Lil is drowning. I am out playing with Shirley MacKirdie in the backyard. We have our ponchos wrapped round our waists and our bikini tops stuffed for effect. We play Polynesian Princesses and swoosh around the roses with our makeshift sarongs and fake boobs. There is yet another brief disagreement that day over who will be Vivianna Bella. I don’t know that my mother has let Lil out to play with us. As Shirley and I make our hula moves I look to our above ground swimming pool and glimpse Lil’s tiny hand poke up from the water’s surface.
I run toward the pool and Shirley chases after me.
“Lil’s in there!” I scream.
Shirley starts to climb up the ladder but she is too slow so I pull her off of the ladder and throw her to the ground. I clamor up the ladder rungs and plunge into the pool to retrieve my sister. I still have my woolen poncho wrapped about my hips. The tissue in my purple bathing suit top shrivels in the water. I pull Lil to the edge of the pool and push her up to Shirley who is standing at the top of the ladder now.
“Grab her hands!” I yell at Shirley.
Shirley pulls Lil up the ladder as I keep my hands under Lil’s backside. Together we carry Lil down the ladder and to the back door. I pound on the screen door and when my mother appears I drop Lil at her feet and run for fear I will be beaten for letting her fall in the pool though I did not known that Lil was out there with us. My mother let her out to be with us and had not told me to keep an eye on her.
I love Lil. She is a cute little red-head with big, green eyes. She also has a quiet, peaceful nature.
“Go red!” I tell her and Lil clenches her fists and holds her herself tightly until she shakes.
I ask if I can take her to school for Show and Tell and my mother and teacher agree that I can since we are all watching a movie in the gymnasium in the afternoon. Lil puts her head in my lap as we watch Disney’s The Junglebook, and I stroke her hair. I am so proud of my little sister.
As we grow older she follows me wherever I go and at times it becomes annoying. When she injures herself copying me, my mother blames and corporally punishes me for Lil’s cuts and bruises.
In many ways Lil grows up as an only child. When Cissy and I are teenagers we no longer want to go with my parents and Lil has to go with them alone. Her big eyes are lonely as she puts on her seatbelt in the backseat preparing to go with my folks while we stay home. I stand next to the open car door and close it for her once she is buckled in. She is able to study horseback riding with the Doan’s middle daughter who teaches Lil English horseback riding. Lil goes alone to Scotland when she was eight years old and to Europe with the school when she is fourteen. These are privileges Cissy and I never have.
I protect my younger sister from my mom and from the dog when it becomes vicious, but I also hit my younger sister as I was hit and I torment her because I find it amusing. I expect her to be perfect in the same way my mother insists that I be perfect.
It is Take a Buddy Home for Lunch Day in Grade three at St. Francis Separate School, and I bring Lina Caro home from school for lunch. School is within walking distance from our homes though Lina lives on one side of the subdivision and I on the other. Lina’s mom works as a nurse, so we decide rather spontaneously that Lina will come to my home for lunch. A recent addition to our class, an Irish immigrant by the name of Judy Lyrne, has her eye on my best friend and she talks of taking Lina to her home for lunch. Lina is as quiet and placid as a newborn pup. She will go home with anyone, I think. If I don’t take Lina home with me, I might lose her forever to Judy Lyrne. After all, Lina is half Irish. This new Irish girl wants to be best pals with my best friend. I take Lina home for lunch that day in Grade three to preserve our bond. I fear my mother’s reaction who is not expecting company however small, quiet and polite. Lina is downstairs playing when I go to use our washroom upstairs, the only washroom we have at that time. My mother comes into the toilet and grabs me and beats me for bringing home Lina unannounced. I try to be quiet as my mom hits me so Lina will not feel unwelcome in our home. My mother is always worried about what people will say about her and our house.
“Dae they live in a big fancy hoose?” my mother constantly asks of anyone I bring to our home.
She makes me ashamed of my family and home by planting seeds of her own inferiority into my fertile mind. I start comparing myself with others then, and I never measure up. I am not good enough, my home is not good enough, and my parents are not good enough for the seemingly superior friends I meet in life. I return to Lina and tell her that we have to get back to school. We leave quietly by the front door and my mother stands waving and smiling good-bye to Lina from the front door.
“Say ‘Hallo’ tae yer mam, hen!” she shouts as we depart. “Tell her I was askin’ fer her!”