“Happy birthday, Isabel,” rang out as Papa’s Model T pulled
into Jim’s yard. Isabel swallowed a lump in her throat as she
looked around at her older, married siblings, nieces, nephews,
aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents waiting at such an early
hour to greet her on her eleventh birthday.
“What’s everybody doing here?” Isabel asked.
“We are here to celebrate your birthday with you,” Grandma
Betty said. “You didn’t think we would forget your day just
because your mother is not here, did you?”
“No, but the other children have had birthdays, and we
celebrated quietly at home, with just us.”
“That was because they had you to make their day special.
We knew you would bake a cake and make a big ‘to do’ for them
at home. Also, it was too soon, you know.” Grandma Betty held
her arms out to baby Raymond and was rewarded with a loud
squeal. She lifted him from Isabel’s arms.
“It sure is nice to eat a big ol’ delicious breakfast and not
have to cook it,” Isabel said. She fed Ralph his soupy oatmeal,
because he had not yet mastered holding a spoon.
“Well, you need not worry about cleaning up either,” Lena
said. “We have that covered, don’t we, Gracie?” Nine-year-old
Gracie smiled as she cleared the table, and Maggie jumped up
to offer her assistance. Isabel just enjoyed the moment.
“Why don’t all of you girls go outside and enjoy yourselves
while Grandma Betty and I love on these babies for a while,” Lena
said. She reached for Raymond as he jumped towards her.
“Play?” Isabel said.
“Yes, play,” Lena said. “You know, where you run and act
silly and just be a child again.”
“I think I have forgotten how.”
“Well then,” Grandma Betty said, “it is best that you
remember while you can. Go outside and enjoy yourself.”
Isabel left instructions for the twins and followed her sisters
and nieces and young aunts outside to play, feeling somewhat
exhilarated and yet strange to be treated as one of the children
“Oh, what a shame,” Grandma Betty said as Isabel stepped
outside the door. “The poor thing has already lost most of her
childhood. If only Avil would let go of his pride and allow the
children to stay with some of us until he gets back on his feet,
I think everything would be okay.”
“I know,” Lena said, “but he’s “Papa”. What can we do?”
Isabel did not wait to hear the answer; she already knew.
There was nothing to do but to obey Papa. She shook dreary
thoughts from her head and looked at the smiling faces
“What shall we play?” Isabel looked to Maggie, who looked
“Why don’t we play Mother, May I?” Gracie said. She lined
everyone up for the game. “Isabel, you can be mother, since it
is your birthday.”
Isabel stood in front of the group and took a deep breath.
“OK,” she said, “take one giant step forward.”
“Mother, may I?”
“Yes, you may,” Isabel said with a giggle. “This is fun, isn’t
it? I had forgotten.”
It didn’t take long to finish the game, and Isabel became
bored with playing and was ready to go back inside to the babies.
“Oh, Isabel,” Gracie said with mock dismay,
“you aren’t fun anymore.”
“I know,” Isabel said. “But I promise to work on it. Maybe
we can play something else later.”
When Isabel entered the house, she heard Ralph crying and
knew that she had been missed. Her heart swelled with love for
her little brothers, who needed her.