Friday, April 15, 2011
Maggie was five when I was born. She was everything an older sister should be.
I know sometimes older sisters are known for being mean to their little brothers, but that wasn’t our kind of relationship. I can’t remember her ever being mean to me, which is something, because I can’t remember anything about my childhood, without Maggie being a part of it. From the time I could remember anything, she’d be by my crib waiting for me to wake up. She was always there…just waiting for me.
Maggie would wake me up early on the weekends. We snuck cookies on Saturday mornings and watched cartoons. She always heard Mom coming downstairs and made sure she cleaned my face, and got rid of the crumbs on my pj’s to hide any evidence of the stolen cookies.
She was always protective like that. She even used to eat my green beans and broccoli so Mom wouldn’t find it stashed in the napkin. She hated hearing Mom yell. She’d even risk Mom’s wrath, by putting herself in the middle when I did something wrong.
My favorite memories of Maggie were on vacation. Getting to South Carolina wasn’t fun. I hated being in the cramped minivan for fourteen hours, being stuffed in the backseat between boxes of dishes, suitcases and bags of bed linens. Maggie hated long car rides too, but for a different reason. She would barf, and had to take special medicine to keep from getting car sick. Even though she didn’t complain out loud, you could take one look in her glazed brown eyes, and know she wasn’t feeling good. I felt so grown up when she’d lay her head in my lap all the way, and let me take care of her, stroking her back. She responded with the occasional moan as we bounced over potholes on 95 South.
Once we got to South Carolina, she was fine and we always had a great time exploring and getting to know the locals again. Some of them changed year to year. From the time we got out of the minivan, Maggie was ready to go meet everyone, and just GO! We spent most of the month outside, exploring, and playing, only coming inside to sleep and eat.
Our family always spent July in South Carolina. Most of the folks who lived year round at our vacation spot in hated tourist season. City folk were known for being loud, rude and sometimes even destructive. But Maggie was always so outgoing and friendly, when the neighbors saw our parents, they complimented our behavior. The neighbors in true Southern style, gave us tokens of hospitality in the form of cobblers and Barbeque, which was Maggie’s favorite thing in the world, next to Mom’s Yankee Pot-roast.
I loved swimming at the beach with Maggie; I think she must have been a mermaid in another life. We loved chasing seagulls and looking for dolphins… she was always the first to spot them. She’d nudge me gently to point them out quietly so we wouldn’t accidently scare them away.
We watched them, and ate sandy peanut butter sandwiches on the beach, and drank iced tea that had gone warm by lunchtime. When it got too hot for the beach, we went looking for bullfrogs in the tree lined area of the Cooper River. Maggie’s the only girl I know, who doesn’t get grossed out by those big old slimy frogs, and the occasional snake. She’d chase them out of the bushes and reeds to make it easy for me to catch them.
Mom and Dad never worried about us being out and all over town when Maggie was with me. She saved my life. She got her picture in the local news when I was two years old. I don’t remember this, of course, but I climbed out of bed when I was supposed to be napping, and went to take a swim next door. Mom didn’t hear the screen door flap closed behind me, but Maggie did, and quickly followed. She wasn’t fast enough to stop me from jumping in the deep end of the Smith’s pool, but at 7 years old, Maggie was a real hero, and she jumped in after me, and pulled me to the shallow end by the collar of my shirt…at least that’s how the story was told in the newspaper cut out that’s in the family scrapbook.
Mom and Dad knew that as long as Maggie was with me, I was safe.
When I was eight years old, we didn’t go to South Carolina in July.
I had just finished third grade, but things weren’t the same at home.
Like a good big sister, Maggie was always home when I got off the bus. From my first day of kindergarten, she waited by the front door, and wanted to hear about my day. Mom would give us a snack and I’d tell her about what happened in school while I did my homework.
But, since Spring, I’d find her resting in bed when I got home, not waiting for me in the living room.
She was tired all the time. My friends would knock for us, and ask if we could come out to the playground. Maggie just wanted to lie on the sofa. She seemed sad, and didn't want to go play.
When they thought I wasn’t listening, Mom told Dad that she was worried about how Maggie was acting…”since Maggie’s a teenager.”
Dad suggested taking her to see Dr. Makin, just to see what was going on. They got an appointment for the following Wednesday.
Life changed after that.
When I got home from school that Wednesday, Mom’s face was blotchy, and her eyes were swollen and tearful.
She was on the phone, but shushed me when I came in, and told me to “be quiet because Maggie’s asleep in bed”, and “she had a rough time at the doctor’s visit, so don’t bother her.” When she turned her attention back to the phone, I heard her sob, and say, “It’s too late and far gone…all we can do now, is make her comfortable.”
I peeked in on her, and sure enough, just as Mom had said, she was fast asleep, with her pink blanket pulled up over her head. She looked comfortable enough. I stood there, just watching her sleep for a few minutes, wondering what was going on. I lay down with her and wrapped myself around her…snuggling into her warmth.
Dad came home from work early.
Dad never came home early.
He said that we needed to talk.
Three weeks later, Mom and Dad woke me up, and told me to come downstairs.
Maggie was still asleep in bed.
I kept thinking that it was strange that Mom was up before Maggie.
It turned out, that Maggie wasn’t asleep.
She wasn’t even in bed.
What made Maggie special wasn’t in her bed. That loving wonderful girl wasn’t there anymore.
Instead, there was an unmoving shell that resembled her, in her bed.
We buried our Maggie’s ashes out under the peach tree at our vacation rental in South Carolina last August. I carried the small cardboard box on my lap, in the backseat on the way down, stroking the label with her name.
Dad keeps her pink collar on the rear-view mirror in the minivan. He name tag jingles every time we go over a pothole. Sometimes, just for a second I forget, and look for her in the seat next to me, but then I remember.
I sit under her tree every year now, at least for a little while, thinking of that sweet girl. We’ll never have another beagle like her. She was one of a kind.