Pinning a Tale


Pinning a Tale by Celeste Behe

I’d like to pin you a tale. This particular tale-pinning requires neither a paper donkey nor a blindfold. It needs only a handful of very special pins, the kind that are usually worn on lapels.

I store the pins in a memory box in the attic. They mean a lot to me, because each of them marks a point on the path I’ve traveled from childhood to motherhood. I’d like to describe the pins, and share with you the significance that each one holds.

The first pin is made of leather and portrays a red penguin with a green-painted belly. If its colors and material aren’t enough to set it apart, let me mention that the pin is actually stuffed, just as a teddy bear would be. In fact, a close look reveals the hand stitches that my mom put in when the seam split and the stuffing began to slip out. The pin is almost fifty years old. I have a picture of myself at age five, sitting in the snow on our New York City fire escape, wearing the penguin pin on my winter coat. The pin is analogous to a teddy bear, not only in the way it was made, but in its sentimental value. After all, as an accessory to my winter coat, the pin was my companion on many snowball fights, snow fort constructions, and sledding adventures.

A few winters after that fire escape photo was taken, I was sporting a new coat and a different pin. It was 1967, the year of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. The girls in my class at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel – at least those who had older sisters – were wearing Beatlemania and “I Love Paul” pins. I was wearing an enameled pin of a spotted blue giraffe. (It seems that my mom had a thing for pins of animals in funny colors.) Anyway, I remember being asked by a classmate what my pin was supposed to be. Well, my mom had told me that the creature was something called a worrywart, so that’s how I identified it to my classmate, although neither she nor I had any idea what a worrywart actually was. It was just around the time that I was forgoing “Ringo for President” buttons in favor of worrywart pins that I unwittingly began to set myself apart as being a little different. The reputation would follow me throughout all my years of schooling, and even a bit beyond.

But my older brother Joe had no such reputation. Joe was funny, clever, and engaging, and I idolized him. On his bedroom wall was a Manhattan College school banner, and pinned to it was a button that said it all: I Am the Greatest, You Are Next. To me, it was no brag, just fact: my brother was the tops. In fact, at the time that this pin was broadcasting Joe’s awesomeness, I was a student at an all-girls high school. When my friends came to my house to visit, I’m sure that it was more in the hopes of meeting up with Joe than of wanting to spend time with me.

Socially, my high school years were a fail. But at least I enjoyed my classes, especially Italian. My teacher, whom we fondly called Miss G, loved her students the way a mother loves her own daughters. One day in my senior year Miss G came in with an assortment of Italian-themed trinkets and distributed them among “her girls.” I got a pin reading “Sorridi in Italiano,” which means, “Smile in Italian.” Although smiling in Italian was a rather nebulous skill that I never mastered, I nevertheless pinned the button to my plaid uniform and wore it right up to graduation.

After I hung up my plaid uniform for the last time, I went through several outfit changes before donning a wedding dress in 1984. Soon my husband Mike and I were the parents of a beautiful little girl. Among our newborn daughter’s gifts was a pink diaper pin with a tiny Miraculous Medal dangling from it. We couldn’t pin it to Grace’s lapel, since her stretchy didn’t have a lapel, but Grace nevertheless wore it day and night. Often it was pinned to the back of her stretchy, where the tiny medal would be out of Grace’s reach and therefore, less likely to end up in her little fist and, ultimately, in her stomach! In those early days of motherhood, when I handled my new responsibilities with total ineptness and no small amount of dread, that wee Miraculous Medal was a welcome reminder that, no matter how badly I might botch up, my baby would always be under the protection of her heavenly Mother.

The last pin I’d like to talk about, and the one that was most precious to me, is no longer in my memory box. I bought it when I was in college, and gave it away five years after I lost my unborn son Nicholas halfway through pregnancy. At the time of Nicholas’ death, I was 39 years old and afraid I’d never conceive again. My obstetrician Dr. Stevens, a pro-life doctor, joined me in prayer for another child. With his help, and through St. Gerard’s intercession, Helen was born when I was 40 years old and Gerard Pius when I was 43. It was to Dr. Stevens – who had delivered Helen and Gerard, plus four of my other children – that I gave a pin reading “It’s Great to Be Alive.” It seemed an appropriate gift for a man who had devoted his own life to helping others bring life into the world.

So here ends my tale. It didn’t impart any useful information, or express a well-considered viewpoint, or raise a controversial issue. It’s not going to be tweeted or blogged about. It doesn’t even have a moral, except perhaps, “Save all your lapel pins, because you might want them some day.” But writing it gave me the chance to reflect on some of the times of my life. I hope that every reader of Catholic Mom will find time today to do a little reflection of her own!

Copyright 2012 Celeste Behe


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  1. Pingback: Pinning a Tale (Catholic Mom 2011)

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