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First bath, forever memory

You get the text 15 minutes after filing the Sunday story about the father who lost two children, one at birth, the other at age 20. 

The new baby in your extended family will get his first bath, courtesy of Nana, your sister, at 4 p.m. Outside, lightning races through the clouds, hurled by invisible gods. Thunder thunders. The rain won't relent. And on your desk, piles of papers and folders, orange peels, half-drunk cups of coffee and tea — what a desk looks like when you've been on deadline for three straight days.

But you make the decision. This is worth leaving the warm, dry office and all the things to still be done and make the drive to see the baby's first bath, a tradition. The Nana gives it. A dark cloud taunts all the drivers on the freeway, as if you all drive into the unknown, though it's a route you've driven a thousand times before.

And you get there, and the baby is a warm cuddler, 2 weeks old, and the kitchen sink is filled with water and tested with elbows and you all crowd around, the baby's older brother and sister, the dad, the mom, two aunts and the Nana, of course. The master bather.

And this mother of five grown children has muscle memory of how you bathe a newborn. You plunge them gently and talk to them in soothing voices as they look so startled to be submerged like that. And the baby wants to cry but looks around at all the smiling faces and relaxes into the scrubbing and the no-tears shampoo and soon, he's clean and warmly swaddled and he conks out, exhausted.

The father you wrote about for Sunday tells his daughter, a new mother, that  her baby’s cry “might be the sweetest sound you ever heard.”

And now, back at the office typing this, and the clouds are completely gone. And the new baby sleeps on in his house and you know these become the sweetest memories you ever remember.

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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