So admit it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. We’ve all had baby toes in our face. In fact if there were a baby in front of you now, and the baby toes were exposed – you would touch those toes. And the baby talk would likely start. There is this pretend-munching thing a lot of people do to baby toes. And it can be really funny. And the baby loves it. And we love it.
In fact, you are probably smiling right now as you think about baby toes.
No one really needs to tell us to enjoy the baby, because we know the baby is going to grow quickly, and the next thing we know we have a two year old in front of us. And the two year old will hand us their toy phone and tell us the call is for us.
And all of us have answered that phone and had the pretend conversation. We often answer the phone with a rather friendly “hello.” And we can just hear ourselves saying aloud “Oh yes, we’ve been well. Thank you. And how about you? (pause) Yes – we would love to have you come over and play. (pause) Oh great – we’ll see you when you get here.”
We hang up the phone, but the next thing you know the phone rings again. So we answer it – but this time we tell the two year old the call is for them.
Then our little two year old grows from toddlerhood to childhood. And we find ourselves teaching our children how to ride a bike or how to balance on stilts. Sometimes we’re inside doing the coloring thing or sitting on the floor for a card game of spoons.
When we read a book to a child – we are typically sitting beside that child, and we can almost feel a coziness as we imagine reading to them.
I recently heard it said that if a child were to teach us how to spell love, it wouldn’t start with an ‘L,’ because children would spell it with a T, followed by an I, and then comes an M, and ends with an E.
I can remember coming home from work when my daughters were young and knowing a meal needed to find its way to the table. There was laundry and other things needing to be done. We can be exhausted and in need of a little down-time of our own – but we know we still need to answer the toy phone and have the pretend conversation.
My grown daughter told me there are times she has thought she couldn’t wait for mom to have supper ready, and then she realizes she is the mom, and she is the one who has to have supper ready. The reality for new moms – from here on out – we are the mom.
But this same kind of thought can hit hard when decades later, and everyone is older, and the phone rings, and it is not going to be your mom calling you – because she has passed away. The caller ID is no longer going to have her name on it.
So when they say love is really spelled with time – I guess that’s true.
My cousin Marcella recently commented about my mom and dad’s dining room table and if it could talk – we would all tune in to hear what it would say.
My mom spent a lot of time in her kitchen – from 1947 to 2019. So I would ask the dining room table how many cakes my mother baked in her oven during that 70 year span. How many batches of sugar corn did my dad pop for us? Did any of her meals ever turn out terrible? How many pots of ham and bean soup and cherry dumplings did she make? How many aprons did Mom go through, and how many cooks have been in the kitchen? The last earthly task my mother completed, at the age of 92 and a half, was the baking of a chocolate birthday cake.
Truly one of the smartest things our parents ever did was line us up and take our pictures with our birthday cakes in front of us. There were times she served her cakes from a pedestal cake stand – and we still have that Depression glass cake stand.
She would always count out the appropriate number of birthday candles and let us help insert them into her frosted cakes. After the candles were blown out and the small trail of smoke had cleared, mom removed the candles and saved them, because they would be re-used. The candles were thrown away only after they became too short to be used on the next cake.
My birthday is in December, so some of my birthday photos were in front of the silver Christmas tree. My mom was good about reminding me that December birthdays are especially fun with a lot of extra festivities and celebrating at the time of my birthday.
When I found a picture of my dad and me on the floor together – nothing could have made me happier. I had never seen the photo. But it’s me. And my baby toes are on my brother Don’s face.
It looks like we were spending time together on a Sunday, because my dad was dressed up a bit. And it is comical that his feet are up on the chair. That snapshot captured a pretty carefree moment on the living room floor.
And ironically – when I found this photo – I was sitting on my own living room floor going through cardboard boxes that were stashed away long ago.
So there I was with a photo in my hand that I had never seen before – wondering who the baby was. I could see the man on the floor was my dad. And there was my older brother Don. The photo was stamped with ‘Aug’ with no year behind it.
There were two things about the photo that helped me determine the baby was me. First, the baby simply looks like me. And secondly, my brother Don would have to appear to be about six years old in the photo – and he does.
I don’t believe I have words to describe what you feel when you come upon these photos and letters. What I do know is the photo made me pause. I just sat still as I held the photo in my hand while I studied the details of it.
I imagine we’ve all had a time in our life when we just sat and thought about something for a while, and we have been moved to tears. And we just sit there and stare, and the tears stream down our face and find a landing spot somewhere beyond our cheeks. Eventually we realize we have to move and find a tissue.
I asked myself how there could have been a photo like that in my parents’ house, and I didn’t even know about it? And then I remember my mom was busy raising her children, and she had a lot of toy phones to answer over the years.
Her intentions were probably to go back and organize things someday. She never got it done. And that’s OK – she was too busy living her life. She was a history buff. She was writing about things from long ago. And now we are finding those long-ago things she left for us.
When my mom had passed away in the spring – it seemed the boxes of saved newspaper clippings, and saved letters, and saved school work and art work were such a burden to us. They represented hours of work ahead of us. But the little treasures we are finding are just that… treasures. My siblings and cousins have had more than a few fun conversations about the saved memorabilia.
Our parents and aunts and uncles are gone now, and life seems to have taken on a bit of a new twist. I look at a lot of things differently. I am remembering more of the good times from my life than the bad.
I really didn’t need to see these photos to know there was a lot of love given to us as we were growing up – but the pictures are a great reminder. And it really is fun to reach into a box and find within your hand something you could never have imagined finding.
When people ask me what I am up to nowadays, it has been fun to tell them I started writing. And I was able to tell a few friends that I just finished writing a short story about baby toes.
What I didn’t know was I was not finished with my baby toes story, because I was about to find a second item in my parents’ home that involved baby toes.
I was at my parents’ house, and Steven had just gotten on the van to head to his work for the day. We had a rather rushed morning – both of us had overslept, so it was a scramble to get his scrambled eggs made and see him out the front door when his van arrived to pick him up.
I decided to relax for a few minutes before cleaning the kitchen and heading home. So I went to the nearest box of saved memorabilia and found an old magazine. The cover was pink, and it was entitled ‘Congratulations.’ The baby pictured on the front of the magazine happened to be playing with her toes.
I was standing in the same living room where the black and white photo had been taken of me and my dad and my brother.
I settled back in a reclining chair and thought the only thing I was going to read from this publication was the information directed at parents way back whenever this magazine had been put together.
But what I found on the first page inside the magazine was a hospital birth record that was completed with an ink pen and cursive handwriting. And there was my name. It was certainly another heart-warming experience, but my thoughts were ‘Oh no. Here we go again. This is about me.’
Apparently, a hospital employee had filled in all of the information using black ink. On the top line of this official Hospital Birth Record was my first name – penned in black ink. I can see my middle and last name was written in blue ink – and the blue ink was my mother’s handwriting.
So the second line tells us the baby was born to Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Kimpel. Next came the time of my birth – which was 3:08 pm. I never knew that.
The fourth line was my date of birth followed by the name of the hospital and the city and state of my birth. At the bottom of the birth record was Dr. Boerger’s signature and the hospital administrator’s signature.
It looked so official. But the paragraph at the bottom simply made me smile. The page was supposed to have an “Official Seal” affixed to it. But the official seal had never been applied to this hospital birth record. Oh well.
I found something on the back side of that first page that made me wonder if my parents had conspired to play a joke on me. My dad probably said hey let’s take this magazine home, hide it in a box of stuff, and let her find it someday – possibly she won’t even find it until after we’ve passed away. And then they laughed and laughed.
Well – it worked. They got me. On the back of the certificate were my baby footprints. And two additional inked stamps which I had to study for a bit before I realized the stamps were thumbprints – my parents’ thumbprints.
I didn’t know what to think. It’s hard to think when you don’t know what to think. I looked at those stamped baby footprints for quite some time, and with tears in my eyes, I turned the pages of the magazine. It seemed so ironic – I had just finished a story about baby toes – and here they were – a clear picture of my own baby toes – stamped in a baby magazine.
So I read the rest of the magazine, and I found some interesting ads for canned milk and liquid baby aspirin and articles that were intended to educate parents on current trends.
Mom recorded my birth weight in the magazine – which I never knew was 7 pounds and 2 ¾ ounces. She had also documented the name of the attending nurse – M Coy, R.N. And she wrote in names on the family tree.
After finding the magazine, I figured that would be the end of anything about baby toes, and I could finish the writing of my story. But then I spent a Sunday evening with my brothers Steven and Ed, and my sister-in-law Sue.
There were a few funny things said while we were visiting – and Steven started his laughing. It seemed everything was more funny than it should be, and his laughter was making the rest of us laugh.
Steven had never seen the photo I now refer to as the “baby toes” picture. He examined it and asked if the baby was himself. He asked what year the photo was taken and responded that he wasn’t even born yet. I expanded the picture on my phone, and he could see that baby toes were in his brother Don’s face.
Steven absolutely knew why the baby toes were in Don’s face, but that didn’t stop him from asking why the baby toes were in his face. I reminded him if he had some baby toes in front of himself right now – he too would probably be playing with them. He looked at me in agreement, and he did a little charades-like impersonation of baby toes in his own face. He even blew on the imaginary toes, and he cracked himself up.
Sue caught Steven’s laughter on her smart phone and forwarded the video to the siblings. We decided he probably had more than a half hours’ worth of laughing before he decided to head to bed. I could hear his continued chuckles and talk of baby toes before he fell asleep.
Sometimes our minds race when we first crawl into bed, and we are in need of something to smile about. Baby toes would have to rate right up there on pleasant things to think about as we begin our night-time thoughts and prayers for those who still have little baby toes and also for those who grew out of their baby toes many years ago.
Whoever grabbed my dad’s then state-of-the-art camera back in the summer of 1963 obviously knew they were capturing a playful moment. But they didn’t know the little girl in the photo would not find the picture until after her parents had passed away. The snapshot is a reminder that I was really loved and nurtured by those who were raising me.
As I was typing this, I remembered there is a picture of me in front of the silver Christmas tree, and I had a toy phone in my hand that was a birthday gift to me. And my guess was I was probably two years old when the photo was taken. So I started the search for that snapshot and found it in the second shoebox I sorted through. And I was, indeed, two years old when the picture was taken.
I found many additional Christmas-morning photos from over the years. My dad had made a lot of wooden toys and put more than a few bicycles together, and my mom certainly spent more time wrapping presents than it took for her children to unwrap them.
This is the first December my mom will not be here to call me on my birthday. My parents are not here to give me a gift – yet here I am with some gifts. And I shouldn’t forget mentioning they left me with a rather fun younger brother to take care of. It seems all a parent could give to a daughter – they did.
Thanks for the memories – Mom and Dad!
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