by Inga Songbird
My life reads like a storybook. I grew up in the Netherlands, a place full of red brick houses, that all looked alike. “If it’s not made of stone it’s not a house,” they’d say. Our house sat close to the sidewalk and to each other, so as a little girl, I imagined my neighbors as kin.
Everything that I loved surrounded me: family, my friends, the playground across the street, the horse-drawn vegetable wagon, the milkman, and the cheese shop around the corner. On December 6, Sinterklaas, Saint Nicholas came by on his tall, white horse, and the ice cream man came to collect my Sunday nickel.
The candy store was four houses down, and once, through the crack in the door, I saw the old white-haired man pouring melted chocolate into bunny rabbit molds, and his equally white-haired wife, with the hump on her back (which I always wondered about) was curled up at a bench coloring marzipan fruit with a little paintbrush. But it was gypsies that I loved best of all!
Early one morning, I was alone on the sidewalk and like a dream, a parade of gypsy caravans rolled by on wooden wheels, pulled along by black horses. They threw silver coins my way. I jumped off my tricycle to gather them in my apron and ran into the house to show mama to which she cried out, “They’re not real money, they’re metal slugs. Stay away from those gypsies! They steal!”
I ran back to the sidewalk but they were gone. I wished they had taken me with them. I still long for those dark-faces, religious-red bandanas and charcoal-smudged mysterious eyes. I didn’t get to say goodbye.
At the age of four my parents told me that if I collected enough silver paper in the dining-room bureau drawer, a baby would come and live with us. Like a raven, I was drawn to any and all things shiny. I was ready.
My creative genius was peaking. I can remember running my silver paper through my fingers trying to wish it into more than a handful while sitting and listening to my mama and papa making music in the living room with their Hawaiian band. My parents had formed a group with two of their friends. They called themselves the Kalua Hawaiians and would meet every Saturday night.
Papa and Pierre played the guitar and mama the ukulele. Our friend Hank played the Hawaiian, lap steel guitar and I used to love to watch the dancing finger-picks he wore, and the glass-slide wing across the strings. Mama’s signature song was Vaya Con Dios, but she sang an Indonesian lullaby, Nina Bobo, to me at night before I fell asleep. That was “my” favorite song. She also had her own stage performances singing solo, and applied extra makeup to her face showing off shiny, apple-rosy cheeks.
For special occasions mama and my great-grandmother, who I called oma, would play hairdresser and put curls in my hair. Together I saw them rip one-inch-by-twelve-inch strips of cotton from a white bed sheet, use them to roll up my sectioned off hair and tie the strips in a knot at my scalp. They gave me a mirror. I liked it. Cotton balls dipped in cold tea set my curls. The tea crawled around my scalp and ran down my neck; I didn’t like that much. I wasn’t allowed to scratch. But I did like my bouncy curls, just like mama’s and oh, how I wished to match her even more and wear red lipstick on my cheeks.
My oma was the epitome of unconditional love and acceptance. Oma really, really, liked me! She was authentic. She showed me who she was in her daily grooming rituals; unencumbered by frills; her waist long gray hair, pinned in a lose bun at the nape of her neck. Mama and her were born in Bandung, Indonesia, the land of spices. It was custom that the elder in our house took charge of the family. I still recall oma’s five o’clock chant, “Your husband is coming home from work. Get ready to make his coffee!”
Our house was always well stocked with fascinating people, and since those were the days when cigarette smoking was en vogue, it was certain that the silver paper from inside the packs would be mine. It was effortless. Our guests came to know that I would be standing by ready to collect the silver.
There came a day when I opened the bureau drawer in the dining room and silver paper came tumbling out. I scooped it up in my arms and asked my parents, “Is it enough yet?”
“No, not yet.”
Nellie, was my sidewalk buddy, riding our tricycles and playing hop-scotch but I had never been inside her house before, until one day papa set up a play date for us.
I loved playing with that dollhouse of hers! What enchanted my attention inside the dollhouse was a real, honest-to-goodness, miniature roll of toilet paper hanging on the wall of the teeny tiny bathroom. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was mesmerized by it.
Something was different when I returned home. I don’t recall seeing mama. And where was my oma? She always took care of me. I hadn’t seen my baby sister, but somehow I knew she was there.
I felt terribly left out. Crushed. I wanted to be part of the celebration of my sister’s arrival. I created a safe place in my mind to protect myself from anymore hurt, and in doing so, I even blocked out my prize – my baby sister.
Why didn’t anyone think to create a rite of passage for me that would help explain the transition from being in the spotlight for five years as an only child, which was something I would never be again?
The only thing I remember of my family at that time was papa’s unrelenting crowing, telling everyone that he assisted the doctor in stitching up mama with a needle and thread.
But I was the big sister! I saved all that silver paper so that the baby would come and live with us. I was sad that I did not receive even one speck of notice for my achievement. I felt forgotten, lost in the shuffle.
“Oh, no!” I heard mama shriek. I quickly ran into her bedroom to see what was happening.
There was the baby! It was the first time I had laid eyes on this delightfully plump, half-naked newbie. But wait. Something was peculiar.
She was covered in brown smears and smudges from head to toe, like someone had painted her. The basket on wheels that she was laying in, was also in the same condition.
My curious eyes reached deep into the mystery paint when suddenly a delirious joy came over me; I felt brilliant to discover that one side of the cloth diaper had become unlatched. The baby I bought with silver paper was covered with poop!
Then I saw the baby form her two fingers together and put them in her mouth. She was hungry!
Mama’s eyes started to roll back in her head, and she stumbled backwards, her hands wobbling in front of her, she looked uncertain. I dissolved in uncontrollable laughter. Mama pushed me back and roared, “get out!”
One morning some time later, to my fortune, I saw my baby sister lying on her tummy on top of our dining room table. She was sparkly clean and looked very pretty in her pink, hand-crocheted little dress with matching booties. She smelled good too. Baby sister looked like a shiny star with her hair brushed up into one big curl on top of her head.
Mama instructed me to stand on a footstool and hold my baby sister in place, as papa got ready to take a picture of us together. I was told to pose with my hand on her back when suddenly the baby began to rock on her tummy and flap her arms and kick her frog-legs. She was trying to swim off the table! I became frightened because I had never held close a baby before. I quickly clutched her little hand in mine and looked to my parents for help. My heart felt full with love. I was the big sister, taking good care of my little sister.
I know that this childhood experience was the springboard for all of my life’s manifestations. Silver Paper was the very first introduction to the world of possibilities and even as a four-year old I knew that. I must have tucked that magic away in the pocket of my little-girl apron for safekeeping along with my silver Gypsy coins.
Inga Songbird’s gift of manifestation began at the age of four. An early childhood experience set her on a path of discovery and joy of what life had to offer and how to help make it a reality. Not listening to adult figures or society’s narrative that drowns out individuality, intuition, belief and trust in one’s self , Inga continued to hold onto her childhood innocence of belief. This belief and awareness has continued through many unique experiences, allowing her to tap into the energy and forces for manifestation along life’s journey. From running her own business, educating children, pursuing the visual arts, coordinating community events and soliciting donations for non-profits, Inga has many life experiences of manifestations to open you to the possibilities. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org