As we headed to dinner last night, Dad mentioned that he was going to start refurbishing the “family cradle” for us to use with La Petite when she arrives. Mom had asked me several months ago if I wanted to use it. “No pressure at all,” she said. “You have plenty of time to think about it, and of course you can take a look at it before you decide.” I didn’t need to think about it or take a look– I already knew that this was where I wanted my child to sleep.
Thanks to its appearance in several of my grandma’s favorite stories, the cradle is firmly inscribed in our family lore. It was first purchased in 1961 to be used by my mom’s youngest brother.
Between the years of 1956 and 1959, Grandma delivered two full-term stillborn infants. As was customary at the time, each baby was whisked away from her at birth (to “protect her” from the trauma of seeing them). In the midst of her shock and grief, she was swiftly shuttled off to a corner of the hospital, far away from the maternity ward so she would not hear the labor pains of hopeful mothers and the first cries of living, breathing babies.
My grandfather quickly took care of the burial arrangements each time. The Catholic Church refused to bury the babies on sacred ground (they had not been baptized). Instead of being nestled in with their kin on the family plot where they belonged, my infant aunt and uncle were unceremoniously buried alongside a chain link fence. To this day, my grandmother still mourns the fact that she cannot visit their graves. Instead, when she goes to pay respects to her deceased relatives at their grave sites, she also takes a long stroll next to the fence, thinking fondly of her “angels.”
These deaths affected the entire family, including my mother, the oldest girl, who desperately wanted another baby in the house. Twice she had seen her parturient mother leave for the hospital, twice she had seen her return pale, bereft, without a baby in her arms. After the second stillborn, Grandma’s doctor advised her not to have any more children. Wanting so badly to bring another living child into the world, she went against his orders and, much to my mother’s delight, quickly became pregnant again. “When I bring home your brother or sister from the hospital you and I will go shopping for a cradle together, okay?” she promised my mom.
A few days after making this pact, Grandma gave birth to a pink, thriving baby. After he was taken out of the delivery room to be washed and observed, Grandma was moved to the recovery area and quickly fell asleep. She awoke several minutes later to two wet cheeks pressed up against hers. On each side of her stood her friends, two nuns in full habits. “When we heard you were in labor, we spent all night in the chapel praying,” they explained, punctuated by tearful sighs. Thrilled, relieved, the three women held hands and wept.
As promised, shortly after she presented my healthy uncle to my mom and the rest of her siblings, they went shopping and selected the perfect cradle for him. In 1979, another baby (yours truly) joined the ranks and was the second to use the cradle, followed by my sister and my uncle’s two children.
The family cradle is much more than a fabulous vintage piece that will fit in perfectly with our mid-century décor. For two generations it has represented hope, celebration and life. I will be honored to lay the first of the next crop of kicking, gurgling little ones in it this June.