I spotted my “sometimes friend” Betty Green deep in conversation with Rita Lawson, the principal’s snotty daughter. The choice of friendship each day was Betty’s. I was a friendly kid and would have played with a rattlesnake. Betty turned her back, making it clear she didn’t want my company when she finally had Snotty Rita all to herself that day. I ignored her cue and tromped right in. “Wanna play chase?” They didn’t. They were both squalling and loftily resumed their tearful conversation, bonding over shared grief. It seems each had recently discovered the existence of a baby sister, dead and buried long before either of these two snotties were born. I listened in awe, caught up in the drama, knowing I had nothing to offer on the altar of their shared grief.
I rushed in and questioned Mother as soon as I got home. “Did you ever have a baby that died?” No she didn’t. I had heard women whisper of losing babies. I had no idea what that meant, but it might be worth a try. “Did you ever lose a baby?” She was hugely pregnant at the time and quite touchy. “No, now get started on your homework. If you don’t have any, help me with supper.” I had homework. Remembering an ancient picture in a box in Mother’s closet, I prowled till I found it. Aha! This will surely get me in the dead baby club! Pulling it out, I slipped it into my math book, the first time that book had been opened at home that year.
Betty and Snotty Rita were still best buddies at recess the next day. I ran up, ignoring their cold looks, pulling my prize out of my jacket pocket. “Look, I have a picture of my dead baby sister. She died before I was born.” The sad image of an angelic baby in a white Christening dress, laid out in a homemade wooden coffin, her eyes closed in death was undeniable. Her black hair curled around her tiny face. They examined the picture somberly, giving me sympathetic looks as tears sprung to their eyes. I enjoyed their friendship for about thirty seconds until Betty turned the picture over and found scribbled, “Carrie Louise Perkins, born and died July 7, 1904.” I was out!!!