My sister Juanita spoiled me terribly. Her senior year in college, when I was five, she got a small, white, rather ancient Austin Healey convertible. She liked to dress me up and drive around campus with me riding shotgun. Her friends and boyfriends always clustered around the little car whenever we stopped.
Juanita got me a library card when I was five. I had already learned to read, so this accelerated my love of books. When she graduated and got a job as a secretary and bookkeeper, she bought dresses for me. I remember a green one with white puffed sleeves and white embroidery, vaguely like a German peasant dress. She took me to her hairdresser for my pixie cut.
Juanita even wrote to Miss Norma who was on the Romper Room children’s TV show in Nashville, so Miss Norma would see me through her Magic Mirror and call my name. I thought Juanita was beautiful, with her tiny waist, short dark hair and blue eyes, and her party dresses, frothy with crinolines.
My sister Sherrie, who is 9 years older than me, played school with me, so besides knowing how to read I had basic math down as well. She was patient with me most of the time, which was especially meaningful since we shared a bedroom and she was a teenager. She moaned when I woke her up at 3 a.m. on Christmas Day, but she got up with me to see if Santa Claus had come.
My brother Gil was more problematic. He got me to quit sucking my thumb by convincing me it would turn purple and fall off if I didn’t stop. He also liked to use me as a human shield when he and Sherrie were fighting. But how annoying is a five-year-old to a 12-year-old boy?
The fun was over in late August of that year, when school started. I went into first grade as a five-year-old turning six in October, among the youngest, smallest and most scared in my class. And I stuck out like a sore thumb because I’d already done all the first grade work. My teacher gave me second grade work to do, by myself, and I joined the class for arts and crafts and recess. No wonder I cried to stay at home!
Eventually (in second grade) I got over the strain of being alone and different in school. Mother bribed with a Madame Alexander doll to go to school and stay there. So life went on. And I grew to love school, do well, and fit in. But I still remember playing school with Sherrie and riding around in that Austin Healey. At least I got to be a princess for a year!