Sisters, sisters . . . there were never such devoted sisters . . . Irving Berlin, White Christmas
In honor of my sister, on her birthday, I’m sharing a memory piece that I wrote a few years ago. It is really my Cinderella story, of ninth grade puppy love, and a dance in May as the grass grew green in coastal Maine. But every Cinderella needs a fairy godmother, and my big sister was mine on this, and so many other occasions. And more than that, she has always been my very dear friend. Happy birthday, Auralie!
Lavender-blue dilly dilly
You be my king dilly dilly
I’ll be your queen
In ninth grade, Chris Bengtsson asked me to the end-of-the-year dance. Chris was Bengt Bengtsson’s son and Bengt, president of a bank, was a dark-haired blue-eyed Dane who lived across the cove from us in the months following his divorce. Chris, a young Bengt, his eyes the color of a Danish sea, was shy in the matters of love. We had never held hands, but we had touched. Under a canopy of the cove’s pines and spruce trees, on a pine needle carpet, in the romantic evening hours, Chris and I, along with our younger siblings – had raced into each other, smacked shoulders and chests and hips, had fallen to the ground in a sea of arms and legs and pubescent fury. Chris and I had wrestled each other, full force, and now we were going to the ninth grade dance – together – on a date.
My sister, Auralie, back home in Maine after a semester at college, was ready to help me out. She drove me to the fabric store at the brand-new Portland mall and I plucked up the most beautiful fabric I could find – a field of purple and white cotton stripes dotted with rows of lavender blossoms. For my very first date, I chose to wrap myself in the French countryside, and the Simplicity pattern was simply perfect with its tiny puffed sleeves, its empire waist, its princess seams. With care and ease and a pair of sharp scissors, Auralie pinned and pieced and sewed it all together in the way that a big sister who adores you can work her miracles. She transformed a knobby-kneed kid, with braces and rubber-bands, into a blue-eyed, blond-haired French princess. She painted my eyelids purple, tied up my wavy hair with lavender ribbons, and, with an air of grown-up confidence, convinced me that I could do this thing, that I could stay present, savor the feelings, this being so close to a boy that I could smell the Danish Sea.
And, the night of the dance, as the music slowed, as I nestled even closer to neck and chest and groin, lavender filled the air. Chris pulled me even closer still, and I could feel it, the way his shy Danish body sunk down into a French field that was so fresh, so fragrant, so sincere. We danced like this, quivering, both of us intoxicated by the moment. Lavender is like that, it beckons you in, whispers in your ear that you don’t need to wrestle, you don’t need to smack into each other so hard that it hurts, that love can be breathy and lush and as sweet and earthy as an early summer evening, that there is another world blossoming inside a slow song. That night, in a junior high gymnasium, the French countryside came alive in me. I think my blue-eyed Dane felt it, too, a warmer climate and a sea of pleasure.