Nobody suspects I would have done anything of the sort. I’ve fooled them all. Well, at least I’ve fooled the folks I work with. And that will do.
You see, we have a terrific Christmas tradition at my office. We have a party, yes, and it’s actually fun because we like each other. And the highlight of the party is a gift exchange. About two weeks prior to the party, we choose the name of a co-worker, and bring a gift for that person as if he or she were 7 years old. We open the gifts and have a great time guessing who gave it to us. Then the toys are collected and given to a local charity.
We have a blast, it’s for a good cause, and everybody tells their funny childhood remembrances of what we would have done with a toy like they got.
But it was awkward for me this year, because I got a doll.
She was a beautiful, blue-eyed doll with rosy cheeks and curly blond hair just like mine. Any girl would love her and gently care for her. Any girl would treasure that pretty doll. Any girl would have given that beautiful doll to her own daughter to love, too.
Any girl but me. Because for the most part, I hated dolls. And for most of my childhood did anything to avoid playing with them. Except when I was about 7.
Well, I guess I answered honestly when I said that, uhhh, yeah, I would have played with the delicate dolly. And, yeah, I would have played with it when I was about 7 years old. So yeah, the gift, umm, fit me. I didn’t elaborate, though.
I didn’t, for example, tell anyone that the dolly would not have been happy with the situation.
I blame my parents, they bought that particular house. I blame my brother. Me, I was innocent. I was led astray. I was forced to do it. The fact that it was hilarious and became one of my favorite memories is completely irrelevant.
You see, the house I grew up with was next to the railroad tracks. And naturally, because it was strictly forbidden, my brother Fred and I used to spend lots of time playing on the tracks. We’d put our ears to the rail to listen for trains, and, once we were sure none were coming, we’d run across the tracks.
That was fun for part of the first summer we lived there, but hey we were 6 and 9. We needed growth opportunities.
We flattened pennies until we had enough to lay track from New York to New Haven made entirely of smushed Lincoln faces. For a while we would wait for a train to come and then hop across the tracks, trying not to trip and die. Fortunately we both succeeded and outgrew our interest in that particular challenge. We tried to flip the track switch so that the train would jump the track and go down our driveway instead of on towards New Haven. But for some reason, someone had locked the switch, and no matter what we did, we could not get the train to go down our driveway. It was probably just as well.
One day, I got home from a friend’s house to find that my favorite stuffed animal, an orange poodle won for me by my dad, was missing. Naturally, I accused my brother of hiding it.
“I didn’t hide it, Lease,” he said. “I played with it. It was just sitting on your bed,” he said in that brotherly tone that indicates I was stupid for questioning him.
He walked into my room, grabbed another stuffed toy, my stuffed Pebbles doll with the plastic head, and said. “Come on. This is really neat.”
Out we went, down to the tracks. We waited and waited, putting an occasional ear to the rail. Finally, Fred placed Pebbles on the tracks. Like Pauline, Pebbles looked skyward. Like Pauline, as the train approached, her feet wiggled. Unlike Pauline, however, there was no rescue.
The train whizzed by sending the most delightful plume of stuffing up and out, way over the top of the train. It was a hit. We rushed back for additional victims. All my stuffed toys and each and every doll met a sorry end.
As it turned out, today at the party, my boss had picked my name, and the doll was from her. “Would you have played with a doll like her?” she asked, no doubt envisioning me dressing her up and playing with her like other girls.
“Absolutely,” I said, weighing the doll and imagining just how high up this particular doll’s stuffing would go.