I was struck by the beauty of this woman. How she stood proudly on that top shelf at my local Goodwill, towering over anything else nearby. I did not buy her, but I did pick her up, first noticing her dusty feet, hidden beneath her silken gown of what is now a faded Ai(japanese indigo). But it was when I flipped her over that I discovered her story.
Here it is:
Each Saturday, without fail, the child was dropped off at grandma’s so that her mother could run a week’s worth of errands in a morning’s time, or so she told her daughter. The little girl didn’t mind, because she loved that small white house with the green shutters and the flag waving in a pole stuck by the front door. She loved the way the sofa squeaked when her bare legs met the plastic covering, and she even loved walking on the plastic runners that covered the hallway carpet.
She pretended the clear plastic was a gangplank on a pirate ship, or a balance beam at the Olympics, or a shaky bridge over raging river.
But most of all, the little girl loved teatime.
Each Saturday, the little girl’s mother would call to plead for more time, and each time the grandma would scowl and complain and shake the telephone receiver as she winked at the little girl. The little girl, in turn, would smile and clap her hands and run as fast as she could on the plastic walkway over to the living room. Once there, the little girl would rise up on the balls of her feet and daintily tippy-toe over to the mantle above the fireplace that was never ever used, in the corner of a room that was never ever used. Very very carefully the little girl would remove the japanese doll from her resting place next to the hand-painted display plates of hibiscus and cherry blossoms, and she would carry her back to grandma’s kitchen, arms outstretched without a bend to either elbow.
The doll, a black-haired beauty, would be placed on a round white doily that grandma kept for just that purpose, right in the center of the little oval table, next to her favorite salt and pepper shakers, an old man and his wrinkly wife with the sad eyes.
Grandma would place a delicate cup of tea in front of the little girl, white with a flowered pattern and matching saucer, and she would always tell the girl to be very very careful, the tea was hot and the cup breakable. The little girl would play with the white string hanging down the side of the cup, flicking it so that the words Lipton would sway back and forth as grandma placed exactly two small gingersnaps onto the saucer after telling the girl to stop that.
Every Saturday the little girl and her grandma would sip their tea and crunch their cookies and each Saturday the grandma would spin another story about the japanese doll who graced her table. First it was a gift from her husband, then one week it was from her brother who had sent it back when he was a soldier, and another time it was a long ago penpal who one day stopped writing. The little girl didn’t care which story was true, she believed them all.
After grandma’s funeral, as the cookie platters were unwrapped and the coffee urn was bubbling away, a young woman walked the plastic path along the hallway to the living room, where she rose up on the balls of her feet and tippy-toed over to the mantle and ever so gently removed a tall black-haired japanese doll from beside the hibiscus display plates.
The woman, tired and tearful, lost her grip for a moment and the doll tumbled toward the unwalked-upon carpet. She quickly grabbed the doll by her legs, upside down, and that’s when she saw it. Something she had never seen before, never even felt as she carried that doll each week back along the plastic pathway to the kitchen and grandma.
On the bottom platform, right underneath the hidden feet of that doll, was a sticker of gold, with three words in black…
Made in China.
The woman thought back on the years of stories her grandma had shared with her, tales the doll traveled to get to her, hands that had passed her along, love that bound her, and love that surrounded her.
The young woman scraped that sticker off with a single thumbnail, rolled it up onto itself and flicked it into the fireplace.
Then she headed off back to the kitchen, doll in hand, to search for a round white doily, and to see if perhaps, somewhere in that massive cookie platter, there was a gingersnap or two.