I have known Eldest all of her life, which is something I find to be slightly atypical when I consider how often humans move from place to place. Before Eldest’s Family moved in, I had three Families living around me over the course of 20 years and before that, the Families came and went even quicker. So you’ll have to humor me when I say that I know all about Families. There’s almost always a Mother and a Father (except for that one time back in the ’80s when the larger humans were called Uncle and Aunt) and there’s also usually a handful of smaller humans as well. I often rank these younger humans by age as that’s what comes most easily to me: “Eldest, Middle and Youngest” or “Eldest, Next Eldest, Almost Youngest, and Youngest,” or simply, “Only.” My current Family is of the second variety. From the very beginning, however, it was Eldest to whom I took a shine.
I found Eldest to be something of a rebel. Most days when she came home from an institution which the humans called “School,” she would come slouch up against me, moaning about her day as she waited for the rest of her Family’s return. Eldest was the only human I had met in a long time who talked out loud to herself – or to me. She often would mutter about the other children at the School. She would assign them titles such as “Megan” and “Chris” in order to keep them straight in her mind. I found these titles to be strange, but they were what worked for her, just as thinking of her as “Eldest” was what worked for me.
I also found that in the few hours between her coming home from School and Mother and Father coming home, she was the calmest she’d ever get throughout the day. Once Mother and Father (and Next Eldest, Almost Youngest, and Youngest, although they typically caused no strife) came home, things would begin to come unraveled. Father or Mother would’ve heard from Teacher about something Eldest had done and they would be upset.
It seemed that Eldest’s latest escapade had involved a fight. That in and of itself was unsurprising. Eldest was often getting into fights (and though she was far and away the worst-behaved Eldest I’d yet to see, she seemed more misunderstood than any of them had ever been). In this most recent fight, she had finally been the one to swing first. Eldest was now “Suspended.” At the time, I wasn’t sure what that would mean for Eldest but I would learn shortly.
“Suspended” meant that Eldest remained home all day the next day. Next Eldest, Almost Youngest, Youngest, Mother and Father all went to School and Work but Eldest was left behind. Perhaps “Suspended” meant Ill? In the past that was the only reason I’d ever witnessed a human to stay home alone on a day that they would’ve typically gone out. Perhaps Teacher had infected Eldest with a virus that would keep her and her fists away from School for a couple days.
I kept an eye on Eldest as best as I could that day but she often wandered beyond my gaze as she paced around. At one point, she descended the stairs and returned not long after carrying a paint bucket.
She looked directly at me then, almost as if she knew I was watching and listening, and said grumpily, “I haven’t been this bored since, like, yesterday. And also, I think the building next door needs to be decorated.”
That evening, two visitors showed up. “Policemen.” They introduced themselves as “Policemen.”
Mother and Father were not pleased. Again.
Months passed. Eldest paid the vandalism fee. The building’s owner had not been exactly thrilled, but as neighbors went, he one of the kindest living on that block at the time, at least, that’s what Mother and Father said.
Next Eldest turned 13 that year. Many jokes were made about how she was now a Teenager. A Troublesome Teenager. And more than once, the makers of these jokes would briefly flick their gazes towards Eldest as the words left their mouth.
Along with age, Next Eldest gained Sass. I learned then that Eldest could not stand Sass. When she had been Next Eldest’s age, she had been quiet and stayed in her room all the time, so I could understand why she couldn’t understand Almost Eldest and her Sass.
Around this time, Mother and Father started having to be at Work later in the evening. This left Eldest in charge of the other children. She was not good at being in charge. She couldn’t take Next Eldest’s Sass, Almost Youngest had Boy-Drama and Youngest had Math. This often led to raised voices from at least one of the children. The result was often the little children running to their rooms, sometimes in tears, sometimes not. They would be fine again when Mother and Father got home. And Mother and Father never found out about their children’s afternoon struggles because by the time they got home the bigger children would be fine too. Unless Eldest had done something again.
Done something like selfishly refused to take part in a group project and thereby caused the group to fail.
Done something like holding a grudge until it finally exploded into another fight.
Done something like absolutely refusing to donate any of her old clothes to a Christmas clothing drive. (And while this seems small, it upset Mother almost more than any of the other things. Mother, I’d learned, had been raised to always be charitable and kind and Eldest baffled her beyond anything.)
Finally one night, after a particularly unpleasant discussion between Mother, Father and Eldest – after Youngest, Almost Youngest, Next Eldest and Eldest had all gone to bed – Father and Mother remained sitting at the kitchen table.
Now the kitchen table had always sat right in front of me so I was able to watch much of their brief conversation unfold as well as listen to it.
Mother sat at one end of the table, her head in her hands. Father sat near her, staring off into space. When Mother finally raised her head, she was shaking it hopelessly as well.
“What are we going to do?” she asked quietly.
Father shrugged and ran his hand over his face. “I suppose we could try church.”
And so I learned that there was a Mennonite church across the street from us. Mother and Father thought it would be easiest to convince Eldest to come if she didn’t need to wake up early and drive across town with them.
At that point in time I couldn’t tell if Eldest was taking anything that she heard at church to heart, but I noticed a change in Mother and Father. Sometimes they would stay up late into the night sitting at the table in front of me discussing the distant past and something that the called True Evangelical Faith which I learned “cannot lie dormant, but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto the flesh and blood; it destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; it seeks and serves and fears God; it clothes the naked; it feeds the hungry; it comforts the sorrowful; it shelters the destitute; it aids and consoles the sad; it returns good for evil; it serves those that harm it; it prays for those that persecute it; teaches, admonishes, and reproves with the Word of the Lord; it seeks that which is lost; it binds up that which is wounded; it heals that which is diseased and it saves that which is sound; it has become all things to all men.” Or at least that was how a man named Menno Simons described it.
Let me jump far into the future for a moment here. I have something I want to share with you. Long after this Family had moved out and on from this world to the next, another new Family moved in. They were the most athletic Family to ever live around me. When they went out, they went out to play whatever sport was currently the Family favorite, and when they stayed in, they stayed in to watch sports on the Television.
The Television. That was one thing that I could not see, as it was around the corner from me, in the Living Room. However, the Television was also something that I could always hear.
And one evening, as the Family was gathered around the Television, I heard a word that I hadn’t heard in years: Redemption. The Family was watching a baseball game. One of the players had botched a previous play but then offered up a sacrifice fly and managed to bring home runners. Now, I had no idea what a sacrifice fly might be, but I knew what Redemption was. Back in the ’80s, Aunt and Uncle had often talked of Redemption and Forgiveness and they’d gone to Church. Maybe they’d been onto something…
Twenty years or so after Mother and Father sat in front of me at the kitchen table, they moved away and I was surprised to find that it was their Eldest who had purchased us and who was moving in. Their Eldest and a man and their Only.
I was truly amazed.
And also puzzled. I’d never before had an Eldest return as a Mother and somehow I couldn’t bring myself to think of her as Mother. So I left her as Eldest and instead of naming the man Father, I thought of him as Dear, as that was the first label Eldest had given him.
I watched Only closely those first couple weeks to see if she would be like Eldest as a child. (For Church had not seemed to change Eldest those last few years that she’d spent in her parents’ house.)
But Only wasn’t like Eldest had been. She never paced and muttered angrily under her breath. In only one way was Only the same as child Eldest: she talked aloud to herself when she was alone with us – the walls – and so I learned to the fullest extent how different she was…
Her dream was to be a doctor so that she, like her mother, could strive to heal all the sick and injured of the world. Eldest had spent her years traveling around the world with a team of doctors prior to settling down with Dear.
She made Christmas treats for the neighbors every year (a tradition that had been started by her mother).
The local young Families of the neighborhood all brought their children to Only for babysitting. This was a joy for me to watch – she was so good with the little children. Only always knew just what to say to make a tearful face light up and she could make even the grumpiest child laugh at her silly antics.
Only was always helping her mother in the kitchen, even when she didn’t have to. She was always selfless in little ways like that.
It seemed to me that her mother had raised her well.
Eldest had changed.
One could even go so far as to say that she was on the path to Redemption.