I had a serious case of the misty water-colored memories last week when I got a package in the mail from my mom. She was cleaning out her closets and such and came across a bunch of stuff that technically belonged to me but it had lived in her attic since 1986. With great anticipation, I opened the box and was greeted with a mish-mash of items that gave me a one way ticket to Sentimental Valley. Everything in the box was something that I didn't want to see banished to the trash can yet in New York City, closet space is a premium and I couldn't justify keeping that pile of art work I made in Miss Moon's seventh grade art class. Some of the things were easy to say goodbye to. Other things were not.
I quickly decided that I could do without various plaques and trophies trumpeting my achievements in high school. Yes, I was very excited about that first place win in Duet Acting with my drama partner Dawn, but did I still need to have the trophy? Into the trash it went as did the Outstanding Thespian award and Sophomore Standout plaque. Obviously, I had to keep the handwritten letter that I got from Lisa (Blair Warner) Welchel's grandma who was the president of her fan club and wrote me back when I asked how Lisa could deal with temptation in Hollywood and still be a good Christian. (Yes, I really wrote a fan letter and asked that...) And of course I had to keep the photo albums.
But then I came across something that was really tough. At the bottom of the box were two dolls that had been with me since childhood. I hadn't thought about them for over twenty years and would never have known if my mom had tossed them, but here they were staring at me as if to say, "Golly, we missed you. Where have you been?" One of them was a Raggedy Ann doll that I had made when I was about eight years old. She had a hole near her foot and the stuffing was old and yellow and brittle. Her head was lopsided from a repair made about thirty years ago when she ripped and we had to sew her back together again. The other was a Raggedy Andy doll that I had made with my Grandma when I was about eleven. He wasn't completed and had remained in a state of undress ever since Mammaw Lillian and I had given up on finishing him in 1978. All of a sudden I was sitting on my dining room floor cradling two old dusty dolls and crying like a baby.
I didn't want to display the dolls in my apartment but it seemed pointless to put them in a box and cram them into a closet. But how could I just throw them away? Thinking back to the summer I spent with Mammaw Lillian, I remembered how much fun it was to make that doll. "Honey, can you thread this needle for me? I can't see it," she'd say. My young eyes and nimble fingers deftly threaded the needle and I couldn't understand why she couldn't do it herself. Now every time I reach into my apron to retrieve my reading glasses I understand, but then I didn't. Whenever I would leave her house in Houston to go back to Victoria I would cry because I was always so scared that it could be the last time I would ever see her. I loved her so much. I sat in the dining room crying and thinking about Mammaw and eventually, I put the dolls back in the box to be dealt with later.
After about three days, it was time to decide what to do with the dolls. I was not going to keep them. After all, I didn't even know they were still in existence up until a few days earlier. I realized that Mammaw is not in that Raggedy Andy doll, she is in my memories. I can still have the memories of her without keeping an inanimate object. With or without the doll, I will always remember how I lived with her when I was 22 years old. I stayed with her for about six months as I saved money to get my own apartment. I lived with her when I got my first waiting job at Bennigan's on FM 1960 in Humble, Texas. Bennigan's had some serious expectations when it came to menu preparedness and we had to take two or three tests to get on the floor. Mammaw knew that menu better than I did. Every night for two weeks, we sat on her couch and she quizzed me with flashcards until we both knew every single ingredient of every single dish on the Bennigan's menu. I aced that test and it was all because of Mammaw. When I told her I had passed the test she gave me a hug. "Oh, baby, I knew you could do it!" She was so proud of me. It was on her sewing machine that I made my first apron for work with the scraps of fabric she had in a box in her closet. I knew that I didn't need to hold onto the doll to remember Mammaw Lillian.
I picked up the two old dolls. I gave them a hug and a kiss and put them into a bag. "I love you, Mammaw," I said. I stepped into the hallway of my building and dropped the bag down the trash chute. And you know what? I'm okay. I know that my love for Mammaw is not represented by a toy. The love I have for her is still here with me even though she has been gone for too many years. She was with me at the beginning of my waiting tables career and if she was around today, she would be the biggest fan of the Bitchy Waiter. Do I still have the Raggedy Andy Doll that I made with Mammaw? No. Do I still remember how she laughed and talked and smelled and cooked and listened and smiled and hugged me and loved me? Absolutely.
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