My husband and I lived in Nashville as newlyweds, then moved to Meridian, Mississippi for our first assignment with his current job. It was there we bought our first home, a precious 1950’s cottage-style, gray with white trim and massive bow windows.
The front yard was an ocean of azaleas and people in town were known to drive by just to view them in the Spring. The bathrooms had intricate tiled floors and walls that a current builder could only dream of duplicating. But the best part about this home was the 80 year old hands that designed and built it 50 years prior still lived right next door.
Fred Snowden, a quiet yet strong Southern gentleman, was a well-known builder in Meridian. He continued to be sought out for his knowledge and skill well after his retirement, but Fred was also filled with knowledge and skill on a topic we’d soon be in need of–parenting.
My husband and I had been married about 3 years when we found out we were expecting a baby. Both of us still way too young to be put in charge of another human, we nervously awaited our new role as “Parents.” In an effort to be the best parents ever we both read On Becoming Baby Wise, a book that instructs new parents on how to train a baby to sleep through the night.
I highlighted passages and held long, intense conversations with women who already had children. I compared various sleep-training techniques, and made lists of what I would and would not do. Because if there was one thing I was certain of, it’s I get crazy with no sleep, so this baby was going. to. sleep.
I’ll never forget that first night with baby Bradley. Who can forget that first night? The baby that slept for 48 hours in the hospital now screamed for 6 solid hours. He took 2 hours to eat then only slept for 15 minutes. None of this looked like the “first 7 days” section in my sleep-bible, except the “more than 8 wet diapers a day” which I charted (yes, charted) on a clip board in the nursery.
The days went by and and the frustration continued, and Bradley was not falling into any sort of pattern like the book said he would. Sure, he’d eat every 3 hours for one week, then the very next week eat every 1 hour. He’d alllllllllllllmost sleep through the night for 3 nights, only to relapse into waking every 2 hours.
Once I was certifiably wacko from lack of sleep, I went running to anyone who could give me an alternative approach to sleep-training. A dear friend recommended The Happiest Baby on the Block–finally someone smart enough to write a book told me it was okay to rock my child…for the first 3 months. I bought the book when Bradley was 10 weeks old. Do the math.
Enter Fred. My back yard was basically Fred’s side yard, so we’d frequently meet at the fence and talk about how pretty the irises were that year, or how much he loved his new great-grand baby, Avery. But one bright Spring day I’ll never forget, I saw Fred out and quickly bundled Bradley up to visit his neighbor.
Fred asked how it was going–was the baby well? — was mama resting? That’s when I explained that I was really excited because I’d been letting the baby cry a lot, but now I’d found a book that said I could rock him–until he was 3 months old, of course.
Fred tilted his chin down, looked at me and–in the most wise, loving, slow drawl– said, “Macie, I rocked my daughter Becky ’til her legs drug the ground. You rock that baby, and don’t mind what the book says.”
We finished our chat, and I went inside and rocked Bradley for at least an hour. And of course, I cried as I rocked, and rocked as I cried, because that’s what you do with a 10 week old who you thought you only had 2 more weeks to rock.
It was around that time we started calling Fred, “Papaw Fred,” and still do. During our years as neighbors he gave us little gifts, some in the form of encouraging advice and some tangible mementos. He let us borrow any tool from his shed anytime, “Just go get it, don’t even ask”, he’d tell me again and again. PaPaw Fred gave us a sense of belonging and stability in this town where he was a fixture, and we were just passing through.
We lived in that little gray house until Bradley was just over 2. It was so hard to leave–it’s even hard to write about now–because I loved that house, I loved that town and our time there as young parents. I also loved having PaPaw Fred as my wise neighbor.
I still visit him each time we travel to Meridian to see old friends. He always gives the boys a Coke, and although it breaks my heart that Bradley doesn’t remember all the Cokes he enjoyed as a toddler, PaPaw Fred doesn’t mind. His wise old heart knows that time passes, kids grow, and even though they don’t remember all the details, we remember. And we are grateful.