Sweet Caroline

Twenty one years ago today I cried because my sister Caroline turned three. I didn’t believe she could ever be as lovable again as she’d been at two. Three seemed so mature and unsilly; practically school-age. Oddly enough, I was wrong. That whole year I kept a diary of her doings, which I keep meaning to look for when I go home.

I’ve never loved anyone the way I loved Caroline when she was a small girl. She was such a great kid. Blonde hair, big brown eyes, and a nose so neat that Claire and I convinced her that, through a terrible misfortune, she’d been born without one. Her voice came from deep in her shoes, so that people sometimes looked over her head to see who had spoken. She had a taste for the dregs of any wine glass she could get, and a vivid sense of humour. She would hang upside down from the next-door neighbour’s climbing frame, her little pot-belly sticking out as her dress flew over her face. The bigger kids taught her tricks they couldn’t do themselves, and she was always game.

In the bath, she and Claire played at being Auntie Winnie and Auntie May. In their nineties, three of our grand-aunts had ended up in adjoining rooms in a Tipperary nursing home, and Claire and Caroline thought it great fun to imagine that we would end up there, too. They practised pouring bathwater tea, saying rosaries, and being deaf and senile.
    “Now auntie Winnie would you like some tea?”
    “What? What are you saying? What?”
    “Auntie Winnie would you like some tea and a biscuit?”
    “No. I’ll have jelly and icecream.”

Caroline was only ten when I left home, so we don’t know each other well any more. She’s less than nine years younger, but Ireland’s changes have speeded up generational shifts. I’m dim-witted about property and prospects, but Caro has just become a homeowner. This flipping of birth order aspirations seems symbolic of the mirror world Ireland has become, where home is richer than away. I’m fascinated by the glossiness of her contemporaries, and I want to know how they’ll turn out. Especially my sister, who still has a spark of the fearless, cheerful toddler on the climbing frame. May she always keep it, even when we get to that nursing home.

And another happy birthday to Brooklyn Amy, star of a few recent posts here. She turns forty today.

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