On October 18, 1949, Kenneth Lee Blair was born and I was ten and a half years old. I remember answering the phone (a heavy black bakelite phone with a rotary dial and a springy cloth-covered cord), when my mother called from the hospital to announce, "It's a boy!" and I remember being very disappointed I didn't get the baby sister I wished for. But, I rebounded as soon as I held my sweet new sibling in my arms. I felt as though he was my own real live baby doll. I kissed him and cuddled him, dressed him, took him for walks,and thought he was the cutest, most perfect being on the planet. Changing his diapers and feeding him were duties my mother gladly yielded to me and I considered them a privilege.
I remember pushing him in his Taylor Tot down to the new Lucky's Supermarket where an old lady stopped us to fuss over the baby. She looked up at me and asked, "Is he yours?"
Her question filled me with pride, but I told her the truth, "No," I said, "How old do you think I am?"
She replied, "Oh, I don't know, they have them so young these days." I wished he were my baby and maybe in a way, he was. I had a maternalistic bond with Ken that endures to this day, even though he died in 1993 and I felt the loss as deeply as the loss of a child.
The picture below was taken in April of the last year we lived in the Athol Avenue house. That July, when my mother was five months pregnant with her fifth child, we moved to 5501 Leona Street, to a tumble-down Victorian era farmhouse on an acre of land in the Oakland Hills. My parents had visions of living in that house only as long as construction of their dream house was under way. But, that's a story for another day.
In 1952, my mother finally delivered the baby sister I waited for so long. Valery Joan Blair was born October 25 and again I remember answering the phone call from the hospital. "It's a girl!" announced my mother.
"I knew you could do it!" was my response.
And like for brother Ken, I had lots of opportunity to practice my child care techniques. From the time I was five years old and told to keep an eye on Mickey, until I left home, I always had a hand in caring for my younger siblings.
With Mickey, I felt an intense sense of displacement and sibling rivalry. I didn't have the same issues with my second brother. When Ricky was born, I was nearly five. My job was to keep Mickey safe and out of the way while our mother took care of Ricky. Ricky had a few health struggles when he was young: asthma and a milk allergy as an infant, and a severe case of whooping cough when he was about five. I was too young to be directly involved in his care, but I felt he was very special and needed to be protected.
Because I was involved in the hands-on care of both Kenny and Valery, I felt very maternalistic toward them. At the same time, they grew to be very close to each other with frequent escapes into a fantasy world created by the beautiful and creative mind of Ken.
As they grew closer, I grew more distant, moving into my own world filled with girlfriends, boyfriends, and plans for a future formed by my past.