Chapter 5: Smiling into My Future, continued
I was still in first grade when my youngest sister Katherine was born. For reasons I don’t understand, I have no memories of the circumstances surrounding her birth. In my mind, she was not there one day, but then suddenly she was. I was a month away from turning seven, and it felt like I’d been gifted a live baby doll. She was beautiful, with bright blue eyes. I helped to care for “Baby” when she was only a few weeks old. Mem taught me how to support her neck when I held her. I rocked her to sleep, and helped with giving her a bath. I gathered together everything we needed — the baby towel, a clean diaper, clean clothes, lotion, shampoo, and powder — before Mem poured hot and cold water into the baby bath in the kitchen sink, stirred it around, and tested the temperature with her elbow. Then Mem took Baby’s clothes off, and while she held her in the water, I shampooed her “hair” even though she had hardly any. Mem rinsed her head with warm water from a pitcher she had filled. I watched her dry Baby off and get her dressed. I loved holding Baby after her bath. She smelled so fresh and clean.
I reveled in the approval that I received from Mem and others for taking care of Baby. I heard things like, “Oh, she’s so good with the baby. She’ll make a good mother someday.”
As Baby grew, I often carried her around on my hip. I sang nonsensical little chants about changing her diaper as I prepared to change her: “Annah veetal oh du, Annah veetal oh du!” As soon as she awoke from a nap, I was right there at her crib to pick her up. I played games with her and took care of her like she was my own child.
I had my own reasons for becoming a little mother to Katherine. I liked that I could get out of some of the other work that had become drudgery, like doing endless dishes and sweeping the floor several times a day. And then one day, the Bascos rewarded me in a new way.
Joe Basco, our most frequent English visitor, used to walk right in both doors without knocking, as if he lived there. He would visit as often as several times a week, most of the time by himself, sometimes with his wife, Bertha.
The Bascos brought us used children’s shoes, boots, and toys. At the time, I would not have known that they took up a collection for the poor Amish family they knew — our family.
One winter day, when Katherine was six months old, the Bascos brought a big box full of things. I had Katherine on my hip and was standing back, watching the others go through the box and pulling out “treasures.” Sadie pulled out a Thumbelina doll baby. She loved beautiful dolls as much as I did, and she was already cradling the doll in her arms when Joe Basco went over and took it right out of her arms. He said, “No, that is for Saloma for taking such good care of the baby.” I couldn’t believe it. I felt so good that someone had noticed. If I felt bad for Sadie, the feeling didn’t last long. My indifference likely fueled the rocky relationship I already had with her.
I loved that doll. She had blond hair, and a soft body that felt like a real baby when I wrapped her up in a blanket. She had a knob on her back that I could wind and her arms and legs moved. Her eyes closed when I laid her down. I named her Heidi. I enjoyed wrapping her in one of the baby blankets Katherine had outgrown. The doll felt so real that I could imagine what it would be like to hold my own babies someday.
One night we were sitting at the supper table when Baby was about a year old. We were talking and she was playing in her high chair next to Mem’s right arm. I saw Baby when she leaned over and Mem wasn’t looking. I called out, “Mem, the baby!”
Mem’s head jerked around, and just as she did, Baby began falling head first toward the floor. Mem’s arm reached out and snatched Baby by her diaper. Mem’s face became white and she was shaking all over, so I went over and picked up Baby.
After Mem caught her breath, she reached for Baby. She looked at me with such gratitude in her eyes and said, “Lomie it is a good thing you said something!” I felt all warm inside. I knew at that moment how much Mem loved her children… especially when we were little.
Chapter 5 to be continued…