I often catch flak for my tendency to save things: ticket stubs, college textbooks, the notebook from the time I was scheduled to interview Hillary Clinton but she canceled.
What my family fails to remember is when the tumble of bins and boxes in the basement and the storage facility pays off — not by way of money, as in all those Beanie Babies that were a fortune waiting to happen, but by way of memories.
But then sometimes it happens: Old elementary school papers happened upon while looking for the Thanksgiving linens elicit an excited flurry of “I remember this!” And the chosen one sits down to a boxful of remembering. A stack of Page 1-A newspaper clippings from my reporter days garners me bragging rights before my attentive children. The costume jewelry I come across of my grandmother’s reminds me to tell my children of their great-grandmother’s bygone days.
For the longest time, I could only hope the same would happen with the six bins marked “baby” sitting for 20 years in a darkened corner of the storage facility.
Clearly I was hedging my bets; my three millennial children belong to a generation that is delaying having babies, if they have them at all.
But then my son and his fiancee recently, officially announced that, yes, come June, there will be a baby.
And the other night, Chris took it upon himself to bring the bins to his house and to set aside an evening so that he, Kate and I could rediscover old clothes and toys, books and memories together, so many priceless riches tumbling out of a magic wardrobe.
Here, “Oh my gosh, Mom,” was the shirt Chris was wearing the night his sister was born. Here was the smocked pink dress, no bigger than for a doll, Chris helped me slip on Emily when she was 24 hours old. Here were Benjamin Bunny sweaters worn at Easter, tiny booties with rattles that taught the baby where his toes were, the aviator’s costume Chris wore every day, it seems, the year he was 6.
Here, too, were favorite toys, blocks, teething rings and so many books, first signed “Christopher,” then “Emily,” then “Benjie.” Some were mainstays like “Goodnight Moon” that we wore out in the reading. Others were secondhand picture books that my mother, impoverished in later life, took great joy in collecting at the thrift store and mailing in big boxes, along with outdated fluffy dresses for Emily that she would wear with matching purses strapped across her chest.
Of course I was taken with the whole of the unearthing that evening, a rush of memories and feelings taking me back to specific moments with my babies, the details from years ago as clear today as the moment in front of me.
And yet, call it softening into his own baby coming, call it maturing into his 30s, so it seemed for Chris, too. His Kate vocally oohed and ahhed over her beloved’s childhood, so visible in front of her. As for Chris, some things he remembered. Some things he didn’t. But I could see he was listening for the stories, especially when he saw me pull out toward the end an item that I thought for years was missing.
It was my favorite maternity dress, the one I wore when I first started showing with Chris.
I gasped and held the soft blue cotton to my cheek.
“I loved being pregnant with you,” I said, looking up at Chris, whose eyes had melted into mine the way they used to when he was a tiny baby and it was just the two of us.
I remembered the look then as a primal exchange of pure and unconditional love, one I would call up in later years when I was frustrated with him.
It is a look that sustained me then.
It sustains me now, even as these past few years in particular — what with their father’s early dementia, my serious illnesses, our divorce, kids moving home to help and COVID-19 — have taken their toll on the family and all our relationships.
Thoughts of a new baby conjure up a fresh new perspective, one of tender hope, adventure and promise.
As do thoughts of old.
They want to know why I save things.
This is why.
(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at [email protected]ahoo.com, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)
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