We had waited years for him to join our family. My parents were older at that time and because they had children of their own (my sister and I) we waited and waited years for him. We prepared his room, and tentatively, hopefully, willed it to be true. His room, his crib, his teddy bear was there, silent sentries. I remember that night when we received the call. There was an Iowa snow storm which blew in that day. My parents received the call. The Home for Unwed Mothers in Sioux City contacted us. They said that there was an infant, then 5 days old, who needed a family. We drove the 100 miles that night. Normally the trip would have taken under 2 hours to complete, but because of the storm we traveled slowly, carefully, from Marshalltown to Sioux City.
We finally arrived after a five hour drive our family was escorted into a room where we waited. The staff, middle aged yet with a caring demeanor brought my brother into the room. I remember we all said little to each other when waiting 15 minutes to meet him. The time seemed to pass quite slowly.
When the caseworker walked in with my baby brother in her arms, he then 5 days old, it was as time was suspended. I remember that at 6 years old I fought tiredness and the need for sleep. But there he was. The caseworker, for whatever reason, chose to place him in my arms. I was anxious and nervous about meeting him, filled with a mixture of 6-year-old expectation. Then suddenly, miraculously, I met my brother. At that time, I was not able to comprehend the bond that was forged on that moment, on that day. I realize now that the heart wants what the heart wants.
The love I had and have for him has remained. It has grown steadily from that moment on. It’s not that my relationship with my brother hasn’t been tested over the years the way sibling relationships are prone to do. I have experienced a gamut of emotions for my brother over the years as I’m certain he has with me. Protection, laughter and even the frustration of two siblings growing up became part of who we were, who we are, and who we would become.
So, this is a story about a brother and sister who, despite 6 years’ difference in age, began traveling through life’s journeys. I realize that this bond is not one forged at birth. It is one where chance and choice play their parts. Some may call it divine intervention or some refer to it as predetermined meeting in time. Regardless, this has been, for me, one of the greatest gifts in my life. I still remember that 6-year-old girl, holding that 5-day old boy in the middle of an Iowa snow storm. They say that the olfactory sense is the strongest and most primitive of our 5 senses. I believe that to be true as I still recall that clean baby scent that emanated from my baby brother. It was on Friday, March 14, 1969 @ 7pm.
We arrived home quite late that night. Suddenly at 2 am I awoke and walked towards my brother’s room. I felt as if I was in a fog, in that state between sleep and wakefulness. I remember I felt like I did like that day after Christmas when you get the perfect gift. You fall asleep, smiling, because you can’t believe you’d been good enough or patient enough to receive that perfect doll or that perfect dress that you waited, wished, hoped and even prayed for. You’d tried to be good all year and to do all the right things. If you were fortunate enough to have received it, you would find yourself waking up early in the morning, checking to ensure that the source of happiness was not just a wonderful dream. I remember that was the feeling I had on that particular night. I wandered down the narrow hall to my brother’s room. I told myself that if it turned out that this was merely a dream that would disappear from memory when I woke up the next morning, it would be enough. I told myself that just having this wonderful dream with this wonderful feeling was something to be treasured in and of itself.
I find myself recalling that event, even as an adult. This is often the case with dreams such as this. They can disappear. They can slowly dissolve away, leaving just a trace of warm, happy, residual memories. I remember that night I walked down the hall, dimly lit, and saw my mother there. A harvest moon illuminated my brother’s room in a pale-yellow light. I saw my mother wearing her favorite light blue night gown. She would don that nightgown periodically. Thinking back, I realize my mother wore that familiar blue nightgown on those occasions when she was most happy. I knew then that this was one of those occasions. My mother didn’t see me watching her as I peered into the room. I remained hidden in the shadows behind the door frame. There was a wooden floorboard that creaked loudly if you stepped on it just so. I held my breath as I stood there, willing this not to happen. My mother was holding my brother in her arms. She was looking at him tenderly. I now recognize that what she was feeling towards my brother was one of love. It was a promise of protection. Somehow, I knew, even as a 6-year-old girl, that this was a private moment which was meant to be shared by my mother and her new child.
The wooden floorboard hadn’t creaked, as if willed to remain silent. I told myself I must commit this moment to memory. I knew it was essential to file it away the way you do with a cherished photo or memento. Later, I could pull it out and examine its details—the colors that are blended together and the resulting feelings which arise. I turned and left that night, returning to bed, feeling the tug of sleep. I rubbed my eyes, scratchy from fatigue. My palm moved to my cheek and I realized that I had begun crying. The tears were salty and warm. I knew from that moment on I would not need to rise in those hours before late night and dawn. I would not have to check if that moment was just a wonderful dream. This dream was real and this dream was true. This was that dream that evoked and gave way to residual happiness. Now in middle age, I still occasionally find myself pulling that memory out and dusting it off. The edges are a bit tattered and the photo has grayed with the passage of time. The feelings of happiness, however, are still there, tied to that dreamlike memory from so long ago.