Monday, July 6, 2015

I Sent Her Away Last Week

Last week, after 52 years together, I sent her away. Neither of us shed a tear. But it was time. Like me, her skin had become fragile and her complexion dulled. Still, she retained a certain regal bearing and I knew where she would be treasured.

When I heard she had arrived safe I shared my decision with a friend.

“Do you have a picture?” my friend asked.

That’s when I realized I’d never taken a photo of her, never named her, had no record of our lifetime together.

Yet I knew I had done the right thing.

She’s a doll, you see. An unusual one, but a doll just the same.

Here’s how she came to live with me.

In 1963, I was a resident advisor in Hamilton Hall at the University of Oregon in Eugene. I received room and board in exchange for some fairly simple duties – a way to ease my parent’s financial burden.

A student from Japan was assigned to my dorm. She didn’t speak English well and asked me to help her with some forms.

I went to her room. She had a collection of dolls of all sizes and shapes displayed on her bookcase. I was blown away by one particular doll. And I said so. Out loud.

I immediately regretted my outburst. My freshman roommate, Mary Sue, had majored in Asian Studies and had told me about Japanese customs: if you verbally admire an item, the host is obligated to give you the item. I attempted unsuccessfully to refuse the doll but returned to my room, doll in hand.

I felt awful, even though the young woman’s dolls were probably intended to be given away. But this doll was the largest and most unusual of her collection. The doll’s head was solid wood the size of a baseball and she was tall – ten inches at least. A birch branch formed her ‘body’ – no arms or legs – with a scene painted in a cutout area. The doll’s ‘skin' was the fragile, paper-thin bark of the birch tree. She was gorgeous!

The student’s name is lost to me now, but the doll has traveled with me ever since.

Until last week, that is, when I sent her away. Mary Sue emailed me the day the doll arrived.

That’s how I learned that the doll is a kokeshi doll.

The description I found online – handmade from wood, simple trunk, enlarged head with thin painted lines defining the face, no arms or legs – doesn’t hint at the variety of designs. Still, I saw few that resembled the one I’d had.

It’s nice, though, to learn that kokeshi dolls are given as tokens of friendship. Mary Sue and I have had a very long friendship. Maybe Mary Sue can give her the perfect name.

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