Part 12: “If You Promise You Won’t Tell: A Memoir”

Chapter 5: Smiling into My Future, continued

I was still in first grade when my youngest sister Katherine was born. For reasons I don’t understand, I have no memories of the circumstances surrounding her birth. In my mind, she was not there one day, but then suddenly she was. I was a month away from turning seven, and it felt like I’d been gifted a live baby doll. She was beautiful, with bright blue eyes. I helped to care for “Baby” when she was only a few weeks old. Mem taught me how to support her neck when I held her. I rocked her to sleep, and helped with giving her a bath. I gathered together everything we needed — the baby towel, a clean diaper, clean clothes, lotion, shampoo, and powder — before Mem poured hot and cold water into the baby bath in the kitchen sink, stirred it around, and tested the temperature with her elbow. Then Mem took Baby’s clothes off, and while she held her in the water, I shampooed her “hair” even though she had hardly any. Mem rinsed her head with warm water from a pitcher she had filled. I watched her dry Baby off and get her dressed. I loved holding Baby after her bath. She smelled so fresh and clean.

I reveled in the approval that I received from Mem and others for taking care of Baby. I heard things like, “Oh, she’s so good with the baby. She’ll make a good mother someday.”

As Baby grew, I often carried her around on my hip. I sang nonsensical little chants about changing her diaper as I prepared to change her: “Annah veetal oh du, Annah veetal oh du!” As soon as she awoke from a nap, I was right there at her crib to pick her up. I played games with her and took care of her like she was my own child.

I had my own reasons for becoming a little mother to Katherine. I liked that I could get out of some of the other work that had become drudgery, like doing endless dishes and sweeping the floor several times a day. And then one day, the Bascos rewarded me in a new way.

Joe Basco, our most frequent English visitor, used to walk right in both doors without knocking, as if he lived there. He would visit as often as several times a week, most of the time by himself, sometimes with his wife, Bertha.

The Bascos brought us used children’s shoes, boots, and toys. At the time, I would not have known that they took up a collection for the poor Amish family they knew — our family.

One winter day, when Katherine was six months old, the Bascos brought a big box full of things. I had Katherine on my hip and was standing back, watching the others go through the box and pulling out “treasures.” Sadie pulled out a Thumbelina doll baby. She loved beautiful dolls as much as I did, and she was already cradling the doll in her arms when Joe Basco went over and took it right out of her arms. He said, “No, that is for Saloma for taking such good care of the baby.” I couldn’t believe it. I felt so good that someone had noticed. If I felt bad for Sadie, the feeling didn’t last long. My indifference likely fueled the rocky relationship I already had with her.

I loved that doll. She had blond hair, and a soft body that felt like a real baby when I wrapped her up in a blanket. She had a knob on her back that I could wind and her arms and legs moved. Her eyes closed when I laid her down. I named her Heidi. I enjoyed wrapping her in one of the baby blankets Katherine had outgrown. The doll felt so real that I could imagine what it would be like to hold my own babies someday.
One night we were sitting at the supper table when Baby was about a year old. We were talking and she was playing in her high chair next to Mem’s right arm. I saw Baby when she leaned over and Mem wasn’t looking. I called out, “Mem, the baby!”

Mem’s head jerked around, and just as she did, Baby began falling head first toward the floor. Mem’s arm reached out and snatched Baby by her diaper. Mem’s face became white and she was shaking all over, so I went over and picked up Baby.

After Mem caught her breath, she reached for Baby. She looked at me with such gratitude in her eyes and said, “Lomie it is a good thing you said something!” I felt all warm inside. I knew at that moment how much Mem loved her children… especially when we were little.

Chapter 5 to be continued…

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9 thoughts on “Part 12: “If You Promise You Won’t Tell: A Memoir””

  1. I have been captivated by your stories. I recently listened to Bonnet Strings as I was recuperating from Covid, and have ordered your first book to read. Thank you for sharing your story,

    1. Welcome, Lauren. I’m glad you’re enjoying my stories.

      How were you able to listen to Bonnet Strings? Do you have an app for that?

      I’m sorry to hear you were sick. I hope you are feeling better.

      I look forward to seeing you here again.

  2. I have been captivated by your stories. I recently listened to Bonnet Strings as I recovered from Covid, and I have ordered your other book to read. Thank you for sharing your story. Lauren

  3. It is a never-forgotten moment when you discover that your parent loves you. Pennsylvania Deutch does not have words for ‘I love you’, so far as I know. Or, at least I never learned any! We didn’t even have words for ‘Good night’, although one Amish family I knew said the English words, and I envied them.

    I was 11 when I hugged the knowledge to myself that “they would miss me if I wasn’t here.” I had just made the family laugh and it was a special moment to me.

    I’m enjoying your memoir, Saloma, although at times my heart bleeds for the little girl you were who was trying so hard to make sense of her world.

    1. You’re right, Elva, there are no words for “I love you” in Pennsylvania German. “ich hab lieve fa dich” is the closest, and that was rarely said to anyone. Maybe because it’s so very awkward to use “love” only as a noun as in “I have love for you.”

      The one phrase the Amish used to express affection was to say, “Ich denck en lat von sie.” (I think a lot of her (or him). Another indirect way of expressing one’s feelings. However, as I get older, I understand that this means something more than I used to think. Often when I think of someone from afar, I’m sending them my thoughts and my love. It is rather intimate that they are occupying my thoughts. It’s also true that we think most about those we love. I’ve come around to liking this old Amish phrase.

      I understand in modern German culture it is rare for people to say “I love you” to one another. They believe it is insincere to say it as much as Americans say it to one another. So it is saved for romantic love. Otherwise it is implied rather than spoken.

      A friend who grew up in the U.S. and now lives in Germany, pointed out to me once that there is no word for “kindness” in the German language. She’s right. What a shame. I value kindness and compassion more than just about anything.

      Thank you for your kind words, Elva. I love to read your remembrances. Your last statement rings so true. I was trying hard to make sense of my world. I read this to David and he said, “You still are.” In a way he’s right — both the world I lived in then, and the one I live in now. This pandemic is just about as bewildering as life gets… at least I find it so.

      Thank you for your comments.

  4. What a sweet memory to have. I was all about babies when I was little, I suppose that’s true of most little girls. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have babies of my own. I think partly because I did not receive much affection from my mum, I wanted to give what I hadn’t received. I had a Raggedy Ann doll that I loved more then anything. She was my great comforter when I was scared or sad or sick. Reading these memories of yours gets me thinking about how much the little gestures of kindness given to a child, whether it be from a family member or a neighbour can mean to them. We as adults for the most part have no idea how much little acts of kindness can mean to a child.Thank you Saloma for this important reminder!

    1. Pamela, me too! I looked forward to growing up, getting married, and having babies of my own.

      I’m sure you are a loving mother (and grandmother). Isn’t it interesting that you knew what you were missing, even though your mother was not affectionate? I think children have that innate sense of what love is, even when they are not receiving it.

      Do you still have that Raggedy Ann doll that was your comfort during your young years?

      Yes, children are sponges around kindness and affection. It breaks my heart when parents cannot or will not provide this to their children.

      I’m so glad the telling of my memories trigger yours. I hope some good memories are evoked, along with the ones that are not so pleasant.

      Thanks for your comments.

  5. My father had very loving parents and seven siblings who were very close. my grandparents were poor farmers as was my great grandparents, but they had a strong faith and work ethic that held them together with much love and affection. I think because of my fathers upbringing, so full of love that he was able to fill some of those empty places in my heart my mother was not capable of filling. Though he also had a dark side that came out at times from all the horrible things he witnessed as a young man during WW11. I’ve tried to take what was good in each of my parents and use it in raising my sons. As for my Raggedy Ann doll, sadly I no longer have it. I have no idea what happened to her. My mind draws a blank on that one. A few years back my sweet husband bought me one that was like the one I had. It’s not the same of course but how sweet of him to think of it!

    1. Pamela, that is good that your father was able to fill in some of those gaps. So many fathers had “dark sides” after returning from war. So many souls were tormented by WWII.

      I love that Paul bought you a Raggedy Ann doll. I’m sorry to hear you don’t remember what happened to your little friend. One of my stories coming up is about my favorite doll.

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