My siblings and I grew up in a working class community, one of the last strongholds of the east coast fish cannery industry. We were lucky because we were raised by two generations of educators and influenced by an assortment of free thinkers. The kids in my family were encouraged to dream. We grew up with kids who didn’t know what dreams were, kids who thought our house was grand, when to us it seemed overpopulated. We each wanted a room of our own. I moved into the girls’ walk-in closet to get AWAY. My brother moved into the damp, dank, cellar to find freedom.
One of my sisters has always been drawn to the underdog. Enter Bert & Ida. Ida was a spunky girl. She had wild, woolly hair that sprouted out of her head a tangled, teased, mess. Bert was her little brother. They were the youngest of ten children. When I noticed her at all, I saw a cute girl with nothing much to look forward to. Her parents were old and poor. Bert was disabled. He was a messy little boy, a kid who always needed his nose wiped. Bert grew up during a time when kids with disabilities were treated as though they had no mental acuity. I know he was frustrated, sometimes fearful and almost always apprehensive.
Bert loved Ida, she was his true north, his only way home. Ida loved Bert too. She was his defender and his, sometimes impatient, caregiver. I can hear Bert calling her in a slow wail, “EyeDAH, EyeDAH, EyeDAH!” I can hear Ida snapping quickly, “What Bert?!”
I was horrified when Bert and Ida were at our house in our bathroom, taking steaming baths and getting their hair combed for LICE. I’ve always been a tidy person and the thought of a louse in the house just about put me over the edge. I know I wasn’t unkind to Bert and Ida, although I feel confident there was a hissing conference in the hall outside the bathroom when I discovered what was happening in there. I can vividly imagine the Comet scouring I would have applied to the old, four legged, cast iron, enamel, bathtub.
I don’t know what happened to Bert and Ida. I’ve looked in every nook and cranny on the internet to find them. I hope it was something wonderful. Maybe an energetic social worker paired Bert with a conscientious young doctor, who discovered that Bert’s disability was the result of a mineral deficiency that time, therapy, and a wholesome diet repaired. It could be that Ida was the beneficiary of good deeds and kindness. An older woman may have seen the spark that I remember, taken Ida under her wing, and fanned that spark until it flamed. I wish I’d done something for Bert and Ida. I hope they’re still close and they’re living happily, independently, ever after. In the end, lice are inconsequential.