I was eight-and-a-half when my sister was born. There were two brothers in between, so it was good to have another girl around. I remember Mum sneaking into my room in the middle of the night to kiss me goodbye when she went to the hospital. After school the next day, I came home to a kitchen that was strangely clean and tidy (Mum was never into ‘housekeeping’ – we had skinks living on one of the benches for a while, and she put them there…). My maternal Grandma, and Dad’s Step-Mum occupied the space, having spent the day cleaning and reorganising while Mum was safely out of the way.
In 1964, babies were kept away from’germs’ and relatives for as long as possible, so we kids didn’t get to cuddle her the way my kids held their siblings within 24 hours of birth. She was safe behind glass, in a crib that was tilted slightly so she could be seen.
It’s her birthday again in a couple of days. She would have been 51, which I can’t really imagine, because she was only 27 the last time I saw her – in the same hospital as where I saw her first.
I remember the pink and white bundle behind the glass,
I remember my sister at my mother’s breast;
I remember the last time I saw her, too.
Her head, bald from chemo, tied with a scarf;
Her dangly earrings, her grey-goose eyes
That were almost empty,
But she squeezed my hand
As I drank her face for the last time here.
I remember the first time I saw her, and the last;
And in all the years since she left,
I have learned to miss her less.
But I have only dreamed of her once,
When we climbed a hill together
And I planned to cook a meal.
I don’t seem to have a ‘baby’ photo of her – there are hundreds of Juniper, but times, and cameras, have changed. This photo was taken when we were on holiday at the coast – Dad never wore shorts any other time! I’m guessing Merrilyn was two-and-a-bit, and not happy about being sat on the bonnet, for some reason. I vaguely remember the photo being taken – it’s around 50 years ago (groan).
I made this quilt as a memento of her – there’s an outline portrait of her as I last saw her in the quilting. The quote is of Kurt Cobain, and a good summary of my sister’s approach to life and art.