A BROTHER AND SISTER’S RELATIONSHIP CAN BE MANY, MANY things. Loretta and I would probably qualify as the distinct minority in terms of what we meant to each other, and more importantly, how we treated one another.
I mean that I do not believe that we represented the “norm”. Yes, there are many sibling relationships that are strong and respectful, but ours went beyond anything that most had ever seen, and anything that our close friends and family had been privy to as well.
For starters, when we were toddlers, we were always helping each other; at least this is what mom and dad would constantly remind us throughout our lives. Even though I was a year older than Loretta, she was walking before my slow ass could. I think that I was 20 months of age, doing my level best at holding on to whatever furniture that was available, when Loretta, at her tender age of 8 months and maybe a few days, glided across the floor like some little, cute, curly-haired version of Baryshnikov, waltzing by me in a toddler’s version of Ginger Rogers and a stoned-drunk Fred Astaire.
In a few days, she was grabbing me and actually helping me to balance myself and inevitably walk right beside her. I mean that she was my teacher and terra firma before I was two years of age!
There was this sparkle in her eyes as she watched me take my first couple of steps. It’s almost as if she was on her mission before she could talk; which brings up another of Loretta’s super-baby qualities: her ability to communicate without even speaking. Never mind the fact that she was forming entire sentences by the time that she was 15 months, and of course guiding my linguistic excursions as well!
I know that mom was cognizant of Loretta’s abilities to a point, just as dad was all too aware of my deficiencies, not as compared to other very young boys my age, but as balanced along side our little super girl. But this never seemed to matter as Loretta was so far ahead of “the curve” that I was always given some deference, just based on common sense alone.
My motor and verbal skills gradually caught up with my sister’s, and by the time that I was four (she being three), we were playing, talking and even reading on more or less an equal level. Of course, there are many, many different plateaus of achievement in childhood development and just when I would think that I was holding my own, or dare I say it, even starting to surpass my younger rival, Loretta would completely mystify all of us with yet another accomplishment; like the day that she learned how to swim, or rather the day that we knew she could swim.
Mom had enrolled me in a swimming class when I was five. She was absolutely adamant about us learning this potentially life-saving skill, as we lived next to a very large lake, and my grandfather’s place, where we spent many blissful summers, had 230 feet of waterfront on the Chesapeake Bay. Most of all, though, mom still had a very vivid memory of being carried out to sea one summer, while life-guarding at the beach, by a very mean and nasty riptide, and only her excellent aquatic skills, which included the essential mental ability of not panicking, saved her!
At any rate, here I am in class one summer morning, all of us freezing our little asses off (why are swimming classes always at 8am?) and wondering where our little pee-pees were hiding, trying to master the sacred art of the breaststroke. Most of us were at the same level of incompetency, so at least that particular trauma wasn’t the foremost thought in our collective minds. Rather, we were simply terrified of sinking into the many, many fathoms that lurked below us, never mind that anyone could clearly see the bottom of the local pool.
Usually the moms would start to show up 10 to 15 minutes before we were finished, to socialize and check on our progress. Well, mom always brought Loretta, who of course wanted to take the class but was one year shy of the minimum age requirement, and needless to say, this bothered her to no end. Yes, of course she “knew” that she could out swim all of us, but bided her time with a patience and manner that was well beyond her youthful four years. Little did we all know that she was secretly plotting her strategy and waiting for the perfect moment to pull her own little “Amelia Earhart” stunt, something that would be a major part of the neighborhood talk for weeks.
So here were mom and Loretta watching all of us flounder around like a pack of physically-challenged dolphins, when my little sister, having, oh so slyly, removed her tennis shoes and jacket, takes off with a swan dive right into the deepest part of the pool. She then starts into the American Crawl, much as she had observed Buster Crabbe, when he played “Tarzan” in the movies.
You see, this was so typical of Loretta’s and my perceptive qualities. I am watching Tarzan and am wondering how he could be so super-human (and of course secretly wishing that I was with Jane in some treetop locked in a most passionate embrace, as even then I was completely enamored by the female body, plus I actually had a girlfriend named Jane at the time).
But my sister, well, she was analyzing the mechanics of one of our Olympian swimmers, mentally taking notes, physically practicing somewhere secretly as a sort of dance routine, or “Kata”. Loretta was the most observant and perceptive person that I have ever known, period!
There is my little sister, swimming for all she is worth, heading straight for the other side of the pool. By the time that the instructors could react and go get her, she was out and running back over to my mom.
Of course everyone was in a daze at having witnessed so bold a move by a four- year-old female munchkin. Mom was extremely angry at first and rightfully so as she was scared, but when we all started cheering, as the alternative being a feeling of serious emasculation at such a tender age, smiles broke out on everyone’s faces, including the lifeguards.
This was Loretta’s way; something that I would grow very, very accustomed to over the years. Loretta’s way was also to inspire, and guess what? Every last one of us learned how to swim that summer. I know that God always surprises us, and it is not always pleasant, but here he showed us “the light” by offering up the miracle of my little sister, duty bound to guide us through our apprehensions of keeping afloat in the water that ubiquitously appears in our neighborhood swimming pools, ponds, lakes, rivers, bays and oceans.
I mean, how were we not going to learn how to swim after seeing such a display, by someone so much smaller? Even my friends and I could figure out then that, if we failed in this endeavor, we would be the lamest group of five-year-olds to inhabit the earth. I knew that my sister had just helped to catapult ourselves onto yet another plateau in the mountain range of life, and I will always have transfixed upon my mind, the pure, natural beauty and grace of her little image flying through the air and water, like some mythical creature in a fantasy world. My little sister, God’s little gift!