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Baby Clothes in the Basement

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 07, 2013

Born in 1921, my mother had her family when she was considerably older than most mothers of that generation: her first son was born in 1956 (Sputnik!), her daughter in 1959 (Mercury!), and her second son in 1960 (dawn of the Space Age!). She sometimes told us that as long as she could have only three, she was glad that her three were the best. Pleased at being the best, I glowed at hearing the last part of her comment; the first part never quite registered.

We were the tail-end of the Baby Boom, that huge demographic bump caused by servicemen home from World War II, eager to begin their families at last. (My parents were both servicemen home from the war, too, who met unexpectedly ten years after the war’s end and only belatedly followed the lead of their cohort.) We lived in one of those new subdivisions at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, on ground that had until recently been farmland, and all the houses on our block and on the nearby streets I knew as well as my own were spilling over with children.

All those children meant a lot of out-grown clothes, and a lot of tight budgets. The ward Relief Society tackled both challenges in one project: They filled a bushel fruit basket with children’s clothes and circulated it through the ward. When the basket reached your house, you took out any clothing you wanted for your own children, donated clothes your kids had outgrown, and passed the basket to the next ward family on the list. By the time the basket made it back to your house, chances are that it would contain other clothing to fit your kids, and you had newly outgrown clothing to put back into it.

The basket came to our house once when I was about six years old. I had followed my mother down to our basement, where I watched her open a large cardboard carton and begin to remove baby clothes. I was fascinated – these were the clothes my brothers and I had worn, and I was entranced by the beautiful little bootees and the frilly dress Mom said I had worn when I was blessed. I asked her if I could have some of them, and she let me pick out a few things – not as many as I wanted (I can remember a small pair of jeans that she wouldn’t give to me), but several really nice things. The rest of the clothes went into the fruit basket, which then went on its rounds.

Despite being so young when they came to me, I carefully kept those baby clothes. I used them a few times when I taught the three-year-olds in Primary, in an always-popular demonstration of how much the children had grown since they were born. Some things I eventually gave to a sister-in-law so that she could dress my nephew in the hand-crocheted outfit our mother had made for the baby’s father; most are still folded away in the bottom drawer of my dresser, where they’ve waited almost 50 years for children, and now grandchildren, who never came. I don’t look at them often. Still, I can’t bring myself to dispose of them.

That, I realized early this morning during one of those sleepless nights when my thoughts flit from one irrelevant idea to another, is one way I am different from my mother. She did dispose of the baby clothes she would no longer need. And yet … my mother and I may not be so very different in this respect after all. I heard her say again, in memory, “As long as I could have only three …” Only three. I think she would have welcomed more … but by that afternoon when she filled the fruit basket for younger women to sort through, she knew there would be no more.

It’s an ongoing struggle for us to see people of the past for who they really were, with their individual hurts and longings and successes. My mother wasn’t just “Mom”; she was a full personality with a complex life of her own totally distinct from her children. The names on your pedigree chart represent real people whose lives are not adequately encompassed by the few facts recorded on a family group sheet. Lorenzo Snow was more than prophet, seer and revelator: he was a man who liked certain things and barely tolerated others. Emma Smith was more than the compiler of a hymn book: she loved and grieved and fought and worshiped.

There is a challenge for all of us intrigued by our shared religious past: to remember, and understand, if only occasionally and in shadowy glimpses, that the people we read about are more than characters in story, more than the roles they filled in the development of the Church. They were – and still are – people, people who cannot be neatly pigeonholed with simple labels like “prophet” and “missionary” and “apostate” and “pioneer.”

People.



10 Comments »

  1. They were – and still are – people . . .

    Best line in the best post I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for this.

    Comment by David Y. — January 7, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

  2. One of my biggest “Eureka” moments was realizing that my parents were more than Dad and Mom. They were people, fragile, imperfect, struggling, trying to make sense out of life, living, succeeding and stumbling. I love them as both parents and fellow human beings.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — January 7, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

  3. Beautiful. I am 26 years old. In the past five years I have learned so much about my parents’ and grandparents’ humanity. It has been amazing to especially watch my conception of my grandparents as stereotypical old people bringing gifts to REAL people. A man that everyday grieves over his missed relationship with his mother than passed over a decade ago. A second wave feminist that wanted her daughters to be presidents. A man who cheated on my grandmother, but still hasn’t found another women he considers her equal. They are real, fascinating people.

    Comment by HokieKate — January 7, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

  4. My parents built the house I grew up in about 1943, when I was four years old. After dad died, I brought home the house plans for that house. Actually, there were three different plans. The first plan was several years earlier and it included a fireplace in the living room and a coal shoot through the east basement window. It would have been too expensive for them to build, so soon they came up with a second plan which pared down the size of the house and rooms. It was too expensive also, so it was put on hold for a few years. The final plan revealed that the coal shoot was gone because there was natural gas in that area. The fireplace was also gone, seen as a luxury not a necessity. It is interesting to me that I never heard my mom or my dad mention the missing fireplace. If I had been in their place, I would lament the lack of that fireplace over and over. But they didn’t.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — January 7, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

  5. Lovely, Ardis.

    Interesting to see what we each treasure as a “might-have-been” and what we also pass along, and to see what that reveals about us and those who came before.

    Comment by Paul — January 7, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

  6. Well done, as usual. Thanks, Ardis.

    Comment by lindberg — January 7, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

  7. Wow. Just, wow.

    Comment by Naismith — January 7, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

  8. Thanks Ardis. Moving.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 8, 2013 @ 7:39 am

  9. Thanks for posting your thoughts. Your summary applies to those who are living and still around us at work, church, and play. We really never know all that they are dealing with, thinking about, or wishing for. Thanks!

    Comment by Dawnmercedes — January 11, 2013 @ 6:14 am

  10. I loved this, Ardis.

    Comment by ZD Eve — January 11, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

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