The evening of March 15, 1953 was the night before my first niece, Deborah Jean Roberts, blossomed into reality. I was a high school senior preparing to go to a formal dance at the University of San Francisco. Looking back in time:
In the apartment on Willard and Parnassus, I huddled in the bathroom with my sister Doris. She had just finished stuffing the bodice of my dress with Kleenex. It was a beautiful pale lilac dress I had borrowed from Helen Marie Green, who was more well-endowed than I. Doris had begun having contractions a little earlier in the evening and my soon-to-be stepfather, Joe, was pacing frantically, urging her to stop fiddling with me so he could drive her to the hospital. Her sailor husband, Carroll, was somewhere at sea, so Joe was tackling the nervous father position. However, Doris wasn’t going to leave until I had been sewn into the dress and was ready for my first college formal.
When I returned in the early hours of the morning, I was greeted with the news that I had a niece. Joe had been right to be nervous. Deborah Jean Roberts had been in a hurry to be born. That was probably the only time she ever forced her mother to action; she was never a pushy baby or child. She was, and is, sweet and loving and exceedingly non-threatening.
Papa Joe fell under Debbie’s spell immediately, but my mother (to be called Mama, not grandma) was not happy about her new role and wasn’t easily charmed by children. However, by the time Debbie was two, Mama was beginning to thaw. One of my favorite images is of her stopping down to Debbie’s level to say something to her. Debbie, in response, also stooped, causing my mother to stoop a little more and finally, to lose her balance. Debbie made it her “thing” when she realized what a great response it had received- my sister Nancy and I doubled over laughing the first time, and continued to laugh each time Debbie pulled her trick. Even Mama seemed to enjoy it.
Debbie and I have always been close, but when her mother died, we became even closer. We speak weekly and see each other every year. We brag about and commiserate over our children. We are each others’ sounding boards and cheerleaders, sharing all our joys and sorrows. Technically, we are aunt and niece but, even better, we are friends and sisters.