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Of Peanut Butter and a Baby Sister

This week marks a couple of important dates in history. Well, at least they are important insofar as they have affected me.

First, today

is National Peanut Butter Day, and that makes me thankful for a man who was at least partially responsible for giving us peanut butter, the food on which I grew up.

Born into slavery, kidnapped as a small child, traded for a horse, and never seeing his mother again, George Washington Carver persevered through some of the darkest days of Reconstruction and segregation to become a foremost botanist and teacher at Tuskegee Institute, serving under president Booker T. Washington. He turned down lucrative job offers to continue working with young people and experimenting with crops and products that enhanced the standard of living for people the world over. The subject of some of his most promising experiments was the peanut.

Carver once told a group of students that he had asked God to show him the meaning of the universe, but God told him to lower his sights. So he asked God to show him the uses of the lowly peanut. From such humble and persevering service, he gave the world peanut butter, in my opinion second only to manna as angels’ food. Spread a little peanut butter on some manna (if it were still on the market), and you would have a truly heavenly meal!

As I grew up, my taste buds quickly became attuned to the taste of that wonderful legume. Over time, I learned that it could be added to other foods–or other foods could be added to it–to make an even tastier repast. Peanut butter and jelly, of course, was first. I later tried but did not get excited about peanut butter and bananas, peanut butter and marshmallows, and peanut butter and celery. Then one day I discovered a condiment that I’ve been eating on my peanut butter sandwiches ever since–peanut butter and mayonnaise. (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. For a time, it ranked right up there with my daughters’ favorite meal-when-Mommy’s-away: instant mashed potatoes, chopped-up hot dogs, and ketchup, all mixed together.)

Tomorrow (January 25) is also a momentous day in my personal history. That was the day that my little sister was born. I was in first grade and had no idea why Mother had to be gone for several days. (Thanks to those peanut butter-and-mayonnaise sandwiches, I survived her absence.) When she came home, she brought a little thing with her called my sister. Little did I know how that would impact my life.

The two of us grew up together, playing and fighting like siblings typically do. When she got big enough to walk into my room and play with (and usually break) my models, I complained to Daddy, and he installed a chain lock high on the door frame. Whenever I left the room, I connected the chain, knowing that my treasures would be safe until I returned.

My brother Dale and I were up at the crack of dawn every morning during the summers, heading to work with Daddy, a self-employed brick mason, while Gina remained home and played. On Saturdays, Dale and I were up at the crack of dawn, weeding the strawberry patch or harvesting the wheelbarrows full of rocks that our garden grew in abundance, while Gina slept till lunchtime. Then she would arise, tap on the window, and make faces at us while we were sweating away in the garden under a hot Tennessee sun.

In spite of the way she aggravated us boys, we still enjoyed playing Aggravation with her. It gave us a small bit of nonviolent revenge for her aggravation of us the rest of the time. And when we played Monopoly and she threatened to drop out of the game because she had no money, I’d slip some of my money to her under the table. Only later did we realize that Mother was doing the same thing. And Gina finally admitted that she’d had money of her own all along. Sisters!

Despite all of that, we loved her–and still do. She and her husband are now empty-nesters, having reared three children of their own. Two brothers and a sister, just as our family had. And I’ve seen in them the same aggravating of each other but a genuine love for each other, too.

Happy birthday, Sis!

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