Hand-Me-Downs

Hand-Me-Downs

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Hand-Me-Downs

What the daughter does, the mother did.
~Jewish Proverb

My mom had four daughters. There must’ve been something in the water, because my aunt had four girls, too. Our ages were stair-stepped. Her youngest was just a bit older than I was. When spring greens emerged or autumn gilded summer leaves, I awaited the arrival of a brown cardboard box—hand-me-downs passed from the hands of one mom to the hands of another.

The doorbell rang, and I jumped up from my coloring book like a jack-in-the-box. My ten-year-old legs were gangly but strong. I rushed to the door, pulled it open, and gulped down a blast of cold air.

“You’re here! Come in,” I said.

My aunt stepped through the doorway and shook her boots on the old braid rug. She smiled above the hefty box that was anchored in her arms.

“We’re in the back,” called Mom from around the corner. “The girls have been waiting.” Then I heard her pick up the rhythm of the song she’d been singing without missing a beat.

I followed my aunt to the kitchen. She pushed Mom’s fruit bowl aside and plunked the box on the table. My sisters and I clustered our chairs and sat on our hands to keep from ripping the cardboard open. Anticipation giddied our tummies and widened our eyes.

I admired the box’s bulging sides. Then I glanced at my mom. She nodded and started to hum.

Our hands flew over the smooth, tucked flaps. We pulled the contents free. There were shoes and skirts and jeans and shirts. I tugged a nubby wool sweater over my head and smiled.

I was filled with happiness. I thought I’d experienced hand-me-downs to the fullest.

Years passed and I grew up to have just the opposite of my mom—plus one. I had five boys. Hand-me-downs remained a natural way of life, and I was glad Mom had taught me their value.

“Let’s go to the attic and see what we can find,” I said one day. Summer had delivered a blast of warmth, and the boys were excited to use our backyard pool. We trudged the skinny attic stairs together. I hummed as we climbed.

The afternoon dissolved into Rubbermaid totes while we rummaged for last year’s swim trunks. We peeked under the lids of the heavy plastic containers. We tugged the deep blue boxes across the dusty attic floor. At last we found the tote that was filled to the brim with swim trunks.

I thought we’d found the treasure as we bolted for the pool.

The water was crisp, cool and refreshing after the attic’s swelter. We bobbed and splashed and tossed beach balls. It was natural for me to sing as we played—a simple, silly song that my boys caught easily. We belted the words a cappella, though our tune was broken by bouts of laughter.

Any deficit of talent was covered by an abundance of joy. “Mom, you sound just like Nana,” called my son, Grant. “Singing all the time.” Then he dolphin-dove past me.

At the time, I didn’t think too much about what he’d said. I just carried my babes into the next verse.

But later that evening, when the house was quiet, Grant’s words came drifting back. The boys had worn out early, and my husband and I were nestled side-by-side on the couch. As I considered what Grant had said, my mind wandered from the living room and into my childhood.

My mom must’ve been born with a song in her heart. She sang endlessly. Her voice drifted through our home, over her flower beds, and traveled with us when we all piled in the car. She sang while she rocked us at night, when we blazed with fever, while she toasted bread, packed Dad’s lunch, braided hair and pushed the swing. Mom’s song was natural to our home. Her voice faithfully covered our family with joy and love.

I sat for a while and thought about Mom. I was thrilled that my boys recognized her in my song. I delighted to know that something so simple had touched their lives and their hearts.

Mom’s song had become mine.

As I sat in the growing darkness, I understood that the best treasures are not held in boxes or bins. They do not grow threadbare with time. And they aren’t passed from the hands of one mother to the hands of another.

They’re passed from heart to heart.

They are the timeless treasures of love and joy, held in the rhythm of my mother’s song.

“A hand-me-down,” I whispered. “The best kind. Thank you, Mom.”

I closed my eyes and smiled.

Then I hummed into the quiet of the night.

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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