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Have won an award The No Name Sisters

Story ID:119
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family History
Location:New Holland IL USA
Person:The Bartman Sisters
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The No Name Sisters

The No Name Sisters
Nancy Julien Kopp

(Author’s Note: My husband’s mother and her younger sister were not given a name until it was time for them to go to school. I’ve written the story the way I think it might have happened. The names and where they originated are factual. The picture shows the girls a little older than when this story happened. It is a confirmation picture.)

The Story

Papa leaned forward and in his German accented English said, “So Katie, have you found out about this word perseverance? Can you tell us what it means?”

Mama and the other children leaned forward in their chairs, the same way Papa had. All eyes turned to Katie, the oldest daughter, as they waited for her to enlighten them.

“It means never giving up what you have set out to do.”

Papa laughed heartily. “Then I think it is good for us all to have a little of this perseverance. Ja?”

Every head nodded in agreement with Papa. None of them ever disagreed with him, not her five older brothers, not her mama, not even Big Baby or Little Baby, her no-name sisters.

Katie wanted her sisters to have real names. Big Baby was six and Little Baby five, so they’d been without names for a long time. Once, Katie said to Papa, “In 1912 in America everyone has a name,” but he’d ignored her.

Katie loved her handsome papa. In the parlor, there was a photograph taken when he lived in Germany. He wore his Prussian army uniform and sat straight and tall on a big white horse, looking like a prince.

After dinner, Katie asked a familiar question, “Papa, when are you going to name Big Baby and Little Baby?”

He gave the same answer as always. “Sometime soon I will do that. There is no hurry, Katie.”

Katie took a deep breath and responded softly. “Oh yes there is, Papa. School will start soon, and they must have a real name to go there. Miss Taylor won’t let them stay without a name.” She blinked to keep threatening tears from spilling over.

Her brothers all laughed until Papa silenced them with a stern look. All five boys ducked their heads and continued eating to smother their laughter. Even though they remained quiet, their eyes twinkled. Hans leaned over and poked his finger in Big Baby’s cheek.

“Sometime soon,” Papa said while he patted Katie’s arm. He pushed back his chair and placed his hands on the table. “Koert, finish your pie and go hitch Jennie and Fannie to the wagon. Mama and I are going for a little ride tonight. Jennie and Fannie whispered in my ear that they liked to take a long walk on a fine summer night like this.” His deep laughter rang across the kitchen.
Little Baby laughed, too. “Horses can’t talk, Papa,” she said, clapping one jam-covered hand over her mouth.

“Maybe they can, and maybe they can’t. But my horses are special treasures.” Papa winked at Mama.

That night Katie tossed and turned in her bed, unable to sleep. Why was she the only one in her family bothered by her sisters’ nameless state? Mama didn’t seem to mind, and her brothers were perfectly happy calling them Big Baby and Little Baby. Even the nameless girls never complained. Only Katie fretted.

Katie turned over and fluffed her pillow. She glimpsed the silver moon out of her tiny window and pictured herself on the first day of school. She held her sisters’ hands, one on each side of her, all with neatly braided hair. They wore clean pinafores over calico dresses, their high button shoes were polished, and their faces glowed from the morning scrubbing. She proudly presented her sisters to Miss Taylor.

The pretty picture changed when she thought about Miss Taylor asking the girls’ names. Katie punched her pillow hard as she imagined the laughter from the other pupils. She pulled the light quilt over her shoulder and then her head. She would keep on asking Papa to give the girls names, even if he became angry with her. She’d use some of that perseverance with Papa.

The next morning a tired Katie approached her father again while Mama set out brown sugar and jugs of cream for the oatmeal. “Please Papa,” she asked, “when are you going to give Big Baby and Little Baby a name?” She trembled inside but stood straight and tall as she waited for his answer.

His fierce look kept Katie from repeating the question that day or the next, but inside she was still anxious. Life on the farm went on as always. The boys helped Papa outside, and the girls worked with Mama in the house.

Only once did Mama mention the subject of names to Katie when they were alone. “Katie,” she said firmly, “you must not ask Papa about the names again. When he is ready, he will tell us. You must be a little bit patient and a lot quiet.”

Katie smiled at Mama and nodded, but she knew she must never give up. She’d remind Papa whenever an opportunity presented itself.

The morning before school was to begin, Papa harnessed Jennie and Fannie to the wagon so he could go to town. Mama and the girls stood on the porch waiting to wave good-bye.

Papa was halfway into the wagon when he stopped, one foot in mid-air. He jumped down and headed to the porch looking serious.

“Mama, I have decided on some names for these new schoolgirls,” he said, looking only at her. “Big Baby will be called Jennie, and Little Baby will be Fannie.”

The two little girls giggled and jumped from one foot to the other. Mama folded her hands like she did in church and smiled at Papa. Papa folded his arms one over the other and smiled back at Mama.

Surprised, Katie blurted out, “But Papa, those are the horses’ names!”

“Ja! They are good names,” Papa said. “Look at those two beautiful animals. See how proud and tall they stand, with heads held high. My girls will be like them and be fine people one day. Ja! They are good names, and tomorrow the girls will take their new names and go to school.”

Mama patted Katie’s shoulder softly, and she leaned close and whispered, “You see, Katie, it all happens if you are a little bit patient and a lot quiet.”

“And if you have perseverance, Mama,” Katie whispered back.