Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Shirley (Amirault) Frost's Story "A Sister"

A few weeks ago I posted a story from Alphe Amirault's niece, Shirley (Amirault) Frost.  She is a great story teller.  This is a story about her young sister being born and how Shirley was made to feel so special when her dad went to pick up her mom and new baby sister from the hospital. After reading her story it just touched me to hear how family was so important, how all her siblings were made to feel special, the love in her family and how her father was the apple of her eye.  I'm sure you'll enjoy reading this heartwarming true story.  Thank you Shirley!

A Sister

By the time I was nearly six years old, I had an older sister named Janice, two little brothers, Alban and John, and a new baby sister, Elizabeth Anne, born on September 4, 1950.

She didn’t look anything at all like me.  She had lots of dark curly hair, well defined eyebrows, bark brown eyes and a rosebud mouth, a true Amiro family trait.

The best thing I can remember about her birth is that my mother went to the hospital and then, I thought, I was my father’s best girl for the simple reason that he had chosen me to drive to the hospital with him in his Ford truck to bring them home.

He, in his unassuming caring way had looked at the four of us: A tomboyish, raven haired, nine year old big sister who acted like she was boss, two rambunctious boys who tumbled around constantly chasing each other and me: pale skinned, blonde, very shy, missing my mother and really, really wanting to go, imploring him with my eyes to choose me.  I was ecstatic when he finally said:  “Shirley.” My name felt so safe in his mouth.  If only one of us could go, I was so happy to be the one.

Our maid, Antoinette, washed my face, braided my hair and helped me into my little hounds tooth coat and hat he had bought for me at Peter Nichols store in Yarmouth. It had shades of green, gray, pink and brown
wool; just right for making a little girl feel special. Wearing it to go to town with my father by myself to meet my sister was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me.

We brought the baby home.   While she was asleep she had the most exquisitely beautiful face, wrapped
in softness, everything about her was small, delicate, pink, perfect.  Her blanket smelled like my mother’s Evening in Paris perfume.

Left to Right: Mom Josephine, baby John, Janice, Shirley, Dad Albin holding Albin Jr.
Circa 1950 (before Elizabeth Ann was born) 
But oh, when she cried, she wailed, loud and hard.  Loud enough to stun our two brothers into a cautious silence.  Janice and I huddled together, afraid they would call Dr. LeBlanc and he might come and give us a needle for polio or something.  “What’d she say.” the older boy, Alban, three, asked. “What she crying for?” We didn’t know.  Elizabeth Anne wailed, pouted, was rocked, powdered and pampered, as we all had been.

“Donne y une tetine de sucre,” (give her a pacifier of sugar) the doctor ordered from the wooden phone on the back porch wall. It worked, the crying stopped. 

John, eighteen months old, looked forlornly at the new stranger who had taken over his favourite spot, his mother’s lap.  “Eyes,” he said, poking at her face with a stubby finger, standing on his tip toes to see her.

“Oh what a lovely baby she is”, our mother rejoiced as she soothed her, and we all gave a sigh of relief as she became quiet and beautiful again.

“I think I’ll call her my p’tite Lady”, Mom said, and that she did.  “P’tite Lady, p’tite lady, la p’tite lady a Mommy,” she sang on and on.

The melody echoed up the stairs, spilled into our rooms like sunshine where we lay trying to sleep despite the noise as she cried and Mom sang.  In time, she learned to smile and laugh; we all loved her then and called her Betty.

My birthday came; I was six and our father was forty.  He took me on his lap and played Happy Birthday for me on the piano.  He played the happy notes with his right hand making the keys tremble as his left hand tickled my waist.  I asked him if he would take me to town with him again when we got another sister.  He smiled and said sure he would. Then he put me down and played Ave Maria. I could see he was lost in his music, gone to God, I was sure.  That was when I realized what a great man he was.  He was the only one I knew who could take my hand, lead me in my new coat to a new sister and play the piano to God from our living room.

It was a good life. We read Orphan Annie, had a cat named “Gourm”( he was greedy ) had fields to pick wild daisies, a grandmother who lived across the road and gave us nickels and mints.

When it came time for John to go to school, he flatly refused to go without “Battay.”  No amount of coaxing could get him to go; the two had become inseparable.

Janice and I fought over who would get Betty for our bed partner.  Sometimes we slept three in a bed, singing “Now is the Hour” in three part harmony, with Dad giving us the right pitch from the bottom of the stair.

Other times we argued, he would pretend he was coming up the stairs, but we knew he was only stamping his foot on the bottom step.  “Don’t make this come to blows.” he ordered.

It never came to blows, unless there was a bad word, like fool, or stupid or bald-headed, (if we spoke about the priest). Then we felt the sting of the Fuller leather brush across our hands; it hung in the kitchen behind the stove.  Mom would threaten us with it, but mostly we got a cuff on the backside from her “switch,” her
dishcloth, when we were too much for her, who had grown up pampered as the youngest child in a family of eight daughters, or so we were told by her sisters.  The humiliation of her distress was enough to stop any battle.

“Ques’ce-que tu fais Madame Painquette?” could strike terror in a tender heart, at least for the moment until she smiled.

The years flew by, in summer we worked the fields to make hay and picked blueberries. In winter we trudged together through deep snow to the two room coal- heated school house.  We learned to sing and pray in English, French and Latin, read “Run, Tom, Run”, milked Molly our cow who gave birth to twins, (that’s why, Dad said, she needed milking twice a day), learned to weed gardens, ride horses, help our father in his store and post office, care for one another without tattling, wash floors and dishes for Mom.

We inherited Mom’s bark brown eyes, hips and sense of humour, Dad’s passion for music and his faith in God and people.

As girls we shared rooms, clothes, friends, measles, mumps , chores and in turn inherited the ten o’clock curfew at age 16.  The boys whittled wood for bows and arrows, lit gas fires in tin cans and burned off their eyelashes and brows, (how pitiful they looked).  We went fishing and built camps in the woods where we all slept on crude bunk beds on warm summer nights. 

“You’ll never get a husband, Hawk”, (Alban’s new name for Betty,) “your neck is too long”: he’d tease, knowing full well she was beautiful.

Ruddy, sun-tanned, bilingual, we were together yet each one our own separate individual, the same yet different.  Janice became a savvy business lady, Alban a robust lobster fisherman, John an honest insurance salesman, Betty a keen horsewoman with her own stables. 

When I graduated from high school, my father congratulated me on a job well done.

He’d played “Tea for Two” for me and my boyfriend when we got home from a date; when I married he proudly walked me up the aisle on his arm to meet my new husband.

When I became a mother myself, he held my babies on his lap and played Nola or The Grasshopper Song to amuse them and gave us chocolates and ice cream on Sunday afternoon drives in his sedan with Mom.

“Three daughters, two sons, a son-in-law and now grandchildren,” he’d boast about us.

He’d chuckled when I called Mom every day, inviting them to come to visit us in Cole Harbour.  He’d sent her on ahead, planning to join us in a day or so.

We didn’t know about the heart disease then.  He died at 64, two weeks before his birthday in 1976.

He had been a wonderful father to all of us; each one could tell their own story.  But, I still cherish with utmost fondness the memory of that wonderful day when I got to walk, hand in hand with him, dressed in my little woolen coat, down the hospital hall to meet my new sister, Elizabeth Anne, and bring her and Mommy

“Nus”, “Bin”, “Non” and “Toinette” were waiting.

The next time Daddy took a trip to town, he picked Alban, then John, and when she was old enough, Betty, then Janice, and then me again.  A circle, a fair one.

I hadn’t figured that out then but it doesn’t matter.  Not at all.

Shirley Frost
November 28 ,2009

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