When Ashley was born, I didn't much notice. Today, I don't recall if she was born during the day or at night. I know I was not taken to the hospital, and as best I can recall I was likely left at my sister Claire's house. After Ashley came home, I am sure she got most of the attention, as a baby, but again it didn't make much difference to me. I still played, and when the school year started, I would go to school. I am sure I had a lot of curiosity about the baby, but I never felt jealous. I suspect that is because I continued to get my fair share of attention as well. Also because sometimes a kid doesn't want attention, so they can explore their world somewhat more "unfettered".
I do recall that Ashley's first birthday featured a Carvel Ice Cream cake, a wondrous confection I had never before experienced. As a boy, I never imagined you could make a whole cake from ice cream!
Later as she got older and began to walk, she became more interesting to me. We began to spend a lot of time playing together. She became my buddy and I became hers. Ashley didn't like to play in the dirt as much as I did and she was born with some kind of extreme sensitivity to sunlight, so she spent all most all of her time indoors. When she was brought outside, it was brief and she had to be completely covered. On one hand, this meant we did not have a lot of fun outside together. But on the other hand, it also meant the yard remained my domain. Possibly another reason we never experienced any of the animosity that siblings often seem to suffer.
It's true, we are not siblings, but given our closeness in age and the fact that we lived in the same house, and the fact that my mother did most of the parenting, caused us to develop a relationship much more akin to big brother/little sister than uncle/niece.
Ashley was a few years old when we got two puppies from the same litter. My puppy was black and white and hers was brown and white. My puppy was a boy named Max, hers was a girl that was supposed to be named Maria. But Ashley could not say the word "Maria". When she tried all she would say is "Mia", and so our puppies were Max and Mia. We played with the puppies all the time. They were very friendly and playful, and so were we. I remember that I was so fond of hugging Max, that I noticed his whiskers would always poke me in the face. So one morning, when I had awoken before my mother, I cut off his whiskers. I then proceeded to hug and squeeze him with impunity. When my mother woke up, she noticed that Max was moping about and not acting normally. So she asked me if I had done something to him, and I laid out the whole story and reason for her. I remember that I was told I should not have cut his whiskers, but I was also not in trouble. Either I was too cute, or she understood my reasoning or both. Either way, I learned an important lesson about dog whiskers.
I remember I would ride my bike up and down the driveway and the puppies would chase me. It was a lot of fun and good exercise for all involved. We had only had the puppies for a few months when I guess I allowed Max to get too close to the street. He ran out into the street and got struck by a passing vehicle. I remember he did not die immediately. I ran back to my house as hard and fast as I could to get my mother. I knew she could fix him. If anyone could make it all okay, she could. I ran back and I told her what happened. She ran to the street with me and we found Max. I remember she scooped him up and we brought him back to the house. My mother gave him water and put a cool rag on his belly. I sat on the floor and my mother put Max on my lap. I sat there and petted him until he finally passed. I had lost pets before, but this was the first death I witnessed. I was probably seven or eight years old, and I was devastated. I will never forget, that as I sat there sobbing my heart out, Ashley walked over to me, Mia in tow, and she said: "It's okay Tony, you can have Mia for your dog."
The presence of mind and self-sacrifice that such an action required, especially for a toddler, is something that not only struck me then but still to this day. It would not be the last time we would have to stick together.