“Brown eyed baby” I would say to him. To me he was perfect. His dark silky hair and chocolate brown, almond shaped eyes. Nurses said “That baby came out needing a hair cut”. I liked to rub baby lotion on my hands and smooth his hair into a sort of Mohawk. He was my little boy. It was almost like having a doll again. His chubby little hands and feet. His pink cheeks and sweet little nose and huge toothless grin. People said he looked like a little Indian baby. One woman said he looked Chinese. Even though I was white and so was everyone I knew.
A woman at Catholic Social Service had given me a whole box of clothes for him. There were four Blanket Sleepers, two blue, one pink, and one peach. There was a paper sack full of baby socks, a bundle of receiving blankets, a comb and a soft brush. A blue and burgundy sweat suit. Two undershirts, two flannel shirts, a pair of jeans with an elastic waist, a gray snow suit that was soft and woolly and a blue furry one. Mona Malone had given him a white toboggan with a big fuzzy ball on top, and a pair of dark green mittens with a long string attaching one mitten to the other. She had also given him a dozen cloth diapers with plastic lining and Velcro tabs.
I lived in one of those little cinder block apartments over behind Tom Toft Carpet and Upholstery. I had running water and electric but no heat. My friend Heather let me borrow a space heater. It wasn’t very big, about the size of a box of Hamburger Helper. I had a hot plate and a sleeping bag. Genie Riffe had bought me a flat brown sheet, some towels and wash cloths at Goodwill. Who ever lived there before me had left a little silver skillet and a green pot with a lid. Someone had lost the knob on top so I put a wooden spool with a bolt down the middle and used a nut to hold it in place. Genie got new cushions for her lawn furniture so she gave me her old ones. I put the big one under the sleeping bag and used the little one under my head.
Every day Eddie and I would go out. I bundled him up and put him in the little umbrella stroller that I had found in the alley while I was pregnant. We would walk all over town. Visiting people until we wore out our welcome. We would sometimes go to stores and walk around. He was such a good baby. I got Food Stamps so we managed to eat well. I would sometimes buy things to make dinner at a friend’s so we could spend the night. Watching Television was a real treat. Taking little Eddie out of all those warm clothes and letting him run around in just his diaper was a treat as well.
We always had to go home eventually. I was as strong as an ox pushing that stroller in the snow. The Village Council kept all the roads and alleys clear. The sidewalks were the biggest pain. We would make the trek home and the ritual was always the same. I would get him inside and turn on the little space heater. I would wait until it warmed up a little and start the shower. I would get out of my things, strip him out of his clothes, pick him up and take a very quick shower. Then I would wrap him in the best towel. set him in the floor and use my shirt to wrap my hair. I would dry off with the other towel. Put on my panties and long johns and pat him dry.
I always put a clean diaper on him and the pink or peach sleeper, they were too girly for wearing out. I would hold him on my lap and brush his hair with the soft brush until it was nearly dry. Then I would put him in the gray snow suit. I had breast-fed him for a few months but now he liked a bottle. I had powdered milk and I would run warm water from the faucet to make his bottle.
I would straighten the sleeping bag and place him in it. I would tuck one of his receiving blankets around him and sing to him. “Mama come a runnin with the water and a rag, Gonna see what’s the matter with the baby, no need to hesitate, no need to wait, gonna see what’s the matter with the baby”. He would hold fast to his bottle; his little eye lids would flutter as he listened to me sing. Eventually he would appear almost drunk as he drifted off to sleep.
Then I would spring into action. washing his dirty diapers out in the sink. and clothes we had worn. I would twist them from end to end to wring all the water out of them. I had a piece of clothes line run from the window crank to a 16-penny nail by the front door. I had a handful of wooden clothes pins that I would use to hold them in place.
I would hang the brown sheet on the nails over the kitchen doorway. It kept us warmer. There was a window in the kitchen and you could feel a draft even though I had put Newspaper over it. I would get all my chores done, hang my towels and brush my hair. Usually by that time, I would turn out the light and wrap up in the sleeping bag with my brown-eyed baby.
Things got better, things got worse. The course we were on together was sometimes difficult. I was a baby with a baby. I look back on those days and I remember how my goals in life were small. I wanted a house with heat. I wanted a bed for us to sleep in. I never thought of a future where I might sit comfortably in an overstuffed chair, sipping a hot cup of coffee, typing away on a laptop.