Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dead Dolls, or Jeannette's Memorial

I was cleaning out the small room at the end of the hall and remembered Jeannette's (my mother)dolls. She collected them and made some herself. When she died I sold a lot of them, but out of sentimentality I kept a few. They were in a box under the desk upstairs. I decided to make a kind of shrine, or memorial to her by using the dolls to decorate the table under the stairs, in the downstairs hall. I picked up the box, which was quite large, and carried it to the top of the stairs. As I started down, my foot slipped and I began to fall. With amazing presence of mind I let the box go and saved myself, grabbing for the banister. My own descent was only three steps, but the box went tumbling down the entire flight. Dolls flew everywhere. The only one that survived in tact was my own baby doll, Carol, which I received as a Christmas present when I was six. She is made of rubber, now as yellow as a dandelion, and cloth. The rest of the dolls, made of porcelain, smashed against the stairs and the hall floor, leaving bits of themselves along the way. Even the tiny, antique dolls lost their arms. The doll on the right in the picture, my favorite because of her heft, was beheaded. If that weren't enough, her eyes sank out of sight leaving nothing but dark holes.

Well, if the thought counts, putting them out was one of the nicest ideas I have had concerning my mother since she died. Nevertheless, I ended up destroying what remained of her precious belongings. I have never liked dolls particularly, but she loved them. They were the ideal for her, replicas of the best part of real children. They could be dressed up and played with, but demanded nothing. They were beautiful. She placed them in cradles and high chairs with frilly pillows and blankets. She sewed and knit clothes for them. She bought toys.

Jeannette loved to care for helpless things that depended entirely on her for survival. I remember her nursing three newborn kittens, standing in for the mother cat who had disappeared, until they were on their own. She loved infants. But with both cats and babies, she became indifferent or hostile to them once they began to strike off on their own. She interpreted their independence, no matter how minute, as rejection. She could not take rejection, and man, could that woman hold a grudge. She went to her grave hating pretty much everyone she ever knew. Rest in peace, Jeannette. We have all forgiven you by now. My heart was in the right place when I decided to get out your dolls.

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