It started out as an inexpensive baby blanket. The kind that arrives, not nestled in a tissue-lined gift box, but prepackaged in plastic, available in bulk.
Friends and relatives had given me lots of these when my older children were born. Because still other friends gave us beautiful jacquards and heirloom hand knits, this one had been stored in the linen closet in its original plastic envelope until an extra layer might be needed. After all, babies are messy and occasionally get ahead of the curve in the laundry cycle.
When Tommy was born, our first boy after three girls, he received toy tools, a cowboy hat and chaps, size 1 black Converse high tops and every conceivable garment for a baby interpreted in denim. He also received baseball caps and gloves, even an actual baseball, caught at a Yankees game on the day he was born.
Because these offerings were not long on practicality, Tommy was swaddled in hand-me-downs. Eventually, I went to the linen closet for the replacement stock that would become his blankie.
Our daughters, Katie, Tess and Lucy, comforted themselves with a teddy bear, a snowman and a bunny. Their blankets usually became parachutes or hammocks for their dolls.
Tommy, on the other hand, wrapped himself in his blankie like a silkworm in its own thread. He was often musty with sweat after a long night spent mummified in his blankie. As he grew, he stretched the blanket to its limits, tucking it around his feet while still clutching handfuls of it around his face. The thermal weave became looser and less thermal.
By the time Tommy was 5, the holes in his blankie were big enough for me to worry that his head could get caught in it while he slept. I gently suggested he choose another blanket to take to bed.
"Just sew it, Mommy," he declared.
I knew that straight seams would render the blanket misshapen and bunched in the middle and patching would introduce a foreign fabric of unfamiliar texture. I decided to find a replacement. It was a basic enough style, albeit from some eight to 10 years before. And how much could baby blankets vary?
Knowing Tommy would have to feel good about the new blanket, I took him shopping. We went to Babies 'R Us and several mass marketers but came home frustrated. Next, we went to stores-of which I was previously unaware-called Cradles of Distinction and Mostly Handmade. I let Tommy examine every blanket and would have been willing to pay the absurd prices if he could just choose one. Each time, he would bite his lip in anticipation, grasp a blanket between his thumb and forefinger, give it a light rub and then shake his head in disappointment, turn and walk away.
One early fall evening, around the time Tommy turned 6, we invited some friends over for a barbecue. The Olvany family showed up with their new baby, Kelly. She was their fourth child and, like our fifth, not so much a surprise as an afterthought … seven years after, in her case.
Kendra, the relaxed mom, plopped Kelly down on the grass among the other kids, tossing down a light blanket. Tommy appeared mesmerized so I got down on my knees with him. Then I saw it. Kelly's blanket was an exact match for the blanket Tommy's had once been, the same cotton weave, the same pastel plaid. Our eyes met and we nodded in wordless recognition.
I casually mentioned to Kendra that Tommy had the same blanket and asked her if she knew what store it had come from.
"Oh, that blanket?" she shrugged. "I just grabbed it out of the linen closet on our way out … I think it's probably been in there since one of the boys was born."
I let the whole story spew out; our blanket's similar vintage origin, the shopping expeditions, Tommy's inability to trade in his ragged blankie for anything else. Kendra unceremoniously picked up her baby and held out the blanket for me to claim.
"No, really, I … we couldn't …"
"Please, take it. I want you to."
"Hold on," I blurted as I ran inside, returning with a thick knit blanket in pristine condition. The exchange was made. Tommy reverently carried his new blankie inside, and Kendra and I sat down on the deck. As she began to wrap Kelly in her new blanket she hesitated.
"Oh my God, 'Laura Ashley'? Susan, this is way too nice of a blanket. No way is this a fair trade!"
"Believe me Kendra, we got the better half of the deal."
Later that night, I found Tommy sobbing into his pillow.
"I can't do it," he choked, "I can't take the baby's blanket."
"Oh, sweetheart, the baby's sleeping right now under the blanket we gave her. Some day she'll probably love that blanket as much as you love yours," I said, even though I thought it unlikely.
Susan Clabby is a personal trainer who lives with her husband of 21 years and their five children in Wilmette. Her writer's ambition is to bring back the rhyme in poetry and her life's ambition is to be excellent to everyone.