Become a Fan
A doll that led a parallel life to my own.
MY LAST DOLL, MY FAITHFUL MUSE
Cats have been known to travel a year or two over hundreds of miles to reunite with families they knew and loved. I thought of this recently when "Dolly," for I never gave her a name, was handed to me at a family funeral. My mother kept her -- or, rather, never discarded her -- in her box full of letters, keepsakes, dead batteries, bobby pins, and, believe it or not, ration books from World War II. Somebody finally sorted the wheat from the chaff and Dolly made the cut. She was wheat!
It was a warm moment, I'll acknowledge, but not an "At last, at last, I've found you!" moment. I do remember the last time I saw the doll. Taking one last look around my bedroom before leaving it forever, I see the bureau cleared, the bed made, the suitcases packed, and nothing left behind I'd ever want again. Dolly sat at the open window looking out into a visibly hot July day. It was 1957.
Until I unwrapped the package handed me at the funeral, I had no thoughts of my last doll. Perhaps the room itself triggered a memory, but instantly I was 17, crying and hugging Dolly when Papa died. He was 60. Why is it that at 17, 60 seems old -- quite an appropriate time to die -- and yet now at 67, I've merely come a long way, baby?
Dolly took her place atop my desk, along with a troll, Greek worry beads and an executive pacifier. I'd clean her up and pass her along to some child when I had time ... or so I thought. What happened next bordered on the supernatural but I'll only say it felt eerie.
I mulled over one subject or another for a column. I tried in vain being still. I tried being calm. My mind was going feverishly, my thoughts were racing, yet Dolly seemed to catch them all. No, no, not that one; no, no, that won't do. You need substance, I seemed to hear her say. Write about me.
"You?" I said out loud. No answer. What could I say about you?
It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve in 1939. I had just turned eight and couldn't contain myself. Tomorrow was the day we waited for all year. I'm not sure if "Santy" was still part of my young innocence that year, but I do remember being sat down to learn the true meaning of Christmas. As the baby of nine, I was spoiled to a degree the family could manage, but there was to be no doll that Christmas, in spite of my letters to the North Pole. I wrote that this would be my last doll, so please, Santy, bring one to me.
On this cold, snowy, Christmas Eve, Mama and I started to write a poem. Forever after, it would be called my first poem, but I only formed the letters from Mama's inspiration.
"Faith Will Reward"
We had no tree, no trimmings bright;
No presents filled with sweet delight.
No stockings by the fireside;
But the Christmas spirit had not died.
For was it not on Christmas Eve
The shepherds came, their gifts to leave
For one who had a lowly bed
Among the cattle in the shed.
The night wore on and we grew sad,
Not one event to make us glad.
Not one? seemed echoing down the years.
My heart stood still with unshed tears.
I saw the north star brighter grow.
I saw the room in radiance glow
I saw the smile of a little babe
In a lowly manger unafraid.
So into my heart that Christmas Eve
Came a faith that I always will believe.
For out of a dreary dark despair.
Came a vision bright, like an answered prayer.
We folded the poem and slid it under the dish of apples for Santa Claus. I started off to bed knowing that the morning would bring things made, remade or edible and, although I gave up the notion of one last doll, I would still feel very blessed -- sadly resigned, but blessed.
The knock on the door barely preceded the cold gush of air as Marie breezed in with packages under one arm and in her hand what we knew would be a crumb cake in that string-tied, bakery box.
"Can I just leave my package here for a minute," she said, placing them on the sideboard. "And, yes, you can warm me up with a cup of tea," she smiled to my mother, "while I say Merry Christmas to my Godchild"
Marie was the only adult I ever called by her first name and I beamed for being singled out for her special greeting.
"Whatcha ask Santa for, little lady?" she said, hugging me against her wool coat. My mother was giving her the high sign and a no-no frown behind my back but still Marie continued. "Did you ask for a paint set, maybe -- or, perhaps a doll?"
"Well, yes," I lisped. "I asked for a doll."
Mama's face fell as Marie said: "Well, Santa will answer your letter. He always has a doll for a good little girl." I kissed everyone goodnight, hurried off to bed, shivered until my body warmth took the cold out of the sheets and heard my mother's voice saying sadly, "Oh, Marie." Then, I heard Marie say "Shhhhhhh..." while paper rattled. I heard Mama softly say Oooooooh." Then jubilantly, "Oh, Marie. Oh, dear Marie.