Elizabeth Leslie BY Esther Bradley-DeTally
It makes sense, Elizabeth, my twin, would have come down the pike first. I bet when she hit earth, she did so with a determined plop of a baby bottom. In fact, I think she had printed instructions for her life, balled up in a chubby fist. I think these instructions read: “This baby has spunk, courage, and a capacity to endure.” I also think she had some capital letter instructions which might have read “Increase Capacity for Endurance.” And you know, just to go further out on a limb with “I betcha,” I betcha some random angel threw in Determination and Service but also added Loves Sports.” Life is indeed not all work and no play.
But, what do I know, because I was on the Welcome to Earth conveyor belt, 12 minutes behind her. Me, Elizabeth Bradley’s twin. Elizabeth Deagan Bradley, born August 28, 1938, in Boston. She went home first, and I stayed to put weight on a four pound body, and clutching my own fistful of instructions and a note “Dear Baby, As you go through life, you will experience the phenomena of skin stretching. Do not be alarmed.”
We went home to parents Don and Mary, a sister a year older, Mary Ellen, whom we called “Meb,” a brother John a year older than that,” and a housekeeper Rita who had the talent of keeping the household together, all the while with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.
We preceded: the Great Hurricane of 1938 a month later, sweeping into the New England Landscape like Attila the Hun on a bad day. We preceded whooping cough in the next few months, which Children’s Hospital of Boston took care of, because my father was out of work with 4 kids, all 3 and under.
Margarine hadn’t been invented, and our jumping on tin cans to save them for the War Effort and our saving lard, and tobacco shortages were just around the corner as was War with Germany and Japan and blackout curtains at night.
Descriptions followed: One became blonde and curly haired with big blue eyes. The other looked wizened, wrinkled, a baby squirrel kicked out her nest with a solid hind foot of Mother Squirrel.” “The Twins didn’t sit up until 7 months because they had each other.” “In the winter, we’d dress you girls up in snow suits which took a good half hour a piece, and put you outside. You stood motionless, not moving; until we gave up and hauled you back inside.”
After kindergarten they separated us because one twin was more dependent than the other. Only last week did I find out the cause. Liz said, “I copied your yellow wooden shoe drawing.”
I read and Elizabeth hated reading. But one day in third grade, a miracle happened in the form of Eddie and His Fire Engine, a short story which Liz read at school. Guess what, you couldn’t stop her from reading then. She also threw herself into Red Rover games, jump rope, sledding, ice skating at the local field, a form of squash which you hit with a tightened fist. Liz was the best. She’d sit right close to our dad and listen to the Baseball Game with him. She wanted to be a boy, and she was the next best thing for our dad.
Radio programs were a big item. We passed on over Baby Snooks and Jack Benny. By the time Elizabeth was 10, my mom would come out to the back porch, look due east and up into a thickly leaved maple tree, and say, “Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Bobby Benson and the B-Bar B is on.” A rustle would be heard, and Liz would slide down that tree and disappear into the worlds of Bobby Benson, Sergeant Preston and His Dog King (of the Yukon), Red Rider, and the Lone Ranger.
Harry Raymond’s Ballroom Dancing School beckoned us at age twelve, and Liz would climb down her tree and we’d put on identical red satin dresses with Peter Pan Color dresses that my mom mad. We’d be driven to Harry Raymond’s Ballroom Dancing School. We had to wear stockings and garter belts. I felt like a cat on the way to the public bath. Liz was more popular with the boys and had no trouble being asked to dance. When we sat on the sidelines on long benches, she sat with her legs wide apart as if ready to spring on a horse, sat that way, that is, until Old Harry who was like an Opaque Crow, tapped her ankles with a long black walking stick and said, “Ladies always sit with their legs closed.”
There’s a dark side, like big splashes of thick red and black paint, assaulting a Pollack canvass. Alcoholism, a mom taken away for shock treatments, a dad besides himself with anguish, 4 kids in disarray. Elizabeth also told me last year, “When I was 10, I stood in the graveled driveway and thought, “I have to take care of myself now.”
My father didn’t leave us, and my mother eventually died when we were 17. We had moved to downtown Boston along the Charles River, and Liz went home from school first and found her. Our mom died that night of a massive stroke.
Did I mention we fought a lot, and that she’d wait until I’d left the house and then fill my shoes with Kleenex and wear them for the evening? Did I mention all those Saturday night dances, and lots of guys thinking she was the cutest thing that side of the Mississippi, and dances where ushers went around tapping couples locked in Siamese embrace, saying “6 inches from the Holy Ghost”?
She also faked playing the clarinet with Janet Cleary and myself in the St. Theresa’s Marching Band, and we marched on the floor of Fenway Park and in the St. Patty’s Day Parade in New York.
She was the good student. She published a short story in the Tattler, a High School newsletter. We both thought we were stupid (my father was in Harvard at age 16), and we felt like Prince Valiant trolls. We loved dogs, independent ways and a 12 room house with 8 bedrooms and lots of fireplaces. Still, we shared a bedroom, and I was sloppy beyond measure. My father used to say “No man will ever marry you with a room like that.” Liz drew a line down the middle of our room, and I couldn’t cross over to her side.
Neatness aside, she went on to nursing school, but came home one night in hysterics, determined to quit, quit that is, until the next day Dad said, “Get up, you’re going to look for a job”. That night Liz was back in school. She finished, graduated to a standing ovation because an accident bruised her brain badly, left her with a slight limp, and her brain stem was injured. She came away from this sharp as a tack and it made her the most compassionate nurse in ICU and CCU units around!
She married a man whose chapter could be called “Psychotic and Dangerous,” and fortunately he died. I had my son Nicholas at 31, and felt badly she had no children. So we did what twins do, like Parcheesi Games and gifts for birthdays, we shared. I included her in many of Baby Nick’s adventures, and we were always there for each other.
Another chapter began meeting James Leslie. They were a match. Her wedding was the happiest of days, and then she became pregnant at around 42. Surprise! The day Matthew was born, blue eyed, blonde hair (where have we heard that), was a huge, huge day of joy. Jim and Liz then took care of foster children, and animals began to gather in their house looking for a potential Arc. Another incredible day happened when Joey arrived over the threshold, dark, puddle-warm brown eyes, a half-smile that would twist and melt your heart, and then Liz and Jim adopted him. After a few foster children came and went, shored up, readier to face the world, Matt said to his Mom, “When do I get a new mom and dad?” But that wasn’t the case.
Other than Her Lord, Jesus, these two fine sons were and are the cause of Elizabeth’s Greatest Happiness. Jim died, of agonizing bone cancer, and it was a blow. But somehow a spoon was in their pudding, which means, the Hand of God was gently guiding this little family. They moved to Idaho, and the rest is Matt’s story.
One final comment, she was always grateful: for every leaf on a tree, for a roof over her head, for every blessing and trial that came her way, and she tread the path of service and selflessness with her patients and her family with fortitude, endurance, empathy, courage, and tads of laughter, well throw in “How about them Red Sox” too!
We were both happy to be twins!