I Had a Sister

I had a sister once. Well, actually I never knew her, she had died five years before I was born. She was born on June 10, I was born on June 11. She died on June 7, she was three days shy of her eighth birthday.

The death of a child from any cause is a family tragedy. Often, when looking at genealogical records one can see the various moves of the family were marked by a recent death, often of a child. Child mortality was considerably higher back then. Nearly every family shared in this story. Whether it was bad water, the flu, or accidents, the family often reacted by selling everything and moving someplace different. Someplace that offered hope, and safety. My family moved from North Dakota to California.

It doesn’t mean that they were free from the memories. My mother carried some guilt for nearly fifty years. Scarlet Fever was often a killer back then. It began as a sore throat and progressed to hemorrhaging ulcers. There wasn’t much that could be done. Caught early enough, with a good doctor, there might be a chance. Mostly not. My mother didn’t see a doctor until the end, and too late.

The sad thing was that there was a cure. Civilian doctors did not have access, but penicillin was available to the military, and it would have stopped the infection cold. This was explained to my mother, but it made no difference. She was not able to protect her little girl.

It was years before I knew that I had a sister. I wondered a little why my birthday seemed to make my mother sad. Later, my mother told me that she was terrified that I would be born on the anniversary of Gayle’s death.

As time went on I grew to accept my unknown sister. I did wonder what type of impact she would have had. I wondered about her possible future, the family she would have had. All I had were a few photos, less than a dozen. She appeared happy, bright, thoughtful. I know I would have liked her.

I tried a color pencil sketch, I think her hair was golden, but I can’t tell from the photos. In my mind’s eye it was golden.