Ben Bromley: Sister's wedding brings back family memories

In my mind’s eye, Betsy always will be my baby sister.

As she walked down the aisle Sunday, everyone else saw a beautiful woman. But to me she’ll always be the freckle-faced, red-headed, curly haired young girl who interrupted our front-yard baseball games by sprinting through the infield naked.

Clearly, she inherited the Bromley shyness gene.

There was no nudity Sunday, as Betsy managed to keep her wedding dress on while walking down the aisle. And there was nothing infantile about my baby sister, who in an instant became a wife and stepmother. We saw a family created before our very eyes. Even for an embittered old skeptic like me, it was a precious sight.

Keep in mind, Betsy always has been adorable. Those freckles and curly red locks — she was a dead ringer for “Annie” — always won attention. Waitresses fawned over her and gave her free pie. Grandma doted on her. Alex and I did our duty as older brothers by stealing the free pie and pummeling Betsy the second Grandma left town. It was a hard-knock life.


As much as we bristled over the attention Betsy got for her curls and freckles, Alex and I had to admit she was good for a laugh. As a little girl she had a habit of wearing her favorite bonnet backward, and compounding the hilarity by labeling her signature style “backturds.”

She also went through an exhibitionism phase, during which she’d walk around the house wearing only a pair of boots on her feet and a wet washcloth on her head. This is the kind of behavior that gets senior citizens committed to mental health facilities, but if you’re a cute little girl, no one seems to mind.

Every now and then, if Mom wasn’t watching closely, Betsy would escape the house in this ensemble, dashing out the front door and through the pickup baseball game that inevitably was taking place in the yard. It made us feel big-league, having real live streakers interrupting the action.

Betsy continued to generate unintentional laughs in elementary school as she tried to catch up with the rest of the family’s vocabulary. (This could explain why she became a librarian.) On a tour through the city 10-year-old Betsy, after spotting all the cornerstones downtown, asked whether there was more than one meaning for “erect.” After an awkward silence, the minivan shook with raucous laughter.

Around that same time Betsy couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to see “Pretty Woman” in the theater.

Mom: Because it’s about a prostitute.

Betsy: Doesn’t that just mean she’s really smart?

Mom: You’re thinking of “prodigy,” dear.

The laughs continued when Betsy reached high school and brought home boyfriends who, as novice drivers, made for easy punchlines. The one who put his car in the ditch on the way to our house? He was known thereafter as “Ditch.” He didn’t last long, but lives on in family lore. The same goes for the kid who veered off our driveway, cementing his legacy as “Lawn Boy.”

In adulthood Betsy remains the butt of her brothers’ jokes — it is our lifelong duty to keep her in her place — but she takes our barbs in stride. She has no qualms about being embarrassed for the entertainment of others, a trait that served her well in developing youth programs at her library. The girl who once ran around in a backward bonnet went on to entertain children as French literary mogul “Fifi LePage.”

It was there Betsy met two young boys and their father Steve. Soon it was clear a love story had been written at story hour. And before you knew it, the girl who once zipped through the yard nude was slow-stepping down the aisle with Dad.

This time, instead of laughter, there were tears. Instead of a little girl, she was a family woman. But one thing hasn’t changed: Whether she’s wearing a wedding dress or a wet washcloth, I’ll always see her as my baby sister.

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