Friday, August 21, 2009

Mrs. Beasley

One winter afternoon when I was around 4 or 5, I looked out our picture window. “Gramma’s here! And she brought presents!” After she had shed her coat and scarf, Gramma laid one of the wrapped packages on my lap. Inside was the blue and white rag doll, Mrs. Beasley, made popular by the TV series, “Family Affair.” The doll was the favorite toy of the little girl, Burry. Mrs. Beasley was her security blanket and friend, and she became mine as well.

My mother said she thought the doll was ugly. Mrs. Beasley had yellow hair and had a yellow and white polka dotted skirt and legs. She wore rectangular spectacles. She was a talking doll. When you pulled her string, Mrs. Beasley said, “Want to hear a secret? I know one.” My mother might have thought she was an ugly doll, but I grew attached to Mrs. Beasley immediately.

My sister and I spent hours playing with our dolls. She had a collection of beautiful baby dolls with silky curls and eyes that opened and closed. Sometimes she’d let me put one of the embroidered, crinoline dresses on Mrs. Beasley. I’d also take off her glasses so she looked more like a baby and less “ugly.”

Mrs. Beasley was a source of comfort for me. When I was not playing with her, she had a prominent spot in the center of my bed and propped up by pillows. I took her along on camping trips and on visits to Gramma. She was who I reached for when I felt like crying, or when I couldn’t sleep.

I remember one time before my mother left us, she grabbed Mrs. Beasley off my bed and threatened to cut her to bits with the shears she had taken from my father’s pattern table. I pleaded and screamed and cried until I collapsed on the floor. My mother laughed, dropped Mrs. Beasley on me and left the room.

We had survived my mother’s wrath. If Mrs. Beasley had been capable of real feelings (which I believed for years) she was as relieved as I was. Mrs. Beasley saw me through my parents’ divorce, my teen angst and breakups. Even when I was in college, I still sometimes hugged her and cried. She retained her spot on my bed when I moved into my first apartment. My roommate thought I was odd.

Eventually I got married, and when I moved into my marital abode, Mrs. Beasley got packed into a box for storage. I hoped one day when I had my own daughter, she would enjoy Mrs. Beasley as much as I had. When the kids were small, I recovered her from storage. I had to sew on one of her arms. One of the cats later chewed off one of her hands. My daughter didn’t want to play with Mrs. Beasley. I think she was scared of her. I pulled on the string to hear, “Want to hear a secret? I know one.” What came out was something garbled and creepy, like something you’d hear in a horror movie. Mrs. Beasley got moved from a shelf to the bottom of the toy box along with broken Lego blocks. I don’t know when—maybe I’m blocking it out—I finally let her go and put her in a box with other broken or mismatched toys we put on the curb for Spring cleanup. All these years later I feel guilty and sad about it. Mrs. Beasley was more than just a doll to me.

Think about your favorite childhood toys or something you became attached to. Describe it using all senses. Who gave it to you? Why was it your favorite? Set your timer for fifteen minutes and freewrite without stopping. Feel free to share your memories here…

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Significant Objects

Authors Rob Walker (Buying In) and Joshua Glenn (Taking Things Seriously) started a project and “experiment” called Significant Objects. In their own works they examined how many of us “whether we realize it or not, invest inanimate objects with significance.” They thought it would be “both interesting and fun to set up an experiment in which significance was artificially cooked up under controlled conditions and applied to insignificant objects.”

How the project/experiment works is this: The curators purchase objects found at thrift stores or garage sales. Some objects featured are a Sanka ashtray, a nutcracker with troll hair (or something else), and a chili cat figurine. A writer is paired with the object and the writer creates a fictional story about it. The (now) significant object is listed for sale on eBay along with the story. The winning bidder receives the significant object as well as a printout of the author’s story. The author does receive net proceeds from the sale, and the author does retain all rights.

Last weekend my daughter and I visited some antique shops. We love spending hours picking through jewelry and tchotchkes. I like trying to imagine who once owned a ring or odd figurine. It’s in my nature. We left with a sterling silver ring with two blossoms on the band and a book about gnomes. I wonder if the ring was given to a teenage daughter by her mother. The ring is small, the size a child would wear. The gnome book is a gift for a friend who has an obsession about gnomes.

I wear a ring I found in a thrift shop a year ago. It was an emerald cut greenish-grey stone set on a plain gold band. It reminded me of a ring my grandmother wore when she went to church. The ring was dingy and in need of polishing. It only cost a dollar. I cleaned it up and I wear it almost all the time. I get a lot of compliments on it. Sometimes I’m tempted to make up a family story about it instead of saying that I found it in a thrift shop.

All of us have things we have an attachment to. Maybe it’s an odd-looking figurine someone gave us as a gift, or something we picked up because it made us smile, or could not leave behind because it was so ugly because we couldn’t bear the thought of it sitting on a shelf, unbought, unwanted. Look around your own home. Choose an object. Pick it up. Spend fifteen minutes freewriting about it. What is the story behind it? There’s a reason why you keep it, and there’s a reason why you’ve given its place on a bookshelf, desk, or kitchen counter. If you don’t know, make it up. Feel free to share your stories here.