Lucille stared at the tiny, red, wrinkled face of her new brother. She had just turned five back in July and was feeling like a real big sister now that she had two younger brothers, Dick, only two, and now James. She tucked the soft blanket back under his chin and looked up at her mother.
Momma was stretched out on her bed. He long brown hair was loose on her pillow. She looked tired.
“Momma, what shall we call him?” she asked.
“I think with a name like James Ralph, we’ll call him Jim,” Momma said.
“Jim,” She said softly. “I like that.”
Maurice came into the room and leaned over the other side of the bed.
“He looks just like Dick did when he was born,” Maurice said.
Lucille could barely remember when Dick had been born. She had only been two, but now she was five.
“Momma?” she asked. “Can I help you take care of Baby Jim? Like Maurice helped with Dick?”
Mother smiled at her and reached out to touch her cheek. Momma’s fingertips felt warm.
“Of course, you may,” Momma said. “There will be plenty for both of you to help with. Would you like to hold him?
“Oh, yes, Ma’am,” she answered.
“Climb up here beside me,” Mother said.
She kicked off her shoes and climbed up, then leaned back against the headboard and smoothed her dress out across her lap. Mother gently laid the baby in her lap.
“Put your arms around him and don’t let his little head dangle,” Mother said.
She was excited and a little scared at the same time. Excited to hold her baby brother, but afraid she might do something wrong and hurt him. He smelled funny. It tickled her nose, but she liked the way he smelled.
“Do all babies look like this, Momma?” she asked.
Mother laughed. “Pretty much,” she answered.
She stared at Baby Jim. He opened his eyes just barely and she smiled at him. Then his mouth opened wide. He had no teeth, just a wet, red circle. Suddenly he let out a wail and his red face got even redder. Her eyes flew open and she looked at Mother, startled and unsure of what she had done. She had only smiled at him. She was afraid she would cry.
Mother patted her on the arm and smiled.
“it’s alright, Child,” she said. “You didn’t do a thing. He is only hungry. He hasn’t eaten yet.”
She sighed, glad that Mother would take care of things. She always took care of things.
“I’ll take him,” Mother said, and she did. As soon as he started nursing, he quit crying.
There was a heavy crash from the back of the house that startled them all except Baby Jim.
“Maurice, run see what Dick has gotten into, please,” Mother said.
Maurice ran from the room, squeezing by Father as he came in. He leaned over and kissed Mother, then cupped Baby Jim’s head in his big hand. He turned to look at her.
“Are you helping your mother with the new baby?” he asked.
“Yessir,” she answered. “Momma let me hold him. But he cried.”
Father laughed. “Babies do that a lot when they’re little. You did too.”
Father eased himself into the rocker beside the bed and patted his knee. She knew what that meant and crawled into his lap. He had been in the fields all morning and smelled like sweat and tobacco smoke. She liked the smell and laid her head back on his chest as he wrapped his arm around her and held her close.
She tilted her head back to look up at Father and said, “I’m so glad we have a baby that I can help Momma with.”
“I am too,” said Father.
Maurice came back leading Dick by the hand. He clutched a piece of cornbread in his free hand. There were crumbs on his face and on his romper.
“Dick was trying to get to the cornbread Iola had put out for dinner,” Maurice said.
“Looks like he made it, too,” Father smiled. “Dick, are you being a good boy? he asked.
Her little brother started to nod ‘Yes’ but then shook his head ‘No’.
“No, I guess not,” Father said. “Come over hear and let me have a bite of that cornbread.”
It didn’t look like Dick wanted to share, but he obeyed Father. They all did.
Father took a little bite and said, “Mmmm, come on, young ‘un. Let’s go wash up for dinner.”
She hopped off Father’s lap. He kissed Mother again, then took Dick by the hand and led him off to the washbasin on the back porch. They looked funny walking side-by-side.
“Winnie Maurice,” he called, “If Iola has dinner ready, you can ring the bell.”
Maurice ran form the room, calling for Iola. It was just the three of them.
“I think he is just about finished,” Momma said. “Now I am going to show you something that you can help me with, maybe the next time. Now watch closely.”
She climbed back up on the bed. She was excited because it seemed like Momma was sharing a secret just between the two of them.
“Hand me that cloth, Dear.”
She handed Momma a clean, folded cloth from the stack beside the bed, and Momma draped it over her shoulder. Then Momma held Baby Jim up to her shoulder with one arm and stated patting him on the back with her other hand.
“Can you pat Baby Jim like this?” Momma asked.
She scooted closer and began to pat her baby brother’s back, just like Momma had been doing. He didn’t seem to mind at all. She looked up at Momma.
“Keep going,” Momma said. “Maybe just a little bit harder.”
Suddenly Baby Jim burped. It surprised her and made her laugh. She looked at Mother.
“Why did he do that?”
“Babies nurse so fast that they swallow air too. If you don’t burp them, it makes them feel bad and they cry,” Momma said. “The next time I will let you hold him and burp him. That will be a big help. Will you do that?”
“Oh, yes, Ma’am, I will.”
“Good. No run clean up for dinner. I hear Maurice ringing the bell.”
She skipped out of the room so excited to be helping with the baby that she even forgot her shoes.