A Valentine for Poodle, my sister.
I was almost six when Wilma Jean was born. She was the first baby I can remember. She didn’t cry much at first–just lay quietly between two pillows in the middle of the bed. Despite warnings from relatives not to bother her, I couldn’t stop sneaking into the bedroom. She was pink and pudgy, with a full head of red hair. She stared upwards out of blue eyes and gurgled. It was still very warm that September, so her legs and arms were bare. She waved her limbs about as a warm breeze rustled plastic patterned curtains. I was mesmerized.
A few months later we had moved again. Wilma could not yet walk, and lay fidgeting on a new bed. One morning I was two rooms away when suddenly she screamed. She had somehow rolled off the bed and struck her chin on the sharp edge of a dresser. I had never seen so much blood, nor heard such crying. I was frightened half out of my wits as mom swept her up and out to the car. Wilma has the scar under her chin to this day, and though she has no memory of the event, it is seared into my brain.
Wilma always drank a lot of water, and she loved her soda pops. All that hydration sometimes got her in trouble. On one of her middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom she broke her little toe, which for decades afterward pointed straight up.
She also walked in her sleep. One night I followed her out of the house and about a quarter mile down the dark, dusty Panther Creek Road, before she made an about-face and returned home to bed.
Another time, when Wilma was about three, we took a trip to Florida. I recall how she stood next to Dad as he drove down the interstate, pestering him over and over with “Daddy, I thirsy.”
Dad told her there was a bottle of water in the back seat, but Wilma shook her head vehemently, “Oh no, Daddy. I not thirsy for water. I thirsy for Pessi.”
Years later, as the oldest child, I would sometimes babysit my younger siblings. Wilma may have been “Only Girl” (a nickname my Dad gave her), but she got no special treatment. Perhaps drunk with power over the youngsters, I could be harsh with them. I am still reminded to this day about spankings I doled out, though I don’t remember hitting anyone. I guess when you are on the receiving end, the memories are much more vivid.
Perhaps because she was the only girl, Wilma acquired additional nicknames. She had a skirt with a Poodle on it that she liked very much. We soon took to calling her “Poodle.” Before that it was “Droopy Drawers” (which needs no explanation), and her Grandma called her “Jeanie Wilma.”
I had been a relatively good student in school, but Wilma strove to do better. Once she told me she got tired of having teachers “throw me up to her.” I am proud to say that she exceeded me in school, with higher grades and a perfect attendance. But it wasn’t her grades that I was most proud of.
Poodle showed early signs of generosity and compassion–traits that deepened as she matured. My favorite photo of her from her childhood is the one of her at twelve standing beside my first car–a 1971 green Volkswagen Beetle.
We were on our way to the WPSD-TV Telethon, and had stopped at a shopping center when I snapped that photo.
Wilma had scraped together five dollars, and all she could talk about was donating it to “the crippled children.” I drove her to Paducah in my bug and went into the television station with her when we arrived.
She didn’t know she was going to be on camera, so naturally she got nervous as she waited in that line of people. (To me, though, it was very moving. I watched her proudly, but feeling a bit guilty. If she could donate five dollars, why hadn’t I?)
When her time to step forward in front of the cameras arrived, they stuck a microphone in her face and asked, “And what do you have for us, little girl?” And, as twelve year-old girls on TV for the first time are wont to do, she flubbed her only line.
“I would like to no-nate five dollars,” she said.
No one corrected her. They thanked her, took the bill, and moved on to the next person in line. But I laughed, and to this day I still ask her if she wants to “no-nate” anything.
After college, I moved away to Virginia and Poodle grew up. But she stayed in constant touch. We talked by phone of her jobs, her latest vehicle, a courtship, a marriage. Wilma visited me often wherever I lived. We enthusiastically enjoyed the shopping and concerts the various cities had to offer. But I think she was overjoyed when I returned to west Kentucky to live.
There have been stretches in my life when I seemed lost and without a plan. At those times, you feel a bit as if you are letting your family down. It can be difficult when you want to be the older brother that siblings look up to.
But, Wilma has always supported me–always had my back. And I’ve always known it. It’s called “unconditional love” and I wish all brothers and sisters everywhere knew it as well as I do. Poodle has not only supported me emotionally, but at times, financially. She has always been the first family member there when there was a health scare. And though we agree to disagree on any number of things, I know I’m always in her prayers. Sometimes, that’s the best part, just knowing she is there for me. I like to think I would be there for her in the same way.
But it isn’t just me who enjoys her compassion. Poodle is very active in her church. She and her husband are often the first to be contacted for prayer. She’s always there for an illness or injury–or to comfort a grieving spouse.
Since Dad had his heart attack in 2012, Wilma–always a Daddy’s girl–has spent untold hours traveling to doctors, talking with health professionals on the phone, or sorting out literally dozens of medications so that he takes everything when he should. Heck, she’s probably something of an expert on post-bypass surgeries by now. No nurse could have done better.
My sister isn’t perfect, nor would I want her to be. We have quarreled and shared our portion of family dysfunction. Who hasn’t? But we share a history of love and hard knocks. Of surviving bad times and appreciating the good ones. It’s been a heck of a ride.
So, Poodle, on behalf of all your family, Happy Valentine’s Day. You’ve been an awesome daughter, and perhaps the best little sister a brother could ever have. Love you.
© Wade Kingston