The first story I ever published in an anthology, "Easter Bloomers," appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Celebrating Brothers and Sisters. We're pictured here in our Easter finery, just about to head down the hill for the Friends Church in Scotts Mills, Oregon, where my brother may or may not bring shame upon the family!
By Terri Elders
By Terri Elders
From my sixth birthday the summer of 1943 when Mama confided to my older sister, Patti, and me that there was a baby on the way, I knew it would be a boy. Despite Grandpa’s teasing that I’d soon have a baby sister, I had faith. I fully intended to remain the official Youngest Daughter for life, though I was perfectly willing to play the dual role of Big Sister.
So when Joel was born on September 30, I was not surprised. But when he arrived home from the hospital, I was somewhat disappointed. A new first-grader, my favorite activity was playing school. I had been counting on this new family addition to join me and my dolls in my makeshift schoolroom. Baby Joel couldn’t even sit up, let alone hold a pencil in his tiny fist. Mama comforted me though by painting a rosy picture of the future, when Joel indeed would become my attentive pupil.
So I bided my time, helping bathe and diaper him, joining Mama in singing Tura-Lura-Lural to him at bedtime, admiring him when he finally could eat a peanut butter sandwich by himself. I waited for him to walk. I waited for him to talk. And finally at the age of three, he began to join in playschool sessions.
But sometimes Joel didn’t seem to take his lessons seriously, so as his teacher I would inform him sternly that while the dolls were earning A’s, he’d be lucky to get a C. “It’s C, A, T,” I would pronounce, pushing back my bangs in exasperation. “T, A, C,” Joel would spell back, and then giggle and clap his hands. “Better than the dolls, huh?” I would throw up my hands in disgust.
Joel was equally cheerful in his Sunday School class, and talented, as well, particularly excelling at coloring Bible story pictures. Then one Sunday as Easter neared, I overheard his teacher telling Mama that Joel would have the first line to recite in the group’s recitation of a holiday poem. His opening line would be, “Easter lilies blooming remind us of the day.” The other preschoolers would in turn complete the additional three lines of the quatrain.
At dinner that night I confided my fear that Joel wouldn’t get the line straight. That’s when Grandpa promised to help coach, which immediately alarmed me. That perennial tease recently had turned his attentions to my innocent brother. Spaghetti, Grandpa claimed, was made from the worms that inhabited the garden. Joel no longer ate pasta. Grizzly bears roamed the hills above our home and feasted on wild blackberries. Joel no longer helped pick berries.
And the first line of the Easter poem, I heard him assuring Joel, really was “Easter bloomers waving.”
Determined that Joel would not disgrace the family by garbling his line, I set up a counterattack. As soon as I memorized my own Easter poem for the service, I began drilling Joel. “It’s Easter lilies blooming,” I would insist. Sometimes he would get it straight and sometimes he would give me Grandpa’s version. I decided to call upon divine reinforcement. “Remember,” I would threaten, “If you don’t get this right, Jesus will be disappointed.”
When we awoke that Easter morning our baskets were already at the foot of the bed. I remember savoring first the sweet chewy yellow marshmallow Peeps chicks. As I got dressed, I downed a rainbow-hued hard-boiled egg, chewed a stick or two of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, and gazed several times into the innards of my chocolate diorama egg. I counted my jelly beans, and offered to trade Patti for the black ones, my favorite. From time to time I would glance nervously at Joel, while Mama adjusted the collar of his sailor suit.
Then we went to church. Patti was the first of our family to perform, her alto soaring on a solo interval during the choir’s rendition of The Old Rugged Cross. I was next, reciting my poem, and then taking a seat in the front row to watch as Joel’s preschool class marched on stage. The congregation chuckled as the toddlers jostled one another to get into line.
Finally, Joel stepped forward confidently. “Easter,” he announced, and then paused. His eyes caught mine, and then flickered left towards Grandpa near the end of the pew. “Easter,” he began again. I held my breath. “Lilies,” he enunciated clearly. “Blooming,” he continued. “Remind us of the day.” He grinned his jack-o-lantern grin. I beamed back. The next child stepped forward.
Grandpa grumbled a bit on the way home, but I held Joel’s hand and told him he would be getting an A on his next report card. And a gold star, too. Then I leaned over and whispered that I knew that Jesus was pleased.
“Did I do better than the dolls?” he asked. “Oh, yes,” I said. “That’s better than anybody in my class.”
Even now Joel still chides me that I’m the overachiever, the “doer,” the academic one in the family, always busy trying to teach, to mentor, to influence. That’s certainly true. But what he overlooks is that as my first pupil, he indeed proved to be my teacher, teaching me the delights of watching somebody learn and succeed. And teaching me to persist and persevere. And teaching me to appreciate the efficacy of the subtle threat.