I couldn’t figure out what my five year-old older sister had to do with dirt. But sometime during July, Mama started mumbling something about Susy every time she started talking about the garden.
“Suzeesgoentukendagarden.” What connection cherry tomatoes and my sister had I couldn’t imagine, but it seemed to be a serious one, all the same. One evening as Mama prepared a salad, I watched her whack away at the vegetables with an uncharacteristic fervor. Her mood darkened when a few radishes popped out from underneath the knife and rolled across the counter. Forced to give chase, after capturing the errant pieces of produce, she sliced and slung the ravaged pieces viciously into a large bowl filled with lettuce. Then, she stopped to wipe her eyes on the back of her wrist and gaze at the ceiling. Her eyes contained a faraway look. Daddy looked up and questioned her gently. She only mumbled a reply.
Daddy’s eyes flowed with sympathy. He nodded knowingly then dipped his head back toward the “Model Builder” Magazine in his lap.
The mystery deepened during the hot days of August. We joined neighbors and friends for hours of frolick at Sprinkler Park. The park was filled with laughing, squealing and splashing until inevitably someone would bring up the dreaded mysterious subject. Then, the Moms would hunch together and exchange soft pats all around and empathetic “I knoooow”’s.
Whatever it was caused Mama to make the same demand repeatedly throughout summer. No matter what, my new baby brother or sister due to arrive soon, could absolutely NOT come until after the “Suzeesgoentukendagarden.”
Then there were those times that Mama and Susy would just disappear. I was, in fact, glad for the extra Daddy-and-me time. And, he became “chef extraordinare” by inventing an endless variety of sauces for our chicken n’ nuggets. But when the girls came home, his eyebrows arched in concern as they trudged upstairs, hauling a great many bags and packages. One night Daddy strode forward to help while taking a sideways bite out of his cheek.
“Suzeesgoentukendagarden.” Mama warned sternly before he even spoke, adding the “look.” Daddy stepped back, shoulders slumped in defeat. He whirled back toward the kitchen to tend his simmering sauce of pineapple and swiss.
In the evenings Susy began parading an endless wardrobe of flashy clothes. I began to wonder if she had somehow become a popular childhood star. She had perfected her runway saunter in the living room and designed a grand finale. That consisted of a fling of her wrist towards Daddy’s face and waggling fingers showcasing yet another new shade of glittery nails.
By the beginning of September, the aspen leaves in our backyard were displaying a variety of warm hues - school bus yellow, pumpkin orange and fireplace red. I watched through our kitchen bay window and giggled as the leaves fluttered like little hankies and waved the summer a cheery goodbye.
One morning, a new cascade of noises unusual for the house, caused me to jump in my chair. Closet doors slid loudly back and forth. Susy leaped past me, her pleated skirt flapping wildly. The breeze caused by her sailing by, blew a pile of my cheerios onto the floor.
“Camera! Camera!” Daddy called, appearing rattled. He ripped desk drawers open and closed as if expecting to hear a reply, “Here.” When none did, I thought I heard him whisper then, “Suzeesgoentukendagarden.”
As if on cue and like an angel of mercy, our babysitter Mrs. Canfield filled the kitchen doorway and offered a calming and cheery smile. Maybe this sweet old lady would be the one to have some answers to the months of strange and unsettling goings-on.
“Ah, sweetums, there you are! Your sister – she look fine ya?” Mrs. Canfield rushed to pile more cheerios on my tray. “It’s a big day, a real….’millstone’ ya? Tsk. Tsk. I’m sure your Mama finds this hard. Seems like just yesterday your sister – she’s born. And now, my, my. Suzy’s going to kindergarten.”
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