My sister was born in August, when I was 3 years and 48 weeks old. I knew that this was so. Why did I sometimes remember seeing a Christmas tree when Aunt Olive told me there was a new baby?
One rainy springtime afternoon (probably in 1931, for this is a clear memory) I was sitting on my mother's lap in the apartment sunroom. My mother had been singing songs to me from a book called "Songs of a Child Year" — a book based on Pestalozzi's theories of early education. My mother had been asking me for my favorite songs. I soon asked for one about civic duty and a young boy being called away from home. She had often sung this song to me, so I was startled when she suddenly started crying and couldn't finish the song. She held me closely and told me that his was her problem; I had done nothing wrong. In later years she often shared this song with me — and with my sister after she became part of the family. But I did wonder sometimes why she had cried.
My mother had an uncanny way of knowing the gender of an unborn child. The only time I ever knew of her being in error was in the case of my sister —who was supposed to have been a boy; the selected name for the baby was Robert Ray.
I wasn't aware that this fact bothered me until after I had learned the answer.
In 1942 we were staying with my grandmother in Northern Indiana — my mother, my sister, Aunt Ida and I — while my father and his brother (Aunt Ida's husband) stayed in Chicago for the second term of Summer School.
One day Aunt Ida went to the town cemetery with my 11-year-old sister. In the course of the conversation, Aunt Ida asked my sister where our baby brother was buried. Rae's "what brother?" reaction told Aunt Ida that she had erred, so she said it was mother's story to tell.
Rae came to me to find out, but I didn't know either. When we got home to St. Louis, we asked Aunt Olive (my mother's sister). And from Aunt Olive we learned that there had been a boy born Christmas eve who didn't live for even 24 hours. And we learned that mother didn't talk about it — so we never did.
So now I knew that I wasn't wrong about the Christmas tree and now I kew why my mother cried over the boy who left his family and now Rae and I knew why mother thought she'd be a boy.
Very early in my working with genealogy the state of Missouri began to place vital statistics records on line. My reporter son (who lives in Jefferson City) learned about the site. In his explorations, he discovered the existence of baby Strickler"s death certificate. Now we have the document of his story.
My mother was born in 1891; she grew up with Victorian/Edwardian principles guiding her social learnings. Although she became a modern woman, I believe her silence about the loss was based o those earlier teachings. I wonder if she would have been more happy if she had been able to talk about her hurt.
And — as I was composing this blog, I wonder what my life would have been like had I been big sister to a boy, instead of the sister I fell in love with the day she came home from the hospital.