— Relationships —

The Voice in the Baby Book

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Years ago my mother was visiting from Long Island. With fanfare she rarely called into action, she said, “I brought something for you.” She pulled my baby book — old and worn — out of a  supermarket bag. I could tell she had planned a little ceremony surrounding the hand-off. I tried not to show it, but I was not pleased.

She was being practical. My mother was always practical. She said something about not wanting it to get lost, and then her voice trailed off a little. She was talking about a time when she and my father would no longer pull up in front of my house and stay the weekend. She was preparing for a future when we wouldn’t be able to gossip at my kitchen table over a glass of wine, or catch up on what my kids were up to.

I didn’t like it one bit. I wanted the book to stay on the shelf at her house, where it had always been. I didn’t want to be the grown-up in the family yet. That was her job.

But I took it from her that day. And now the baby book lives on my shelf, with the other three baby books I wrote in (the third one sparingly, my third-born would tell you, rolling her eyes). I don’t know when their books get shuffled off to their homes. Not yet.

I haven’t opened mine in a long time, but I did today. We had a new baby born into the family recently, and every time that happens, it seems like a good time to revisit it. And every time I do, I learn a few things I’d overlooked before.

My mother was a stickler for details. But on her first try, she got not only the day of my birth wrong, but the month, too. And her corrections are in a different color ink. Translation: I’ve never been this tired in my entire life. There must be a medical term for this level of exhaustion.

In 1950, people were far less worried about babies swallowing beads. And the identification bracelet was tied to my wrist with a piece of twine. I can see this was not a foolproof system, but feel pretty confident I landed at the right house anyway.

My parents thought I was the most beautiful baby ever born despite concrete evidence to the contrary. This is clear from the breathless notes she includes about how gorgeous I was. I looked like a dark, hairy turkey. Apparently they did not notice.

I came from an extended family of comedians. My Godmother wrote in a letter to my parents: “When Ed called this A.M. I was only half awake and forgot to ask who Little Linda looks like — Mama, Papa, or the Bendix fixer? . . . I hope she has Mama & Papa’s disposition — but please, God, let Linda look like the Bendix fixer!”

When I open the baby book, I study my mother’s quirky handwriting. I picture the exhausted young woman, only 22, thinking she’d better write down what happened that day. Maybe even back then she was thinking that someday — far in the future — I could read it and know the little bits of my history that only she knew.

I wonder if she realized I’d hear her voice again, too. I’ll bet she did.

Linda Hummel


  • Esther Zimmer November 18, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Our parents keep trying to give us stuff they’ve held onto from our childhoods – or worse – the MIL keeps telling me to make a note of anything I’d like once she’s gone. I refuse, of course, as that would just be wrong, but I find it so sad and too depressing to even think about life without her. Hubby and I adore and are close to our families – and somehow we both ended up living far away. Anyway, sorry to bring down the tone! A beautifully written piece, as always. Esther xx

  • 1010 Park Place November 19, 2015 at 11:54 am

    I’ve always been like Esther, not wanting to tell them what I want after they’re gone. It is a natural “passing of the torch” to the next generation. We will follow when it’s our turn. Beautiful, Linda! I love your writing!

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