Hulton Archive/Puttnam Hulton Archive/Puttnam
By Amy Phillips Penn



I always wanted a sister. I already had a brother, so…

I was sixteen and my brother was thirteen when my sister Samantha was born.

My mother was in her late thirties, my father (after a massive heart attack) had mastered his way into his forties.

My mother felt like she was the oldest mother-to-be in New York, maybe in the world.

She went to a tea at my school and wore her pregnancy like haute couture. Everyone was excited: parents, teachers and students.

We didn’t know what sex my sibling was, so my BFF’s mother told us to “think pink.”

Things were a lot simpler back then.

My new little mystery sibling was due at the end of December, a possible Christmas baby.

At the same time, my Great Aunt Libby had offered to host a 16th birthday party for me in her apartment. My birthday is in September, but somehow December was chosen; perhaps because preppies would be home for vacation, but I didn’t have many preppy friends. Who knows?

My aunt said that I could hire a band. The New York band to have was the one featuring or managed by one of the Vanderbilt boys.

My Aunt Libby was in shock.

Her mantra for months before and after was “I can’t believe I made a check out to a Vanderbilt.”

Years later I reconnected with the Vanderbilt in question. He didn’t recollect the party, but one of his band mates did. I barely remember that night. The band and their entourage seemed to offset my friends. My mother had given birth and we were all elated beyond Christmas carol joy.

On the Friday that announced Christmas vacation, I was taking a math test. It was snowing. I hoped that a flake would make its way in and blur my answers.

My mother had gone into Doctors Hospital that morning.

I mentally paced the morning away.

I caught a cab on Park and 75th Street to take me over to the hospital in a baby’s heartbeat.

Traffic was on overload, so I got out and walked.

When I reached my mother’s room, not much had happened.

The nurse suggested that I go home.

That night, my father was grading papers (he taught at a New York boy’s school) when the phone rang.

He came into my room.

“You have a sister,” he hugged me and left for the hospital.

I called my best friend and told her the news.

“See, ‘think pink’.”

My sister’s name was Samantha, named after my grandfather Sam.

Would she be like me: Horse crazy, bent on writing and attracted to boys who looked like trouble?

Maybe she’d be a new and improved version.

I had been raised with distinct telephone rules. You did not call anyone after nine p.m. or before nine a.m.

I purloined my mother’s address book and woke up one family friend after another.

“I have a sister! Her name is Samantha.”

This marathon went on until day break. No one was rude or annoyed; happy news has its own etiquette.

My brother and I went to see our littlest addition. She was beautiful.

A few days later, we took her home and put her under the Christmas tree. She seemed to like it there.

My mother was still a bit “iffy” about being a mother in her late thirties. In time, she realized that having a much younger child just might make her appear younger, especially if she didn’t volunteer that she had two teenagers.

When my sister was in kindergarten or thereabout, she was assigned to write her biography. She dictated, and her teacher, Mrs. N., transcribed.

Mrs. N. and my parents were friends. When she called, laughing in her wonderful sultry voice, she read part of Sam’s biography to my mother.

“I was born in Doctors Hospital in December. My brother was 13, my sister was 16, and my mother was 22.”

My mother was soooooooooooo busted.

I don’t remember much about my 16th birthday party except that we were all exuberant. My father walked in with a huge poinsettia, and a grin that made the exotic red plant seem anemic.

Thanks, Aunt Libby, for the birthday party (not everyone gets to give a Vanderbilt a check!) and to my parents for the ultimate Christmas present.

Sometimes, my family rocks well beyond tinsel and Tiffany’s.

Merry Christmas!