Thursday, February 6, 2014

May of 1955 Brought Me Someone Special

May's Flower--Lily-of-the-Valley

Today, I'm posting my story that is published in Seasons of our Lives:  Spring, one of the volumes in the womens' memoir anthology published by Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler. This story happend in May of 1955--the era of poodle skirts, saddle shoes and the onset of rock and roll. It's about the birth of my third sibling, who is still pretty special to me. Have you written family stories about your siblings, both older and younger? 

A Special Sibling

By Nancy Julien Kopp

I still feel a thrill when I think about that glorious month of May in 1955, the year I turned sixteen. In late fall of the previous year, my mother and father informed me that a new baby would arrive in May, my own birth month.

I learned later that my parents worried about my reaction to the news that they were to have a fourth child. I would be halfway through high school by the time the baby arrived, but rather than being embarrassed, repulsed, or angry, I was elated. Finally, I would have the sister I’d always hoped for, even prayed for. I loved my two younger brothers, but the idea of a sister thrilled me. Mom and Dad’s faces visibly relaxed when I squealed “Really?” when they made the announcement.

The day my youngest sibling arrived is as clear as though it happened last week. A stack of books in my arms, saddle shoes on my feet, and a long circle skirt made me look like every other girl on the school bus that Friday. I hopped off in the neighborhood shopping area of our Chicago suburb, turning away from the fumes the bus belched as it moved on.

A display of strawberries in a mom and pop grocery window caught my eye. These were the first of the season, and only a few days earlier, my mother expressed a desperate desire for the sweet, juicy fruit. Not all pregnant women had teen-aged daughters who could fulfill their cravings, even if it meant using lunch money that was to last all week.

I raced the four blocks to our apartment building with the precious berries, plump and rosy-red in a small balsa-wood basket. A freight train rumbled by across the street, and I waved to the engineer, not waiting for him to return my greeting as usual. I ran up three flights of stairs shouting, “Mom, I found strawberries for you.” I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d brought her a dozen roses.

“You’ll have to eat them yourself,” Mom said. “I’m going to the hospital.” She rubbed the small of her back, and a frown creased her forehead.

After all the months we’d waited and prepared for this surprise addition to our family, her words stunned me. I didn’t know what to do, how to help, or what to say. Books clutched in one arm and strawberries in my other hand, I listened as my mother calmly instructed me what to feed my two younger brothers before I left to baby-sit for a neighbor. Dad arrived home, nervous as a cat facing two growling dogs. He helped Mom down the long three flights of stairs, carrying her small suitcase as I ran behind, only to stop at the top step.

I leaned over the hallway banister. “Call me at Leslie’s house as soon as it happens.” A shiver ran up my spine. I couldn’t wait to hear about the arrival of my sister. There was no doubt in my mind. God heard all prayers, and He’d heard my earnest pleas for a sister many times.

I learned that afternoon how slowly time moves. I kept busy fixing dinner for the three of us and being the bossy older sister. I told the boys, who were eight and twelve years old, they were to come inside when dark fell. It was a time when kids played outside alone, and no one gave it a second thought. The warmth of the May day meant the boys wanted to be outdoors until the first fireflies flitted through the air.

Leslie, the neighbor child I cared for that night, was dainty and petite with blonde curls and blue eyes. In my mind, my soon-to-be-born sister would be her twin. I waited for the phone call while I read books to three-year-old Leslie and put her to bed. When the phone finally rang, it startled me, and I jumped up to answer, my heart beating fast. Much to my disgust, my youngest brother’s voice whined through the receiver. “When’s Dad coming home? Is the baby borned yet?”

Leafing through every magazine I could find, I waited. And I waited some more. When I’d about given up, Dad called. “You’ve got a fine new brother,” he said. Tears threatened to spill over, and there was a lump in my throat. I’d been so sure I’d have a sister. My hand tightened on the phone as I said, “That’s great, Dad.”  Words that rang hollow, perhaps to both of us.

A week later, Dad took me along to pick up Mom and the new baby at the hospital. When we were ready to go home, I climbed in the backseat of the car, and Mom sat in the front on the passenger side. A nurse leaned over to place the blanket-wrapped infant in her arms. Dad told the nurse to give me the baby, but she refused. “It’s hospital policy that we hand the baby to its mother. And no one else.” She set her mouth and tightened her grasp.

My dad was not a big man, but he had a way of taking charge and convincing people with a steely look and a few choice words.

After a short, heated exchange between Dad and the nurse, she moved a few steps to the left and handed the baby to me, closed the car door with a slam, and marched into the hospital.

The blue bundle felt so soft and warm. I looked down into Jimmy’s face. His eyes were open, and his tiny hands curled into fists. In that instant, I fell in love with my new baby brother. God had heard my prayer and His answer now lay in my arms. I couldn’t wait to get home and show this baby boy to anyone willing to look.

Maybe being the only girl wouldn’t be so bad. I pulled my newest brother closer and kissed his brow, that sweet baby scent somehow softening my earlier disappointment. Not a May goes by that I don’t think about the year my baby sister turned out to be a brother who quickly worked his way into my heart.


  1. Lovely story Nancy. Full of genuine human emotion and a true snapshot of a very special time in your life. I too got a baby brother at the age of 16. He is now one of my best friends, and I admire him so much. We didn't have the normal sibling rivalries, but we both delight in the numerous similarities in personalities between the two of us.

  2. this story! I'm a May child also & my baby sister was also, she being 7 years younger than me, she was like a birthday present...a few days early. I grow Lilly of The Valleys, also. I adore their sweet, decadent scent and delicate blooms.

  3. I really enjoyed this story Nancy. You told it just the right way, leading up to your "falling in love" with the little guy. I think your Mom was a pretty wise lady, to insist on you holding him at that particular time. Babies are precious, boy or girl, and most of us can't resist them. Lovely story.