Handed Down Love

I wake to footsteps on creaky floorboards. Little girl feet race through the house, chasing the darkness between their nightlight and ours. They are frightened of what may reside in that shadow. In response, I lift the covers on my side of the bed. My daughters climb in with rumpled hair and sleepy smells and sighs of relief.

Memories rush back as I stare at the long forgotten photograph: apple-scented shampoo, favorite bedtime stories, early morning snuggles. The picture of pajamas reminds me of it all.

They arrived in a slate gray Rubbermaid bin filled with hand-me-downs. My daughters tossed aside holiday dresses and athletic wear in favor of the soft pajamas. Like favorite t-shirts or slippers, they had smoothness that only wear creates, like burnished sea glass tumbled by ocean waves. The girls adored them and wore them ’til they wore out. If memory serves, four little girls in two different homes enjoyed them before mine. Now thread-bare cuffs, elbows, and knees ensured my daughters were the end of that pass along line.  A tribute seemed appropriate. I snapped a commemorative photo.  Well done, jammies. Your service and dedication were exemplary. Thanks for the memories.

I know a thing or two about hand me downs. Five older sisters guaranteed my childhood wardrobe was pre-owned. Except for a couple new school outfits each year, all of my clothes had that “broken in” quality.

“When I grow up,” I earnestly told myself, “my kids will never have handed down clothes.”

Ah-huh. Well, now that I’m the mom, I’ve learned the secret. Sometimes things are well worn because they are well loved.

A few weeks after delivering my first child, a neighbor knocked on my door. She held dinner in one hand and a size 4T dress in the other. She offered both.

“It was my Emma’s,” she said, referring to her tween-aged daughter. “I can’t wait to see another little girl wearing it around the neighborhood. You have to promise me when it fits, you’ll send her by.”

I thought she was crazy. My newborn wore onesies and was swaddled each night. Why would I need a preschool dress covered in giant ladybugs and fat black buttons? But that day arrived sooner than I thought possible. And every time that dress ran, skipped, and scootered past her house, I felt my neighbor’s joy. A well-loved item in their house became a favorite in ours. They’d passed the love along.

One hot summer afternoon, my father and I climbed the steep wooden steps to the attic. Mothball odors engulfed us as we peered inside a large red trunk. There, tucked between yellowed sheets of tissue, I discovered my favorite childhood mittens. My mind instantly returned me to the hard wooden pews of Sunday mass. During droning sermons, I’d lean against my mother as long as she’d allow, and stare at those mittens. Colorful, hand embroidered flowers with vining ribbon stems kept me dreaming of springtime. They were only worn for church or dressy occasions, which is the only reason they weren’t ruined.


“Take them,” my father encouraged. The following winter, they fit my youngest. I felt full every time she wore them. They bridged my childhood with hers.

Handed down love can’t be replicated. These treasures serve as tiny time capsules, filling heart and soul with rich memories. Afterall, how many times were those jammies hugged goodnight? How often did the ladybug dress twirl and laugh in the afternoon sun? How frequently did a loving adult hold those mittened hands? Sure, they are only items. But when they are measured by the heart, they are nothing but love.

3 thoughts on “Handed Down Love”

  1. Nancy Simpson says:

    I only had a brother and boy cousins, so I never got hand me downs. Our 3 boys did. I loved seeing each one wear outfits that brought back memories. I loved your story.

  2. Jane Zimmerman says:

    I have a well-sealed box in the attic, full of the little onesies my son wore during the best year of my life, when I was home with him his first 10 months. I also have precious mittens my big sister gave me. They were stitched with the names of far-away European cities, and I dreamed of visiting them all. Finally, there is the quilt which my grandmother made of the hand-me-down wool skirts from my sister which I outgrew. I can pull that quilt over myself now, on the sofa next to the fire which my husband just built for me on this rainy and chilly May Day, and feel the warmth and love of many hands and generations.

    1. Katie O'Connell says:

      Jane, what lovely images! Thank you for sharing how your well-loved items fill your heart. Beautiful!

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