Its title is All His Life. The book’s cover illustrates a beautiful baby boy with garlands hung above the newborn’s crib, topped with a ribbon sewed into and above the fabric.
The 9″ x 12″ object has a satin-like covering, perhaps rayon. For the time, the volume probably wasn’t cheap. A gift, I suspect.
The first printed page offered the following:
All his life
is written here.
In pictured prose
And records clear —
From Infant small
To manly state,
Are told events
Both small and great.
The hardcover was published in 1944, but I came along later.
This particular copy of All His Life was about me.
The pages are yellow now, despite the old plastic bag in which the volume has been housed. I’m not pristine myself.
After naming the doctors who delivered me, the date, and the time, Jeanette Stein wrote her first question to my dad:
Is he cute??
Don’t expect too much at first!!
I guess Milton Stein never got trained as a cheerleader!
The remainder of the 60-page volume is filled with more babies and boys, in colorfully lithographed paintings by Edna Mason Kaula, and space for answers to more printed questions. My mother’s elegant handwriting is featured in each response.
For example, the 11th page lists early visitors to the hospital or our apartment in the Logan Square neighborhood. Many spaces instruct the writer to “paste snapshot here.” Two blank spots are shaped like feet, two others like hands, all awaiting a bit of ink on those body parts for an imprint of my tiny appendages.
Gerald M. Stein’s weight at birth remains readable, written with a fountain pen in the same deep blue used for all the other entries. The mass-market ballpoint variety was new and uncommon.
Nothing? The last entry listed my height.
No first words, date of an initial carriage ride, or timing of the first smile. No record of when I discovered my hands. Nor can one find evidence of when Gerry began to walk or photos of anyone else, though I have an album including many early childhood pictures.
The publisher’s plan anticipated the growing young man would take over entering information after a while. I didn’t even know my parents received such a present until they died in their 80s, over 20 years ago.
Empty room for entries included friends’ names, hobbies, teachers, favorite subjects, ambitions, and space for “my philosophy,” which makes me laugh. Not the kind of thoughtfulness I possessed as an infant or a young man.
Funny about that in another way, as well. I only began dedicated reading of philosophy at age 65.
There is a blank spot for adult fingerprints. Perhaps someone imagined I’d take up a life of crime! Ah, but the times were more innocent, as evidenced by a place for my social security number, making identity theft easier. That common form of illegality took more years to emerge.
I’m sure my birth overjoyed my parents. Moreover, I quelled my mom’s fears by turning into a good-looking, curly-haired little boy. Well-behaved, too, by all reports.
Why then no additional attention to the book? I imagine my folks had plenty to do, buying the required necessities, doctor’s appointments, teaching me language, and learning how to handle a vulnerable creature. Everything was the first time for them and for me.
Mom told my wife she didn’t understand how to put me into the crib and just dropped me in at first. I hope she bent over a bit. Guidance from her mother couldn’t have been helpful, given grandma’s tendency to criticize.
Still, I would like to know more about my first few years. My children might, too. The time and its history fled like a sandcastle’s erasure by the incoming tide. So are the names of my parents’ youthful friends and distant relatives in the surviving photos stored in the bedroom closet.
Some people look familiar, but not even nicknames or occupations remain, except perhaps in the memory of a few of their descendants. As Goethe expected, names vanish “like sound and smoke.”
Most of us hope to make a mark on the world, something to outlast our lifetime. Children and grandchildren are the only posterity I care much about. That and the continuation of a habitable planet, a republican form of democracy (also called a democratic republic), along with the presence of enough enlightened and committed people to make it so.
As I got older, having achieved more in my life than I imagined (though nothing of grand, historical importance), my ambition slipped away. No major loss. I never persuaded myself of the meaningful value of what the Western World was selling. I didn’t even try.
Beyond what I’ve said, I will add a couple of things you’ll find contradictory and add one more thought as a bonus:
- I don’t find most well-educated people as rational as they think. And, yes, I include Dr. Stein in this group on occasion.
- Despite humanity’s irrational pursuits, life can be delightful. I find myself smiling and laughing more than ever.
- I take myself less seriously, too,
No advice today, just the above observations. Make of these statements as much or as little as you wish. And I should add, try not to carry grudges, but give as much love as you can muster. You will never run out.
Any other way will reduce your well-being and the happiness of those you care about — and those you will care about if you know them.
I guess there was some advice after all.
Well, that is excellent advice , if you ask me. Give as much love as you can muster. I’be been thinking about that a lot myself lately. What is love exactly and how can I give more? How can I be more tuned into being more loving. maybe less self centered? IDK.
I’m well educated but am I rational? Probably, most of the time. I need to be less rational. I aspire to laugh and smile more and more but I forget sometimes or maybe I get mired down in old hurts. That’s it. The old hurts rise to the surface. How to make them less powerful? That is the question in search of an answer.
For sure, I take myself and the world so much less seriously now than say, 30 years ago. YAY! I like being less serious and more adventurous. I guess you can afford to do that when you have accomplished all the professional tasks of life?
Thanks for this thought piece.
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Thank you, JT. Lovely to read your words, as usual. I wouldn’t discount laughter as a rational response to mankind’s folly and to our own personal absurdities. Moreover, I think it tends to balance out some of the widespread contemporary challenges.
Old hurts do bubble up and a part of getting over them, at least for me, has been the experience of aging. I seem to care less and accept more of the human condition in its imperfections.
This just “happened” as much or more than it was motivated by a choice. I don’t think I’m unique, but it is distressing that many of those up in years seem locked into beliefs and reactions that show little charity to others, little realization of their own flaws, and little recognition of the need to show kindness to those who are different in their beliefs and cultural inheritance.
Being human isn’t a walk in the park. Your thoughtfulness in taking on your own challenges suggests you have a head start in caring for yourself and others. Your words always suggest to me your heart is a good one.
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Such an interesting post – to walk through “All His Life.” I’d say your philosophy of giving as much love as you can muster is based on a life well-lived and succinct advice for all stages of life. Beautiful, thought-provoking and I loved the pictures, Dr. Stein!
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Thank you, Wynne. We are all working on the human project. As you and your lucky children of a loving mother know, love is an indispensable part.
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Love this reminiscence, Dr. Stein 🙂 Beautiful photos. When my first son was born in Guyana, I received a beautifully illustrated Baby Album from my mother in the USA. As first-time parents, we were happy to fill in the monthly milestones, but soon forgot the album as we faced the day-to-day challenges of working and raising an infant.
I agree that we can be quite irrational beings and, in the midst of “humanity’s irrational pursuits,” I hold onto the delights that each day brings to keep my balance. Letting go of my grudges for society’s insatiable feeders is still a work in progress.
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None of us ever masters the art of living, I’m afraid. But, from your writing alone you seem to be doing better than most! Thanks, Rosaliene.
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I had bought a “baby book” and had been gifted another one when I was pregnant with my daughter. I ardently filled in the pages at first, when the baby slept for most of the time. As she grew she slept less and so I also had less time to fill in the pages. She developed chronic colic, I had chronic shingles so my attention was focused on the baby and not the book!!
Sleep deprivation is a reality during those early months so doing things like writing a journal of baby’s every moment is a luxury of time and energy few moms have!!
I felt terribly guilty and like a terrible mom because I couldn’t fill in the book to provide a detailed account of my daughter’s every moment.
Motherhood is very challenging, and more so if you’re trying to learn from scratch like your mom (and I) did. Every moment is dedicated to caring for the infant or trying to figure out how to!
I had friends kindly point out to me that it was far more important to spend my energies on caring for my child than writing about it and not to feel guilty, that my love wasn’t to be measured by the pages I filled, no matter what society said a good mother did! I don’t think young moms even worry about that anymore with social media making that work easy!!
Not sure if this perspective helps you?!
Thank you, Tamara. I carry no unhappiness with my mom’s lack of attention to the book. Having helped to raise two of my own kids (one who had colic herself!) I understand the demands on any new parent (though not all those demands are equally distributed and your situation does sound as though it was especially challenging. Brava to you for your devotion. And thank you for offering your kind perspective. You sound like a most kind soul.