91: The Cradle

91: The Cradle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

The Cradle

Christmas is a time when you get homesick — even when you’re home.

~Carol Nelson

“What’s Dad doing?” I asked as I helped myself to a steaming cup of coffee. I sat down across the kitchen table from my mom.

“He’s downstairs. In the shop,” she said.

I was puzzled. It was December and the basement was cold. I took a sip of my coffee and added another packet of sugar. “What’s he doing down there?”

Mom shifted in her chair and then folded her hands around her mug. She looked uneasy and was quiet for too long. “He’s making doll cradles. For the little girls’ Christmas gifts.” Her eyes searched mine.

“Oh,” I said with a smile. But my heart twisted in my chest. I ran my finger along the rim of my coffee cup. “It’s a wonderful tradition.”

“He wants to make sure that all the granddaughters get one. We’re not getting any younger.”

I didn’t like when my mom talked like that, but she was right. They weren’t getting any younger.

“The girls will love them. The cradles are keepsakes,” I said.

They were.

My dad is the father of four girls. For decades he witnessed little girls taking care of toy babies. He has a gentle and tender heart, and when his own girls had real babies, he began a tradition. He handcrafted a cradle for each family, for the little girls, to hold their beloved dolls.

But there wouldn’t be a cradle for my family. My husband and I had five sons.

As I drove home that evening, I addressed the ache in my heart. It was silly. God had blessed me with five boys, and I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. I was happy and content and delighted in each son. I loved the boyish qualities of our home and enjoyed being the reigning princess.

Why did I feel so sad?

By the time I’d completed the thirty-mile trip, I’d pinpointed the problem. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a girl. It was that I wouldn’t have a cradle. A treasure. Handmade by my dad. I knew that the boys’ rooms were filled with treasures from Papa — shelves that were shaped like trains and coat racks cut to the shape of baseball bats. But trains and bats didn’t connect me to my own childhood. Trains and bats didn’t remind me of rocking and singing to my own toy babies — often while I snuggled into Dad’s arms.

I decided that the best way to diminish the longing of my own heart was to celebrate another person’s blessing. I prayed for my dad as he made the cradles. And I prayed for the nieces who would receive them. I thanked God for a father so tender — one who’d poured love into his family and was cherished by my little boys.

And it helped.

One afternoon, Dad and I had a rare chance to talk while their house was quiet. We’d come for a visit, and Mom had taken a few of my boys out to play in the snow. Dad gently rocked my toddler son as the winter sun spliced a bright path across the living room floor.

“How are the cradles coming, Dad?”

He looked surprised. A shadow of emotion flushed across his face. “Just fine. I’m working on staining the spindles. It takes a lot of time.”

“Most good things do,” I said.

Dad raised my small son to his shoulder and rubbed his back.

My heart twisted only a little when I saw the wood stain on his fingers.

Christmas Day came and our home was filled with joy. My husband and I spent the morning at home with our boys, and when evening came, we ventured to Mom and Dad’s for the family celebration.

When each and every person had been stuffed with Mom’s good cooking and the children could stand the suspense no longer, we exchanged gifts. A dozen children, at their parents’ feet, played with their new treasures. When the excitement simmered, Dad quietly walked through the mounds of wrapping paper and disappeared. I watched him slip through the basement door.

In a moment he reappeared. He carried a lovely, spindled doll cradle in his arms. A shiny red bow was tied in soft loops and a tiny blanket rested inside.

My eyes fell to my niece. She sat pretzel-legged on the floor and her long blond hair fell forward as she embraced a brand new doll.

My dad knelt and placed the cradle in front of her. Her eyes widened in disbelief and love and she fell into his arms.

I glanced at my other niece. Her eyes were filled with hope. My dad caught this, too. And once again, he disappeared. There was also a cradle for her new baby.

My husband’s arm slipped around me, and he lifted his hand to brush away my tears. The scenes had been beautiful. I’d been blessed to witness such loving exchanges. My little boys clambered to my lap and I pulled them close. I snuggled into the weight of them and closed my eyes.

I didn’t notice that Dad had disappeared again.

When I opened my eyes, Dad was walking toward me. He held a beautiful cradle in his arms. His eyes held mine.

I didn’t understand. I scanned the room for my nieces. They were in the corner, playing with their dolls. Two cradles. I glanced at my boys — several crouched over action figures and dinosaurs. They wouldn’t want to play with a cradle. It didn’t make sense. But when I looked back at Dad, he didn’t release my gaze.

“For me?” I questioned.

Dad nodded. He set the cradle down in front of me.

Tears blurred my vision. I moved my finger along the straight lines, along the curve of the spindles. I touched the soft blanket inside. Then I saw the slip of paper — hidden under the soft folds.

I held it with trembling hands. It was written in my dad’s small, neat print:

To Shawnelle’s Baby Girl,
The gentle rock of a cradle,
With its precious cargo inside,
Must be what it’s like in heaven,
When Jesus is by your side.
I’ll always love you, Papa

Emotion swelled my heart and captured any words that tried to form. I silently fell into Dad’s arms. “Thank you,” was all I could whisper into his neck.

“I don’t know when she’ll come — maybe it will be your granddaughter. The cradle’s for her — and for you.” I could feel the tears from his eyes warm on my cheek.

I held on to my dad until my sweet boys lifted their arms to be included in the embrace. We pulled them in.

The cradle is wrapped in a soft, old quilt, in the back of our deep closet. I don’t know who the recipient will be.

I only know that when she arrives, I’ll have so much to tell her about my dad.

I’ll tell her about how, always, he cradled my heart.

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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