Our new grandson will be the ninth child baptized in the ensemble my mother prepared for her children more than sixty years ago. My sister and I were baptized in it, as well as our six combined children. Yesterday, I took it out to freshen up before taking it to our daughter for the first wearing of the third generation.
With reverence, I open the box and separate the tissue paper. The knitted bonnet rests on top. The ribbons, yellowed with age and crinkled from years of compression, need a wash and a warm iron. I make a mental note. The gown itself, with its fine lace and delicate bows, is a marvel of craftsmanship. Each time I finger one of my mother’s creations, I marvel at her expertise. Truly, her skill with a needle and thread is matched only by the magic she created with knitting needles. The shawl, its fine wool and intricate patterns soft under my fingers, does need a wash in readiness for the celebration. As I caress the robe that my mother added to the ensemble in her seventies for our son, her first grandchild, I remember the baptisms of our own children, and my mother’s delight that her creations continued to play a central role in the milestones of the next generation.
Suddenly, I am immersed in the past. As I swish the water slowly through the shawl, I think of my mother, alone in the old house nestled in the coulee below the hills, two miles from the nearest neighbour. I picture her, belly teeming with new life, filled with dreams for this new person as the needles click and the lines of wool snake from her bag through her fingers. I see her updating my father on her progress, and I visualize his admiration, his pride, and his excitement. This project would consume her days.
Still a spirit sitting next to my mother on the gray sofa of the old living room, I roll the wet shawl in the towel to squeeze out the excess water. I realize I have stopped, mid-roll. The fog of several decades lifts, and I see the events of a lifetime ago in spectacular light. My mother used this ensemble for the first time for me. But she knitted it for her first child, a son, my brother, who died at birth the year before I was born. Why had I never considered that before? In the abject grief of losing a child she carried for nine months, a grief I have never known, how much would packing away the baptismal ensemble into which she had invested so much love have added to her devastation? Already thirty-five years old, she might have asked herself if she would ever have another child. I wonder, too, if, at each of the eight baptisms for which that ensemble was used, she would have thought of her lost son. What images filled her mind when she looked at her work?
She never said a word. She never shared any details about her experience in creating that masterpiece. For us, anyway, she focused on the living. Imagine the strength that must have taken.
Yesterday’s experience haunts me still. How could I not have connected the dots before? What a comfort, at least, that, in my sixties, I continue to awaken to perspectives I had never considered and directions I had never thought necessary or possible. Memories take on new meaning, new challenges loom, and life can still glow with the kaleidoscope of dawn.