The times I regretted not having siblings the most was during the times of the rains. For about two weeks of the year, during the early spring months, it would rain almost nonstop. Everyone stayed inside during that time. Most of the time was passed mending items that had needed repair but neglected until the rains. Since there was nothing but time during that period, it may as well be passed usefully.
I remember asking my mama why I had no brothers or sisters. Few families did, but I knew we were better off than most so it would not have been a strain on my parents to have another child. I was only about seven at the time, but I remember her patting my hair. “We’ve tried, Tears,” she told me. Mama always called me Tears while Daddy always called me Rain. “But babies don’t wanna hold in me. They slip through like little fishes in your father’s net.” She kissed my forehead, “I’m lucky to have you. Many women lose child after child and never have one of their own. They must be satisfied with their siblings’ or cousins’ children instead.”
In truth, my mother was luckier than most. Although she had several miscarriages, she never had to suffer a stillbirth or a babe who died young. It seemed those women grieved the most for what they lost had a name and face while others only lost dreams that had not come true.
I had buried my face in my mother’s warm chest and promised, “When I grow up, I’ll make it so no one has to lose a baby. And then we can have all sorts of brothers and sisters!” My mother’s soft chuckle and rough hands holding me close only raised my confidence.
When I was a child, my village did not know about the concepts of letters or writing. All our dealings were done verbally and we trusted that our neighbors would deals with us fairly. Thus, lack of letters meant little, but it also meant there was no schooling to pass the dreary rain filled days or books of stories to read to pass the time.
We did have our own fables and parables that Mama would tell me as we knitted and mended. I think most of them were supposed to be cautionary tales to discourage me from wandering too far into the marsh and never seen again. But I was always fascinated by what the outside had to offer and Mama’s stories made me want to know more.
The rain time was also when we did most of the shucking and curing. Oysters had to be teased out of their shells, cattails scraped from their tough stems, hides to be cleaned up and softened. The time after the rains was almost as tedious. That was when every housewife dragged her big pots outside to boil the remaining toughness out of the hides and cattails. The smell was so strong, I always retreated to the river to get away from the stench.
The year I was eight, the waters had flooded particularly high. The river had swollen so high that the small dock where we usually kept the canoes was almost covered by the water level. Thankfully, my father always insisted that the boats were dragged to the village line during the rains, so no one lost their craft to the floods. I would have never risked sitting on the wet dock if I had to worry about dodging boats.
I desperately wanted to swim, but the current was too strong and the water too murky. Not even the platypi were playing that day with the water practically mud from the sifting silt. Instead, I watched with mild interest what the waters were carrying past. Large logs were most common, but occasionally some lost item like a shoe or tire floated past. Mostly I kicked my feet in the water, enjoying the impact of my heels and the spray of water on my face.
I was about to surrender to the inevitability of going home to chores when I noticed rustling from a nearby cattail patch. I waded over there, careful of my footing. As I pushed aside the brush, I found a boy about three years younger than me hip deep in the water. He was trying to hold a bucket above the water line as he climbed out with no success.
I didn’t recognize him on sight. Although our village is small, most kids still hang out with others their own age. I had a few friends my age and a couple a year or two older. I tended to not play with the little kids since they were all babies anyway. This one seemed like a tough little guy to be down by the swollen river all alone.
When he saw me, his first reaction was to burst into tears which kinda hurt my first impression. “Please, sis,” he bawled, “help me out. I’m stuck.” The last syllable became one long howl as he thrust the bucket at me. Instinctively I took it from him. I was almost bowled over from the weight of the bucket and fell in head first with him. As I carefully placed it to the side, I noticed that it was full of water.
I pulled the kid out next. He threw his grubby hands around my waist and bawled into my chest like I had saved him from a demon. “Geez, kid, if you had just pitched the water, you could have easily thrown the bucket up here and climbed out yourself.”
“Nu-uh,” he muttered. “I’d have lost my findings.” With one hand he stuck his thumb in his mouth, while the other pointed at the bucket. “I got a bunch of soft shell crabbies. They need water.”
I looked into the bucket and as sure as the sun rises in the east, there were a good half dozen crabs nestled at the bottom. Their exoskeletons were still that pale color indicating they had just molted their hard protective armor. “By the river spirit! Soft shell crab is my favorite,” I practically drooled.
“You can have one for saving me,” the little boy said like a small emperor bestowing a favor to a servant. I paid his tone no mind and easily snagged one of the more lively specimens from the bucket. Careful of the pincers that could still sting with the soft covering, I bit into the crab’s flesh breaking its back in one chomp.
“What are you doing? You cannot eat it raw! What’s wrong with you?” the little boy looked at me as if I had sprouted horns. “Auuugh!”
“Shut up, dummy, they’re best fresh,” I told him around mouthfuls. I knew I shouldn’t gulp down the delicacy, but it was hard not to. It was so good.
“My name isn’t dummy, dummy,” he retorted smartly.
“What is it then?” I asked licking my fingers. “Thanks for the crab by the way.”
“You’re welcome,” he nodded briskly. “Cattails by the river.”
“I know where we are I asked you what your name is,” I answered. I decided to speak slowly. “What-is-your-name?”
“IT’S CATTAILS BY THE RIVER,” he yelled. “And don’t talk to me like I’m dumb.” His little cheeks grew red with anger and Cattails swung a chubby fist at me. Being much bigger, I easily sidestepped his attack. His extra momentum with nothing to stop it caused Cattails to fall forward into the mud. As he lay on his stomach with mud all down his front, he screamed, “You’re mean. I hate you.”
Unable to help myself, I laughed so hard I fell onto my bottom, splashing mud everywhere but especially on myself. Cattails’ eyes grew big before he burst into laughter too. After laughing ourselves almost sick, I helped Cattails clean himself with water from his bucket and lead him home so he could present his mother with fresh crabs for dinner.
And that’s how I met my husband.