PART II – REMEMBRANCE
Marcel Proust’s story of the madeleine in his masterwork, In Search of Lost Time, contains some of the loveliest, lines in all of literature. His words have expressed my own feelings. He understood how simple incidents can instantaniously transport one into one’s past.
The adult Proust sipped a spoonful of tea in which he has soaked a crumb of a madeleine, a shell-shaped cookie made in Brittany. He was filled with an ineffable sense of contentment. In an “ah-ha” moment that is famous in literature, he searched his mind until he remembered that his aunt used to serve him tea and madeleines:
An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses… And at once the visissitures of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory… I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy?
When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered… the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment. Once I recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine… immediately the old grey house rose up like the scenery of a theater… and with the house the town, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took… all the flowers in our garden…and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solitity, sprang into being town and gardens alike from my cup of tea.
IN THE SILENCE OF THE HEART
– TRUE LOVE –
WRITTEN FOR MY VICKI-GIRL
PAST AND PRESENT
“The heart has its reasons which reason comprehendeth not.”Blaise Pascal – Thoughts
Is there a one of us, man, or woman, who did not have some inanimate object that had great import during our youths as confidant, comforter, and companion? One of my nephews, a “blanket-baby,” waited anxiously by the washer and dryer when Christine finally insisted on washing his tattered, grubby blanket. A great-nephew dragged a stuffed elephant wherever he went.
These objects became alive in a childhood realm that adults cannot re-enter or fully understand because children often do not talk about this special, private world that they create. Whatever communion existed between the child and the object of its love is lost with the passage of time. Thus, what follows is only an adult’s attempt to replicate a reality that might have been…
A few days before Christmas one year out neighbor, Mrs. Kent came trotting up the front walk of our house on Ritter Ave. She was brisk, plump, dainty and bright of eye. “Little girl come here,” she said to three-year-old Vicki. “Wrapped up in this paper is a very special doll that I made for you by hand. Know why she’s special? She has a candy heart that says, ‘True Love’ and she’ll always look right at you and smile at you even when nobody else in the whole wide world does.”
Vicki snatched the package and tore off the paper. Inside was a beautifully crafted Raggedy Ann. Clutching the doll tightly, she ran to the full-length mirror in the foyer where she always went to look at herself and her treasures. She held the doll so that their images were side-by-side. “Your name is ‘Lay-go-bye,” she solemnly announced. Whence came this name? Neither she nor we have ever known, and we aren’t sure of the proper spelling of it.
We chuckled as we listened to the dialogue that Vicki made up, assuming a squeaky, high-pitched voice for the doll. When we peeked around the doorway she was holding the doll in front of her face and gazing intently at it.
Many years later, we were to see her Billy-boy assume the same pose with his Raggedy Andy that I made for him, looking deeply into its eyes with a little smile playing on his lips as if he were receiving a silent message. His twin brothers reacted the same way whenever they managed to get their hands on Andy.
While I was finishing Billy’s Andy I was working at the polls at School 57. A solemn-faced little kindergartener came in with her mother and looked yearningly at Andy. “Would you like to hold Andy while your mother votes?” I asked. “Oh yes!” She exclaimed as a smile spread across her face that remained the whole time she was there.
Little did Bill and I know that a presence had come into our home that became nearly alive for us even though we were rational beings who knew full well that dolls neither talk nor eat nor love nor feel pain. Vicki endowed that doll with all of those capacities and more by investing it with such a lifelike reality.
Remembering the Vicki of that time and watching her three boys led me to conclude that there is an unspoken childhood language of love, of the heart, that has little to do with material reality and that transcends logic. Two dolls especially seem to have this unique capacity – the Teddy bear that was named after Theodore Roosevelt and Raggedy Ann whose face was created in 1914 by an Indianapolis Star cartoonist for his sick daughter. Perhaps the love of their creators is expressed in these dolls, rendering them totally attractive and universally loved.
IN THE SILENCE OF THE HEART
– CHATS WITH TEDDY-
Vicki introduced Lay-go-bye to my Teddy. “Lay-go this is Teddy. He belongs to my mommy. You sit here with him while I play.” Much of what follows is based on the rather faulty recollections of T. Bear who is, after all, at age seventy rather old for a bear. He is, he assures me in his gruff, rather scratchy voice that only I out of all the teeming millions am privileged to hear in my mind’s ear, not yet senile, but merely ripe.
The old bear came back from a snooze when he became aware of a change in his rather dull existence…
“Who the “H” are you? I’ve never seen such a peculiar thing in all my life! Fly-away red hair and those awful red-and-white stockings! And do I see bloomers? Slap me, Aunt Mable!”
“Don’t swear, and it’s extremely vulgar to comment on a lady’s unmentionables! And speaking of appearances, have the moths been at you? And you’re very thin – lost some of your stuffing have you?”
“Well, aren’t we the hoity-toity one! Harumph! What I want to know is how you can talk; none of the kid’s other creatures talk.”
“I can because I have a candy heart – so there! My heart speaks directly to my mistress’s heart!”
“Hmph! Times have certainly changed! In my day we didn’t need any props. All we had to do was to be loved and to be faithful. Let me tell you, I am true blue, and I’ve been through some rough times.”
“Oh do be quiet. Being played with by young mistress all day has left me absolutely exhausted.”
“Missy, you’ve got a lot to learn!”
Then the old bear and newly-created doll napped peacefully together until dinnertime when Vicki held the doll on her lap. There was a changed in mealtime negotiations: “Here, Lay-go, you eat these peas. I don’t like ‘em… You don’t like ‘em either? Lay-go and I are not eating these peas!” “I don’t care whether or not Lay-go-bye eats those peas, but you’re sitting here until they are gone.” “What if we eat more basgetti instead?” “Eat the peas!” “Oh, all right!”
Then Bill carried them “up the wooden hill,” as the Clarke’s say; and the doll watched the nightly routine: bath, book read by Mom and a
midnight snack provided by Dad. Later we looked in and smiled when we saw the sleeping child lying with the doll stretched across her throat – as she was to sleep for many years to come.
Everywhere Vicki went, Lay-go-bye went: to the library, to the sledding hill at Ellenberger, to Dr. Jones and the Dentist, to the store and to Grandmother’s house. Lay-go provided comfort after Vicki had ear surgery by lying across Vicki’s throat. She sat on the couch while Vicki opened Christmas presents. “Don’t worry Lay-go. I’ll never love another doll as much as I love you!” She had such reality that when Vicki fell and banged up her knee, she ignored her own pain and sobbed, “Oh poor Lay-go.”
One night, dreadful shrieks came from Vicki’s room. Bill and I ran to her room as in the Madeleine story that Vicki loved: “In the middle of the night, as if fearing some disaster, Miss Clavell ran – faster, faster”
Lay-go had a split from neck to crotch, and her stuffing was coming out. “Oh my! Appendicitis,” said quick witted Bill. We Must operate immediately!” I said, “Don’t cry, honey. She won’t feel a thing.” Fine stitchery has never been my forte, let alone at 3:00 A.M. while being supervised by an anxious child.
That was the first of several operations as the doll began to wear out. Lay-go also got new shoes and stocking and a face-lift during which we cut around her nearly worn-out face that had become begrimed and scarred and glued a backing to it. We didn’t do a hair transplant, although much cuddling had worn her yarn hair down to the nubbins.
Following an ear surgery, Mrs. Cougill who worked at Community Hospital gave Vicki a hand puppet with blue eyes and rosy cheeks and dressed in pink who was promptly named “Pink Dollbaby.” Lay-go, according to Teddy told me, using his most “important” tone, was extremely jealous:
“and furthermore, she cannot talk – just stares at one with that insipid look on her face – the painted huzzy!”
“Hussy. Be careful, Toots, or you may even frown and crack your face – heh, heh!”
“Shu-up, you silly old bear. I always wear my best smile, no matter what.”