Photo-Memories: Daddy’s Baby Girl

Throughout my childhood years, and even now as an adult, I have carried with me the feeling of being loved and special. This feeling may, in part, be due to a particular photo-memory of my dad. I have no timeline with which to gage this memory, except for the feeling of being the size of a little one or two year old girl enveloped in my daddy’s arms.

He is sitting on a kitchen chair leaning slightly forward, my back leaning against his chest, my legs following his as they form his lap, his arms snuggling me into his embrace. We sit there with our backs to the kitchen table, facing the area where the large white granite sink would have been inside the back door: Our hearts connected; a knowing that I am his baby girl.

Even though it is a still-life shot with no words spoken in the photo-memory, my feeling has always been that he spoke them. That he actually called me his Baby girl.

Over the years I have often questioned the accuracy of this memory, while hopefully clinging to it. My first language is Pennsylvania Dutch, but my memory consists of the English phrase “Baby Girl.” In Pennsylvania Dutch we frequently use English/Dutch combinations, so I thought that he would more likely have said something like “Baby Madle”  which is Baby Girl or perhaps “Glae Madle,” Little Girl or possibly even “Glae Buple”  Little Baby, but none of those phrases felt quite right. My feelings register the phrase “Baby Girl”. If my dad would not have used that phrase perhaps the entire memory-photo was off. Had my emotions left a thick layer of smoky residue across this picture?

The last several years I have been reading my Aunt Emma’s diaries. She is my dad’s sister. The oldest in the family. Her diaries span fifty-two years from 1939, the year that my dad was born, until 1991 when she passed away. She wrote in her diaries that after Dad learned he had cancer, he would just sit and hold me and play with me for hours at a time. As I read I experienced a renewed hope that my memory of snuggling on his lap and being called his baby girl might actually be real.

After reading Emma’s diaries, I initially wanted to tell her story, but even though her brief diary entries brought her to life in my mind, I struggled with putting who she was on paper. I finally came to the realization that her story touched some deep places within my story and I needed to first tell mine. So I called my mom and began to relate my earliest memories. This was the first time I had shared many of them with her or with anyone for that matter.

My mom and I talked about which of the “Baby Girl” phrases Dad might have used. “He might have said “Baby Girl,” Mom said. “Either that or “Baby Madle.” But I doubt that he would have used the word buple, it holds a more negative connotation.”

As I thought about these things my mom started talking again. “When I was expecting for the second time,” she mused. “Your dad asked if I thought it might be a girl this time and I responded that it was probably another boy.”

“But wouldn’t it be nice to have a girl since we already have a boy?” he asked.

Wow! He really wanted me! My heart thrilled at the thought.

Since that time I have come to realize that possibly the reason the words were not a part of my photo-memory is because he may not have spoken them. They may merely be the memory-expression of what we both felt at that moment. But no matter what the words were that he had spoken or not spoken, the one thing I know for sure is that I had heard his heart. He wanted me, a baby girl. I was and I am his Baby Girl.

That feeling of being loved has stayed with me throughout my entire life… with both family and friends… and when in my late teens I came to Christ as a broken, hurting child, it was easy to receive the love and forgiveness of my Heavenly Father.

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Categories: Childhood, Old Order Mennonite, Photo-Memory | Leave a comment

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