1987: Jeannie and Terese Finan. I used to think I had a pet guinea pig growing up. Its name was Cinnamon, and it had light brown and white fur. My favorite part about having a guinea pig was watching it’s mouth and nose wiggle as it sniffed around the room and drank water from the upside down bottle on the side of the cage. I also thought the curly shavings that went in the bottom of the cage were pretty cool.
One day something like ten or fifteen years ago, I don’t really remember if I was in high school or college, my mother, sister, and I were sitting around the table reminiscing. I brought up Cinnamon. “Why didn’t you let me keep Cinnamon at our house, Mom?” I asked.
My mother and sister looked at me like I just spoke Parseltongue. “Cinnamon? Who? What?”
“You know, Cinnamon, my pet guinea pig that I had to keep at Jeannie’s apartment at Towson?” I was waiting for an answer like “We weren’t allowed to have pets in our rental,” or “Jeannie wanted to get you a guinea pig for a birthday present, but I didn’t want to have to mess with caring for it.” But the response I got was still confused looks, heads cocked to the side. Then they cracked up laughing as they realized what had happened before it dawned on me.
The realization, even 12 years later, was enough to bring me to tears. Cinnamon was never mine. I had never had a pet guinea pig.
My cousin Jeannie never had a pet guinea pig either, I found out just this summer. But Jeannie was that kind of cousin, fourteen years older than me, that would take her itty-bitty four-year-old cousin to her college campus and hang out with her, take her shopping, and even let her play with and feed and hold and pet and cuddle and mentally adopt her roommate’s light brown and white guinea pig. In elementary school, I remember riding around in Jeannie’s (and then Terese’s and then Jon’s) brown Toyota, running to the grocery store to pick up baby carrots, pretzels, diet coke, and cranberry juice. When I was in 8th grade and absolutely had to have a sparkly lavender dress for the 8th grade formal, Jeannie was my fairy godmother. She offered to let me clean her house and baby-sit her daughter Rachel in exchange for the dress. I jumped at the chance, and though I no longer have the iridescent wonder, I have a lovely photo to remember how “fashion-forward” I was as a middle schooler. As you can see by the photo, I was a little tentative to wear high heels, so I just wore the whole cow and the whole rubber tree on my feet (a $9.99 steal at Payless).
Fashion faux paux aside, it would be impossible to mention my cousin Jeannie without mentioning my cousin Terese. Sisters, they both have blonde hair, both can speak a mile a minute, and neither has ever minded hanging out with their baby cousins. For as long as I can remember, their names together have rolled off my tongue as easily as “salt and pepper,” “cinnamon and sugar,” “ketchup and mustard.” They come as a pair. Their unity and closeness has always reminded me a bit of me and my sister. Still, like Mary and I, each sister has her own spark –Terese is shorter, often sillier, and had a bubble butt, like me. Jeannie is a natural organizer and care-taker, like my sister. While Jeannie would take me to her college dorm, in retrospect being the person that introduced me to the concept of college, Terese would take me to the Childcare class at her high school, helping her and her friends learn how to best grow and prune budding minds. My favorite station was the play store. I liked pretending to eat the plastic fruit, and making the cash register drawer open and close so I could hear the rhythmic DiinnnG! Schleeencckk. DiiinnnnG! Schleeencckk. Over and over and over. Sometimes I even dropped in some plastic coins to hear the plop and rattle. I’m sure that game was a big hit with my high school guardians.
Jeannie and Terese continued to be there for me as I grew. They introduced me to the game of lacrosse, cheering from the sidelines at various middle school and college tournaments. To this day, we still make plans to meet up when I’m home for the summer. The weird thing is – even though I love making new memories with Jeannie and Terese and had a ridiculously fun time at the Finan-McDermott camping trip this summer, when I think of Terese and Jeannie, I think of 1980’s Terese and Jeannie. I picture the two smart, fun-loving, athletic, confident women (complete with the 80’s bangs and wings) who showed impressionable me what I wanted to be like when I grew up.
Thank you Terese and Jeannie for taking an interest in me at a critical time in a person’s life, for showing me early that women can go to college, for showing me the power of sisterly bonds, and for getting me off on a good start. If it’s true what they say about the importance of early childhood education, and I think it is, your willingness to take me under your wings helped give me a leg up. There is also some hype about childhood pets teaching important lessons like empathy and whatnot, so though Cinnamon might not have technically been mine, the fact that I not only thought I had a pet, but believed for years that pet was a present from someone rooting for me, probably was pretty significant too. Here’s to Cinnamon (and Sugar). To Terese and Jeannie.