Monday, December 19, 2011

The Gift of Story: Priceless

By Georgeanne Irvine

The greatest gift I’ve received in a long, long time is a story my older sister, Ginger Barnard, wrote about me when I was a 4-year-old wild child. She rediscovered it last month while we were cleaning out nearly 50 years of memories from the house of our 93-year-old mother, who recently moved into an assisted living home.

Ginger was so excited when she found her story that she called me to read it over the phone and then retyped it to send to my siblings and me by email with the following note:

“The attachment is my retyping of a story I wrote for Honors English in December 1959. It was in a notebook of work from my class that I found at Mom’s house last weekend. I was going to chuck it until I started reading the essays and stories that I had written. Some pretty interesting stuff. This piece made me laugh out loud. It is/was all true.”

Her story made me laugh, too, and whisked me back to my childhood, when life was as simple as making mudcakes and riding tricycles. I am sharing her “Just Like Daddy” in hopes that it will inspire you to keep track of your own precious memories. They will be an extraordinary gift of love for your family and friends many years from now. And by the way, my sister is right—everything she wrote about me is true!

Just Like Daddy

This has been retyped from a paper written on December 4, 1959, by Virginia Irvine, aged 16, for Honors English at Crawford High School, San Diego, California. An “A” grade was earned. This version includes the corrections made by Miss Florence Eaton, Honors English teacher. Ginger Irvine Barnard (aka Virginia), November 7, 2011.

It was a peaceful Saturday morning on a San Diego, California, street. The warmth of the sun was removing the last dew from the grass. There was no activity on this particular street until one front door opened at approximately 8:00. A relatively clean-faced, Dutch-bobbed four-year-old appeared on the threshold. Every Saturday morning this same front door opened at the same time and the same child emerged.

At first glance a passing stranger might question the sex of the child because other than the haircut there was no distinguishing identification. The child was dressed in a Grand Canyon T-shirt, boys’ blue jeans, ragged navy blue tennis shoes, and one red sock and one white sock. To further add to the confusion of “its” gender, a voice from inside shrieked, “Georgie, come and eat your eggs!” To this the child replied rather belligerently, “Don’t like dirty, dumb eggs.” The second shout from the house confirmed Georgie’s identity. Georgeanne, if you don’t come and eat your eggs—NO CARTOONS today!”

With this threat hanging over her head, Georgeanne “Bratenella” Irvine skipped down the front steps singing “Popeye the Sailor Man.” “Bratenella” was a name added by her two older sisters, who consider her quite a nuisance.

Georgeanne walked into the garage and picked up her wheelbarrow and shovel that were “just like Daddy’s” and marched out of the garage “just like Daddy.” The neighbors call her “Big George’s sidekick.” Often Georgeanne can be heard cackling over the fact that even her name was “just like Daddy’s.”

With a passion Georgeanne hates dresses, dolls, and ruffles. Like everything else she doesn’t like, dresses, dolls, and ruffles are “dumb and dirty.” When her mother suggested hanging pictures of ballet dancers in Georgeanne’s purposefully feminine bedroom, Georgeanne had a fit and insisted that horses and dinosaurs would be much better.

Animals are her big love. She sleeps with seven of them. Horsie is the leader of the gang and takes the blame for any or all of Georgie’s numerous misdeeds. There are three “rabbies” of assorted sizes and colors, a large green dinosaur, a penguin, and finally Elli Phant. Another old standby is Pinky-by, a ragged remnant of a blanket, left over from babyhood. Pinky and all of the animals are gifted with the power of speech, which only Georgie can hear.

For a four-year-old, Georgeanne has a long attention span. She will work an entire day helping her father put in the new lawn. Coloring books and TV occupy hours of her playtime. Cartoons and cowboys are TV favorites. She has the commercials of all the cartoon shows memorized. Captain “Roo,” Annie “Oakless,” and Huckleberry Hound are her “berry favert shows.”

The threat of no cartoons was in the back of her mind at approximately 8:05 that same Saturday morning because she had just broken all her previous records for getting dirty. Five changes of clothes in one day are not unusual for Georgeanne.

By 8:10 a.m. the neighbors on that once quiet street were no longer sleeping. Georgeanne had dropped her shovel in her wheelbarrow twice, hit the car once, fallen flat on her face, and demonstrated her famous foghorn cry.

The rest of the day was smooth sailing, if you do not take in consideration the usual spilled milk, slammed doors, and spankings. At bedtime the ruckus began all over again. The first faux pas she made was to steal one of her big sister’s high heels and a stocking and hide them in a closet. Immediately the big sister began running down the hall after the culprit and shouting at the top of her voice, “Stop! Give me my shoe. I’m going to be late. You little brat, where did you put my shoe?” and finally, “MOTHER, will you do something with this little monster! It’s way past her bedtime.”

The fatal mistake had been made. Her presence had been noticed and the time had been noticed. Before going to bed she always takes a bath. Bath time means fun time for Georgeanne because sometimes she is forgotten and then she can flood the bathroom.

After a long struggle the little monster is put to bed with all her animals. Her mother tried to explain to her about saying her prayers. After a careful explanation that God was her Heavenly Father and watched over and took care of her all the time, Georgeanne popped up with the sixty-four-dollar question. “Then why do I have to have baby-sitters?”

With that closing remark, Georgeanne “Bratenella” Irvine drifted into nitey-nite land. Tomorrow was Sunday and that meant the funny papers came in the morning and that meant she’d have to get up at six to get the paper first. Of course she can’t read but the funnies are a good excuse to get up early. After all, you’re only young once.

San Diego native Georgeanne Irvine has devoted more than three decades of her career to raising awareness about animals and wildlife conservation. By day, she is associate director of development communications for the San Diego Zoo, where she has worked for 33 years. George is also the author of more than 20 children’s books, plus numerous magazine, newspaper, and Web articles. George’s most recent work is the coffee table book, The Katrina Dolphins: One-Way Ticket to Paradise, which is a true story about 8 dolphins from an oceanarium that were washed out to sea during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and dramatically rescued a few weeks later.


JeanDD said...

Wow! Living two doors down from you at that magical time and considering you a "best friend," I had no idea you were such a brat! But maybe that's how all older sisters see their younger sibs...Happy holidays from an old (in more ways than one) friend! Jean Donaldson Dodd

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