© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A baby carriage meant to last

The columnist, mother and baby carriage, Central Park 1953
Courtesy of Ralph Gardner Jr.
The columnist, mother and baby carriage, Central Park 1953

My baby carriage is once again being called into service, almost seventy years after it first tread New York City’s sidewalks, parks and playgrounds. The last time it saw the light of day occurred when my older daughter Lucy was an infant some thirty-four years ago. Since then it’s been living in the cobwebbed gloom of our basement, stoically battling the inexorable forces of time, nature and mildew.

What septuagenarian, you might ask, still owns his baby carriage? That’s a legitimate question and one that probably doesn’t reflect well on me. In my defense this isn’t some dollar store stroller. The Silver Cross was, in its time, the top of the line British carriage. The vehicle is characterized by a hard body, C-spring suspension, spoke wheels, chrome appurtenances, and folding navy hood. Known as the Rolls Royce of prams, the Silver Cross brand’s cooing and crying passengers over the decades have included Elizabeth, the future queen of England, as well as her recently crowned son, Charles.

Obviously, I have no memory of watching the world go from the swaddled splendor of my conveyance. However, there is substantial documentary evidence – both photographs and 16mm home movies -- proving it did. They include a clip of my mother pushing me through Central Park. It’s notable not only for her Eisenhower era outfit but also because the outing constituted a one-off event. To the best of my knowledge that was the only time my mother accompanied me on one of my daily jaunts. That’s what baby nurses were for. Our promenade was nothing more than a photo-op.

The cost of the pram was amortized over the following seven years by my three rambunctious younger brothers. Its fine hand-painted lines, inspired by the coachwork of horse drawn carriages, managed to survive the lot of us before it retired to the obscurity of our New York City apartment building’s basement storage locker. There it kept company, like Toy Story’s Sheriff Woody and Mr. Potato Head without the talent of Pixar animators to bring them to life, by our rusting Schwinn bikes and warped American Flyer sleds.

The pram – I’m starting to think we ought to give it a name, so foundational is it to family history – was refurbished and summoned back into service when Lucy was born almost three decades later. There’s some dispute about this part of the story. My brother and sister-in-law contend they’re the ones that resurrected the Silver Cross when their first child, Evan, was born several years earlier. They even claim to have had new tires installed but the rubber’s obvious antiquity belies that belief.

Whatever the chain of custody both families had the same reaction the first time we lowered our newborns onto the pram’s diminutive mattress: stroller technology had come a long way since we were infants. Perhaps inspired by British stiffness, it was approximately as maneuverable as a Cunard ocean liner. The carriage was almost impossible to fit inside the average New York City residential elevator and its suspension system more closely resembled that of a stagecoach than a modern, lightweight stroller.

I’d go so far as to say that the contrast between my carriage, my children’s strollers and the current generation’s carriers – our grand twins’ strollers miraculously morph into car seats -- are proof that for all civilization’s discontents, the advances in stroller technology serve as prove that we’re capable of combining engineering and common sense to streamline childrearing for parents and infants alike.

Why then did I spend a full hour last weekend going at my ancient baby carriage with a vacuum cleaner, Mr. Clean magic sponges and various other household detergents and scrubbing devices to restore it to respectability? By the way, if you’re searching for objective proof of your chronological age one need seek no further than the brittle fabric on your baby stroller, the fractured tires, and the oxidizing chrome knobs and latches.

The stroller was called out of retirement because we’re having a baby party in honor of the twins, Aggie and Faye. They arrived prematurely in January, upsetting my wife’s plans for a baby shower. But they’re now plump twelve-pounders and ready to party. The plan, at least in my mind’s eyes if nobody else’s, was to have them arrive in the Silver Cross, making a splash as well as sewing a narrative thread among several generations of the family.

I believe that plan has been nixed. For starters, as commodious as the carriage is it wasn’t intended for twins, but a single pampered infant. Also, nature and the pathways through our property aren’t quite as well-conceived as those that Frederic Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux devised for Central Park. There’s a small but by no means insignificant chance that the carriage could encounter something like a woodchuck hole, its celebrated suspension system overreact, jostle the guests of honor and elicit howls of protest, even though they’re preternaturally well-behaved.

The last I heard – you have deduced that I’m not in the loop regarding the party planning process and may even be considered an irritant by the rest of the family -- is that the carriage may be used as a depository for the toys, onesies and other thoughtful gifts the babies will likely receive from our generous friends. Another possibility is that it will be employed as decoration and perhaps filled with flowers. Whatever its role I hope it won’t be relegated to the basement until the day is done. It’s given so much over the years and asked for so little.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related Content
  • I was planning to address whether the human species is doomed when a hummingbird crossed my path. I’ll explain the connection momentarily. I’d always believed that Homo sapiens was perfectible. Not today or tomorrow. Perhaps not for another hundred thousand years. But eventually we’d get it right. We’d work out the kinks. We’ll ferret out a way to live in harmony.
  • Once a year Maureen Dowd relinquishes her New York Times column to her conservative Republican brother. I find his take on things annoying but I’m really not qualified to pass judgment since I usually drop out after the first couple of paragraphs.
  • My knowledge of the history of African-Americans in Columbia County was limited to one person when I was a child – singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte. He was also the only celebrity I’d heard of with a home in the county when I visited my grandparents here in the 1960’s. Belafonte owned a 160-acre estate in Chatham, NY. It was called Day-O Farm after the lyrics to a traditional Jamaican folk song he made famous in the 1950’s. Mr. Belafonte sold the farm in the 1990’s.