being “Little Nell” – or maybe I got in my licks first. “That’s you, Ginnie Lou” I’d say, which was guaranteed to set her off, as she was prone to tantrums. Mother tried to circumvent that by insisting that she would only repeat the poem if we didn’t argue about it. We would agree. But always, at the conclusion of the poem-reciting time, one of us would get a last jab in by saying, “OK, Little Nell, she loves me best” while eyeballing the other one. My sister and I did not fight with our fists; we fought with words, thoughts and ideas.

Another poem which would set us off was “The Children’s Hour.” That is a lovely poem and we loved to hear it. But it always ended up with my sis and I having a verbal brouhaha. What’s to argue in this poem, you say, about a grandfatherly man watching with love in his eyes at the antics of his three little granddaughters – “grave Alice, laughing Allegra and Edith with the golden hair?” Both of us wanted to be “laughing Allegra,” but my sister was a towhead so it was obvious she was Edith. She hated Edith. She wasn’t much crazier about Alice, but because I was older I told her that I got to pick first….and I picked Laughing Allegra. Another tantrum ensued.

All this went on in our family from very early on – probably by the time my sister turned 8 and I turned 10 we were well into this kind of competition. I am sure that it drove mother crazy, and it took a long time for my sis and I to talk out our childhood and bring it to a place where we could understand why we were so antagonistic toward each other.

I have three daughters and it would have killed me if any two of mine had behaved the way my sister and I did to each other. I have pairs of granddaughters in several of my families now and they are actually very nice to each other, something that didn’t happen much when I was growing up. I am so envious of them. If only my sister and I had been able to have such a relationship when we were young.

My sister died four years ago. Fortunately we had come to a place in our relationship where we were friends and where we talked more about our likenesses than our differences. For that I am truly happy.

But I do regret all those wasted years.

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