Almost 14 years separate us in age. Born on Easter Sunday, my youngest sister was a surprise in many ways. My dad, having remarried when I was 12, never expected to have more children than the two he’d had in his first marriage to my mother. I know my stepmom was as surprised as anyone when she found herself sitting in her doctor’s waiting room with women much younger and their developing belly bumps. In 1974, women who were 40 or older were more likely to be planning for their first grandchild’s arrival than a baby of their own.
So it was that Jennie, not Jennifer like so many girls born in the 70′s, came into my life. You could say she was a gift from the Easter bunny having arrived on the day when children wake to find surprises left by the fluffy symbol of Easter. Her maternal grandfather called her Bunny right from the start, making it a special nickname that only he would use in conversations with and about her.
I moved into their new baby household when Jennie was about six months old, stretching the limits of what my stepmom had probably planned for her life when she married for the first and only time at 38. Looking back, I am amazed at how well she handled all of unexpected changes in her transition from single working woman to new wife, before all too quickly being called on to mother an infant and teen.
Jennie, having been born to older parents grew up almost like an only child. While I was around and involved, I was a teenager after all and pretty well focused on my school and social life. Jennie and I played together, but I don’t remember having had too much required of me…as in no forced baby sitting or sulking about it as I can recall. I remember building her a little puppet theatre and covering it with a hideous pink fabric left over remnants of the 60′s… found somewhere I can’t remember. I made puppets and stories to go with it forcing her to endure and participate in my first playwriting experiences. (Sorry… no pictures seem to exist of the theatre to share.)
Jennie was my model when I tried my hand at 17 with my first forays into posed portrait work. She was such a good sport especially since she was barely four at the time this poor quality image was taken.
Joining the Army at 18, I was a visitor mostly after that, a sister who sent letters or gifts from other countries with occasional visits home while on leave. During the 5 years that I was away from Georgia, Jennie changed quite a lot during that time growing out of her little girl self of four into a more outspoken performer of nine. By the time she reached high school she was performing in musicals, sometimes winning the leading role. She began college as a performance major, but changed directions along the way, moving towards a degree and profession aimed at helping others.
After a few difficult years of helping children through Family and Children’s Services, she returned to school for a master’s degree in community counseling and added a certification to it that would enable her to provide counseling and support to children in a school setting. It’s there she seems to have found her home working with children who frequently need a listening ear and directional support. She spends her days in a rural setting where some of the children come from difficult home situations. Jennie’s quick to recognize a need where someone else might overlook it and at times has gone so far as to buy shoes for a child who didn’t have any they could wear. She does good work there making sure all of the children have equal opportunities for success along with a bit of nurturing and acceptance they may not receive at home.
It’s hard to believe that she’s 35 today … Happy Birthday Jennie!