Gift of kindness lives on

When my oldest child Brian was a baby, I befriended a Hinsdale woman of my mother's generation named Rose. She gave me loads of practical advice about baby care and even babysat Brian at our home during what turned out to be strange and historical circumstances when a fire in a Hinsdale telephone center cut off most phone service in the surrounding area. My maternity leave ended when the outage began and, lacking access to a satellite phone, I was unable to call home from work to check on my baby.

Fortunately, Rose calmed my anxiety by regularly driving with Brian to functioning call centers to give me updates on his day.

When our second child Kristi arrived, Rose surprised our family with a tangible representation of her ever-present kindness by gifting us with a christening gown that she made herself. I was then and still am in awe of this gorgeous gown, with its super long skirt, ruffly hemline over a lace-edged underskirt and delicately embroidered bodice between tiny puffed sleeves. I sew a little bit myself and know the effort that must have gone into constructing such a beautiful dress. I would never be able to thank Rose enough for her kind gift.

Shortly after Kristi wore the gown at her baptism, Rose moved away and, sadly, I eventually lost touch with her. I'm not even sure whether she knew that three more of my daughters wore the christening gown at their baptisms over the several years following her move.

My daughters have enjoyed seeing photos of the baby versions of themselves in their first long dress but until recently hadn't had a chance to hold and admire the actual garment. That all changed when I retrieved the gown from decades of storage to prepare it for use by two new baby granddaughters expected eight weeks apart this fall.

That's also when I realized I'd messed up. I'd had it professionally cleaned but not packed into an airtight sealed box, and the upper part of the gown had begun to yellow after 26 years of storage.

Determined to make up for my mistake, I've been soaking the gown for days in OxiClean, and if that doesn't do the trick, I'll be looking to have it professionally restored.

So far, all but the tiniest shadow of yellowing remains visible on the garment and fortunately, my daughters don't seem overly concerned. Of most importance to them is being able to see their own daughters baptized in the beautiful gown they wore as babies so long ago.

A kind and lovely gift is now becoming a treasured family heirloom. How I wish I could tell Rose!

- Barb Johannesen of Hinsdale is a guest columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].