Friday, August 19, 2011

susan hooks is here

my sister and i have never shared well. sleeping in the same room for forever, she inexplicably moved to the guest room when she turned teenager. and sometimes she would go into my closet and take a favorite t-shirt without my asking. (though younger, i was larger than she was so i couldn't steal her clothes without stretching them, and alas, getting caught.)

but then 30 years ago today, something changed.

i woke up to a phone call. 'hello susan!' pamula shouted. 'susan hooks is here!'

susan hooks. it took me awhile for this to sink in. my sister had just had a baby. a girl. and she had named the baby after me. (and my grandmother, but still.) wow. i called pamula daily after that, wanting to know who she looked like (her mom), did she cry (not much), how it felt to hold a baby in your arms that was your own. (one day I would learn myself.) in short order i was driving my mustang from augusta,ga to greensboro,nc, where my mother and my sister had spent the week babykeeping in a little house with kelly green carpet on the family room floor.  

the small bathroom in my sister's house had no vanity, as i recall. just a sink, and since there was no room to stretch out the giant baby bathing sponge, the first thing i saw on my arrival at the house was this: the two most important women my life dangling a tiny, wiry, slick-wet frame over the sink. and her eyes were WIDE open. freaked out, i would describe it. wet baby wet hands wet grandmother and mother... i was scared half to death that they would drop her. 

but they didn't. i am sure she was dry, dressed and fed by the time i got to hold her myself, looking into her large blue eyes, marveling at her chunky cheeks — she looked a little like Tweety Bird — counting her toes. a baby. a real baby. my sister's baby, and somehow — because she was named for me — by default my own. we were sharing at last. and something way more important than a t-shirt.

(my sister remembers this week not just because it marked the birth of her first child, but for the fact that beety jean, who thought that kelly green carpet could use a shampoo, sent my just-days-post-partum sister to the grocery story to rent a carpet cleaner — and didn't even help her get it out of the car. or clean the carpet. she probably did help clean it...that's our beety jean!)

being good Southern women, pamula and i started out calling our new baby susan hooks, but as she grew, just 'hooks' seemed to stick. two months later i got married. my sister moved our little baby to just outside St. Louis, but we talked every day about what raising her was like.

the next spring, i had become her godmother, and so i boarded a plane for illinois and her baptism. while i was there, we went to the zoo and the Arch, watched the roaring mississippi close up. and i took a lot of pictures.

on sunday, we dressed hooks up in her finest bonnet and headed to church. no other member of my family was there (another story: my brother's daughter was christened the same day, in a town much closer to my parents, so they were there.)

80s hair... what can i say?
i wish everyone had been with us, though. we stood in front of a congregation of strangers while the priest marked our baby as Christ's own. and then the choir turned to her and sang the most beautiful song i had ever heard, saying her name over and over, 'susan, susan...' as if she were the only one in the nave (and as if she understood). her wide eyes made us believe she did, for sure. I wish i could remember the other words, but pamula and i were both in tears and one thing you need to know about dear pamula is that she just does not cry.

i will spare you more of this story, which my sister describes as the happiest and saddest day of her life... how we drove all over Illinois look for a place for lunch and ended up in a dingy pizza parlor sitting all alone — pamula, her husband, hooks and me — celebrating the very fact of this baby.

when she was two, pamula called to say hooks had said the cutest thing. 'she asked me if a cloud sleeps. isn't that so cute?' that question led this writer on a dreamy literary journey that continues today. (to celebrate my tweety bird, i have been working on do clouds sleep, the bedtime book she inspired, much of the day). 

hooks grew older, gained a couple of brothers, and by then i had a baby of my own. 

hooks & her worm
she moved a couple more times until the fam finally settled in the Great State of Iowa. she came back to n.c. for school, where people just couldn't understand a name like hooks, so she started using susan. she met a tar heel boy (a demon deacon) who, oddly enough, had a nickname: worm. hooks & worm. there was nothing left to do but to marry him.

and now our little susan hooks is here and grown (though she is still little.) she looks like her mother and her great-grandmother (though she smiles much more than Hazel Estelle Hooks ever did.) and she is learning to make beety jean's caramel cake.

happy birthday, tweety bird. maybe by the time you have your own tweety bird i will finally be able to hand you your book.

can you tell they are kin?