Baby Toes

Baby Toes

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. The baby loves it. 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. We know the baby is going to grow quickly; the next thing we know there is 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.

All of us have answered the phone and engaged in 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?” We pause and act as if we are hearing someone speak to us. Then we say, “Yes, we would love to have you come over and play.” We pause once more before replying, “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. We answer it, and this time we tell the two-year-old the call is for them.

Our little one grows from toddlerhood to childhood. We find ourselves teaching the child how to ride a bike or balance on stilts. Sometimes we’re inside doing the coloring thing or sitting on the floor for a card game of Spoons or Old Maid.  

When we read a book to a child, we don’t even need to try to feel the coziness as we sit closely beside each other. Somehow the coziness just happens.

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 it ends with an “e.”

I can remember when my daughters were young and a meal needed to find its way to the table. We can be exhausted and in need of a little downtime, but we know we must take time between all the housekeeping to answer the toy phone.

My grown daughter told me there are times she can’t wait for Mom to have supper ready. Then she realized she is the mom and needs to head to the kitchen. Reality check for new moms: From here on out, you are the mom.

Decades later when the phone rings, it can hit us hard when we realize it is not our mother calling, for she has passed away. The caller ID is no longer going to have her name on it. 

When they say “love” is really spelled “t-i-m-e,” I know it’s true.

My cousin Marcella recently commented about my mom and dad’s dining room table. If it could talk, we would all tune in to hear what it had to say.

My mom spent a lot of time in her kitchen, from 1947 to 2019. I would ask the dining room table how many cakes our mother baked during that 72-year span. How many batches of sugar corn did our dad pop for us? Did any of Mom’s meals ever turn out to be 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 pictures with our birthday cakes in front of us. There were times Mom served her cakes from a Depression glass pedestal cake stand.  

She would count out the appropriate number of birthday candles and let us help insert them into her frosted cakes.

I imagine one of the first songs most of us learn is the “Happy Birthday” song. When you think about it, it’s a comical moment in time that happens just once a year. Our best friends and relatives gather to sing to us. When we are a child it seems we aren’t embarrassed at all. We sit and smile and listen to them sing. We even hear our name within the song.

After the candles are blown out and the little trail of smoke clears away, mothers everywhere let their children remove the candles from the cake. The technique used in most homes for the removal of frosting from the bottom of the candles is probably fairly universal.

Next, someone who is deemed strong enough to scoop out the ice cream will take custom orders. They are told who wants a large scoop and who wants a little bit on the plate that already holds a small, medium, or large piece of frosted birthday cake.

My mother saved the used birthday candles. Only when they became too short for proper placement on the next cake did she throw them away.   

My birthday is in December, so some of my birthday photos were taken in front of the silver Christmas tree. Mom was good about reminding me that December birthdays are especially fun, with a lot of extra festivities already taking place.  

A new pastime for me involves the sorting of boxes of memorabilia I keep bringing home from my parents’ house. I sit on the living floor while I read and go through papers. I make little piles and have repeated unsuccessful attempts at organizing the things I want to keep.  

The evening came when I found something I could never imagine finding – when I held in my hand a photo of my dad, my brother Don, and me. 

My dad was dressed up a bit, so I think we were spending time together on a Sunday. There he was on the floor with his feet on a chair. The snapshot captured a carefree moment of a father playing with his son and baby girl.

I didn’t know a piece of paper could make me feel as if I were the richest person in the world. It wasn’t a box of silver and gold I had been sorting through. There were no rubies or gems to unearth. I had simply opened a cardboard box and discovered a 3×3-inch piece of paper we call a “photo.” I knew right away the baby was me. It has become the only photo I own with my dad and me playing together. My baby toes are clearly on my brother Don’s face.

There I was, examining a photo I had never seen before, knowing the man on the floor was my dad and the young boy was my brother Don. The photo was stamped with “Aug” with no year behind it. Don appears to be about six years old in the photo which confirmed the baby was me.    

That little piece of paper made me pause and just sit still. How could there have been a photo such as this in my parents’ house, and I didn’t even know about it? Then I remembered: 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. That’s okay; she was too busy living her life. She was a history buff. She was writing about things from long ago, and I am left finding those things from long ago.

After my mom passed away, it seemed the boxes of saved newspaper clippings, letters, schoolwork, and artwork were such a burden to us. They represented hours of work ahead, but the little treasures we are finding are treasures indeed. My siblings and cousins have had more than a few fun conversations about the saved memorabilia.

Our parents, aunts, and uncles are gone now, and life seems to have taken on a bit of a twist. I look at a lot of things differently as I remember more of the good times 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 make it undeniable.

When people ask me what I am up to nowadays, it has been fun telling them I started writing. I remember talking with friends about finding a photo and writing about baby toes. I thought there would be nothing more to add to the story, but then I found yet another item in their home that had something to do with my own baby toes.

I was at my parent’s house helping Steven before the van arrived to take him to his work for the day. We’d had a rather rushed morning because both of us had overslept. It was a scramble to get his scrambled eggs made and see him out the front door.

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 discovered an old magazine. The cover was pink, and it was entitled “Congratulations.” The baby on the front of the magazine happened to be playing with her toes. I realized later the box had been placed in the middle of the living room, to be sorted through, in the same spot where the baby toes picture had been taken back in 1963.

I settled into a reclining chair and thought, The only thing I’m going to read from this publication is information directed at parents way back whenever this magazine had been put together.

What I found on the first page of the magazine was a hospital birth record completed with an ink pen and cursive handwriting. And there was my name. It was certainly another heart-warming moment, but my thoughts were, Oh no. Here we go again. This is about me.

Apparently, a hospital employee had written some of the information using black ink. On the top line of this official Hospital Birth Record was my first name penned in black ink. My middle and last named were written by my mother in blue ink.     

The second line tells us the baby was born to Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Kimpel. Next came the time of my birth: 3:08 in the afternoon. I never knew that.

My date of birth, followed by the name of the hospital and the city and state of my birth, were filled in. Dr. Boerger and the hospital administrator’s signatures were at the bottom.

It looked so official, yet the last paragraph simply made me smile. The page was supposed to have an “Official Seal” affixed to it, but it had never been applied to this hospital birth record. Oh well.

What I found on the back side of the certificate could have made me wonder if my parents had conspired to play a joke on me. My dad could have said, “Hey let’s take this magazine home, hide it in a box of stuff, and let her find it someday.” And they would have laughed and laughed.

Those who were there on the day they inked up the baby’s toes could not have imagined the little girl would find the images of her footprints many decades later. Twenty years after the turn of the next century.

On the same page were two additional stamped images which I realized 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. It seemed so ironic. I had just finished a story about baby toes and here they were: A clear image of my own baby toes, stamped in a baby magazine. My mother’s handwriting. My parents’ thumbprints.

I imagine my dad was visiting Mom in the hospital, and a nurse who was in charge of the fingerprinting made sure the task was completed. Thank goodness someone had an important job that day. Those who were present would never know the footprints were going into a time capsule for the baby girl to find more than half a century later.

I’ve heard it said that “serendipity” is one of the most beautiful words in the English language, and I can’t help but agree.

With tears in my eyes, I slowly read the rest of the magazine. I found some interesting ads for canned milk, liquid baby aspirin, and articles that were intended to educate parents on current trends.  

Mom recorded my birth weight in the magazine: 7 pounds, 2 ¾ ounces. She had documented the name of the attending nurse: M Coy, R.N. Mom also wrote my grandparents’ names on the family tree.

Of course I thought I could finish my baby toes story after writing about the magazine, but then I spent a Sunday evening with my brothers Steven and Ed and my sister-in-law Sue.

There was a funny conversation going on that night, and Steven started his crazy laughing. It seemed everything was funnier than it should have been, and his laughter was making the rest of us laugh.

Steven had never seen the baby toes photo. 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 the baby toes were in his brother Don’s face.

Steven knew why the baby toes were in his face, but that didn’t stop him from asking about it. I reminded Steven that if he had some baby toes in front of himself right now, he too would probably be playing with them. He laughed in agreement and did an impersonation of how people play with baby toes. He even blew on the imaginary toes, and he cracked himself up.

Sue caught Steven’s laughter on her phone and forwarded the video to our siblings. We decided Steven probably enjoyed more than a half-hour’s worth of chuckling before he headed to bed. I could hear his continued laughter 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 nighttime prayers for those who still have little baby toes and for those who grew out of their baby toes many years ago. 

Whoever grabbed my dad’s camera back in the summer of 1963 obviously knew they were capturing a playful moment, but they didn’t know how many years would pass before the little girl in the photo would know her picture was taken.

As I was typing my baby toes story, I remembered there is a picture of me in front of the silver Christmas tree with a toy phone in my hand. I was willing to guess I was two years old when the photo was taken. I started the search for that snapshot and found it in the second shoebox I sorted through. I was, indeed, two years old when the picture was taken.

I wonder how many bicycles my dad put together and how many wooden toys he made for his children to find under the tree on Christmas morning. Mom certainly spent more time wrapping presents than it took for her children to unwrap them. I know the older siblings were put to work in all ways possible. I remember Mom encouraged us by letting us know we were her best little helper.   

My mom is no longer here to call me on my birthday each December. My parents are not here to give me a gift, yet here I am still opening gifts they left behind. I shouldn’t forget mentioning they left me with a rather fun younger brother to take care of. It seems that all a parent could give a daughter, they did.

Thanks for the memories, Mom and Dad!

© Marlene Oxender 2021

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