2015-12-09 / Columns

A portrait from the past: Alone with little Hannah


I found the photo album (remember those?) wedged into a basement carton with the single label “Hannah.” It had been purchased on the first day or two of our first grandchild’s life, ready to be filled with the visual chronicle of her entry into our lives.

Hannah is now a senior in college. So this was like an explorer finding a treasure in an archaeological dig.

I rushed upstairs, leaving behind the debris of the sorting, discarding and organizing that has been on every Friedman todo list since we moved more than a decade ago.

There was no chance that I would be returning to the basement chaos. Not with this artifact about to be devoured on an ordinary afternoon.

I moved from the album’s back to front, reversing chronological order. And after sifting through the nursery school photos, the Halloween photos of a toddler with blonde curls, the seashore images of that tiny child meeting the mighty Atlantic, I realized that I was coming to the true pirate’s booty—the earliest photos.

And the one that stopped me in my tracks—the one faded from the ravages of time—was the visual record of my very first time alone with this new resident of Planet Earth, snapped by her mother—my daughter— before I practically pushed her out the door to go out and get some time off from new motherhood.

It was 22 years ago—and yesterday.

We were alone. Blissfully alone. This baby girl was lying in my arms, sleeping so soundly that I needed constant reassurance that she was breathing.

And for a blink of very precious, very remarkable time, it was just new Hannah and her new grandmother, a humbled, overwhelmed, slightly mad woman.

Hannah was a perfect companion that day. I still have a powerful sense memory of how she fit perfectly into the hollow where my shoulder meets my neck, and nestled there, soft, pink and warm, without stirring.

I’d had three babies of my own, but it had been too long since I’d felt that blissful weight—and the perfect peace and contentment it brings.

For a full hour, Hannah asked nothing of me.

No searching questions about life or philosophy or morality or fairness. No pouts about why I was too critical, not interested enough, too prying, too controlling.

Just an occasional tiny little lurch or turn and once, a small wail, just to remind me that yes, she was there all right.

I could marvel at her miniature perfection, kiss her tiny fingers, stroke her silky, sparse hair.

Once again, I stared at a face that I was still trying to memorize, looking for clues to who this infant would turn out to be. Would she be a sober, serious child or a laughing one, erupting in joy?

Would she do to her mother what her mother did to me during that enchanting period twixt 12 and 20, that era of slow torture called “coming of age?”

Hannah—tiny Hannah— already had the beginnings of a disposition, a natural bent, a network of traits that would someday define her.

The notion that in my arms was a creature with all of us in her bone marrow left me breathless. And grateful. And awed.

I remember that I cried that day, silly, sentimental, new grandmother tears.

Sitting with Hannah on that afternoon in the middle of my life, and the beginning of hers, made me understand that here, in my arms, were renewal and hope.

Nestled with me was a person who already could make love itself swirl through space as she held us in her tiny grip.

Yes, the impact of that single photo of a new grandmother and a four-week-old infant was, I realized, impossible to explain.

I certainly realized it when my husband saw me sitting, stunned and silent, holding a photo in my hands. He asked the logical question: “So what’s that?”

And I couldn’t begin to tell him. . pinegander@aol.com

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