Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | February 10, 2012

The Secret Object I Keep Hidden in My Underwear Drawer

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Yes, I really do have a secret object hidden in the back of my underwear drawer.

It was in a bag earmarked for the Salvation Army, a tiny doll-sized white cotton undershirt, but I snatched it back from among the outgrown feet pajamas, baby booties, and Alice-in-Wonderland dresses.  Then I tucked it into the back of my underwear drawer.

It isn’t an heirloom or valuable in any way, except to me, because both my kids wore it as fuzzy-headed milk-scented most-beautiful-in-the-world newborns.  Once in awhile it still sees the light of day.  Not on those “hurry-up-or-we’re-going-to-be-late! mornings,” but on quiet afternoons when I’m putting away freshly folded laundry.  I can still smell the baby shampoo and feel the round little tummies that filled that shirt.

Recently I realized that no one in the world would know or care what happened to that little shirt unless…I showed it to my daughter Bea and told her about her first night home from the hospital. She was wearing the little shirt, or one just like it, while lying beside me on the bed to nurse.  By the soft moonlight shining in on us I watched her, filled with awe at the sight of this new person looking up at me like a little old wisewoman.  I marveled at her perfect little toes and her tiny feet and those exquisite fingers.  Just as I was moved to tears at the miracle of life and birth, she reached up with her tiny finger and DOINK! poked me right in the eye. Ever since then, I told Bea, she has kept me from taking myself too seriously.

I told Bea how four year old Eli rubbed her tummy and told his baby sister all she would need to know to get by in the world. “You only get to drink milk now, but when you’re big you get macaroni and cheese from a fork. You’ll learn to walk and then run, but be careful or you might fall and scrape your knee and bleed, but blood has platelets that make a scab, but don’t pick it or it’ll bleed again…”  What a warm, wise welcome into our family!

On my kitchen wall is a picture Bea drew of a paintbrush and an artist’s pallet.  Underneath she wrote,”Only the artist knows the story of her painting.”  Too true. So tell your stories to your kids, your friends or your enemies, lest they disappear when you do.

Whether you write them into your memoirs, or tell them from your mouth, let them see the light of day, feel the moisture of your breath, live in stark black beauty on a crisp white page.

One day Bea might show that tiny shirt to her children and say, “When I was a baby…” Even if it finds its way to the Salvation Army, she might say, “My mom once saved a tiny white undershirt from the rag pile and kept it in her underwear drawer.  Sometimes she took it out, and told me stories about when I was a baby…”

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

(Except “Mrs. Bradley Ripley Alden and Her Children” painted by Robert Walter Weir, 1852)

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Responses

  1. Wow, I just wrote a list of titles of future books based on stories I need to tell. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Dear S.A., Sounds like a plan! Thanks so much for sharing your comment.

  2. Last week I came across an “All About Me” fill-in-the-blanks book that my oldest daughter Corinne had filled in when she was about 7 or 8. I mailed her the book and her daughters, Rowan and Catherine, who are nearly 5 and 7, were fascinated to read the book and to think of their mother as the little girl who wrote her story there. I’m glad I saved it for all this time (about 30 years or so) and glad I sent it at just the right time for the little girls to see their mom in a new light.

    • Good call, Lee! There is something to be said for hanging on to your souvenirs of life. And when my kids have basements of their own, THEY get to store all the buried treasure! Thanks so much for stopping by, and hugs to the kids.

  3. I liked this post a lot (and a couple of others I’ve also torn through). Here is my contribution: there is a family heirloom at home which I hope gets passed on to me and from me to the future generations in my family. It’s a small scale (about 1m. tall) figure of a Saint, carved out of wood. Its features are disproportionate, you can tell it was made from two different pieces of wood, and there isn’t much detail to it, but I will always associate the figure with my late grandmother’s house. When she died, the figure came to us, and they told me the story about its origins. Apparently, my great-grandmother used to go to church at a small, local chapel in the north-west of Spain; the local priest once mentioned that he was going to burn some of the older pieces (of art!) inside the chapel which were either eaten away by woodworm or else just plain useless. My great-grandmother offered to pay for the new figure if she could keep this particular one, I presume because she was quite devout. Years later, when I was a child, my grandmother showed it to the daughter of a neighbour who was studying art, and she was able to date it… to the 16th century!!! Of course we had it restored by my painting teacher, who kindly did it for free; we don’t care if the figure is worth a fortune or a cent, we’re proud to have something that old and with a story to it sitting right in the middle of our sitting room.
    Cheers!

    • That is a great story! What a treasure! Thanks so much for stopping by, and sharing.

  4. Aaaw, too sweet. I’m a pack rat with things, especially gifts and most especially hand-made gifts. My most prized are the stories my dad used to tell us, which he wrote down when I was in high school and college, many of which I’ve typed up and put in little books.
    . . . once there was a t-shirt and the babies wore it and wore it and wore it out . . . . until there was just enough for a story! Thanks!!

    • Hi Mary,
      That is a prize indeed. And what a great idea to make the stories into books. They will be treasures for your children. Too often kids don’t get interested in their parents’ stories until it is too late, and that link of the chain is either broken or weakened. But you held it together, and I know your link is a strong one. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. How sweet and poetic! I don’t have any secret mementos, but I remember when I was little, I would be certain every year that we had gotten the most beautiful Christmas tree ever… To keep from forgetting it, I would take a few needles or a branch and squirrel them away. I have zero idea where all of those are now.

    • Hi Bea,

      Hi Bea. I never knew you did that. Maybe some day we will find a little pile of pine needles and pine cones under the fridge, and now I won’t automatically assume it was a nest Pandora built on one of her Away Missions. Maybe it will be your long lost Christmas Tree souvenir hoard. Love, Mom

      • I didn’t even remember until I read your post. I think it was in some of the many little boxes around my room. But you never know…

  6. Hi Naomi,
    Wonderful stories and you tell them so well. And how wonderful that Bea turned up to comment 🙂
    Looking forward to more of these!
    Annika

    • Thank you so much, Annika. Bea is a really neat kid. I feel so fortunate to be able to share the writing and storytelling with her. She and I perform stories in tandem, and are colaborating on a novel. If you would like to see her writing blog, it is on wordpress, and is called Adventures for the Faint of Heart.

  7. Hospital baby ID wristbands. A.pair of ballet shoes. A bag of little T-shirts bought at various animal sanctuaries, nature reserves, and zoos. My now 25 year-old son’s bear-rattle from toddler and babyhood. All the books I enjoyed reading with both my children etc. etc.

    🙂

    • Hi Sarah. This is sweet. (I still have my son’s little okapi tee shirt from the London Zoo, and he is twenty-one.)
      I am really looking forward to hearing more of your poetry. Glad I found you!

  8. Aw. This is so sweet. Excellent writing. I have baby socks in my drawer. My son now wears a size 15 shoe.

  9. I am a new mom. My daughter is one and I am having a difficult time giving her things away. Right now everything seems precious. I think I will keep her first pair of tiny baby shoes ….just as a reminder that she will always be my little one….. a very good post indeed.

    • In our storage room I have a box of keepsakes–the outfit the kids were wearing in their fist photos, some great costumes, their favorite cuddlies. Motherhood just gets better and better, but how quickly it flies by! Take many more pictures than you think you need, and you will be very glad for them later. Wishing you and your daughter all the very best! Thank you for stopping by.

  10. What a very precious story!

    • Thank you! I really appreciate your visit.

  11. […] Most Helpful: The Secret Object I Keep Hidden in My Underwear Drawer–Because. […]

  12. ”So tell your stories to your kids, your friends or your enemies,lest they disappear when you do. Whether you write them into your memoirs, or tell them from your mouth, let them see the light of day,feel the moisture of your breath,live in stark black beauty on a crisp white page.”

    Thank you, Naomi. This is beautiful. Let’s write on. 🙂

  13. Such a sweet story, it made me teary in a good way. What a wonderful memory. I wish I had kept a few momentos – although I have a feeling that the Sponge Bob comforter will be around for a very long time to come. The dinosaur and beauty and the beast one practically disinegrated because their owners dragged them everywhere they went 🙂

    • Hi Beth, thanks so much for your visit, and your thoughtful comments. I laugh at the description of your comforters. We had dinosaurs and unicorns! Wishing you and your family joy.

  14. What a gorgeous post! I love that your little bundle of joy poked you in the ey – what an important story to share with your kids. I have quite a few things stowed away that have meaning and stories. I’ll have to see if there are any I should share with someone special in my life. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • I am certain they are worth sharing, or you wouldn’t remember them. Be sure and write them down as they occur to you, because they do have a way of disappearing as your brain gets full. Thanks so much for stopping by, and sharing your lovely comments.

  15. […] did a little research; sometimes the story of a place or object can imbue it with meaning.  This story goes way back, and knowing the story made a difference to me.  Huang Yung-Fu was […]


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