Before I go, I have something to say

The Valley of the Dolls

We have survived the move. We put every single thing we owned into boxes, bins, and Hy-Vee bags, and now we live in another place. It’s only two miles from our old house, but I sometimes feel like we went to the moon.

The house and the neighbors are wonderful. But it’s quite a space launch to pack up every paperclip and dish rag and cookie jar and floor lamp and cereal bowl and winter coat and bar of soap you own. For a while, you can’t get enough boxes; we even paid for some when our supply threatened to run low. For a while, you can’t live without tape, and big fat markers, and giant rolls of bubble wrap. We stopped recycling newspapers because we needed them to wrap the breakables.

Many times, when we know we have too much stuff and we’re looking for some motivation to sort it out and clear the decks, we tell each other to pretend we’re getting ready to move. This isn’t bad advice, since the less you own, the lighter your load will be, but that doesn’t mean throwing things out is ever easy.

With this move, I was determined to be strong. The dolls were the worst. I swear, you can sew a face on anything and people will feel awful about throwing it out, no matter how old and pathetic. Three of them were especially challenging.

The first doll-like creature was a gift from my dad. His vacations from Alcoa were always spent with my mom and sister and me at a lake in Minnesota. But one year, he got some extra time off. He and three friends drove a converted school bus to Utah, hunting deer and having the time of their lives. The two weeks he was away felt like years. He returned before sunrise, while I was so deeply asleep I had no idea he’d entered my room. When I awoke later, I spotted something new on my shelf and knew that Daddy was home. The doll was short and round and pink, with a ribbon at the bottom reading, “My heart cries for you.” His mouth was turned down in a frown, and a plastic tear hung from each eye. I mean, please.

I kept that doll forever. But when we started packing to move last month, I thrust him firmly into the garbage bag. It was time. I didn’t need to clutch the actual doll to remember it. How much worse to keep it in a cardboard box, its features fading, its stuffing getting stiff and crumbly. I shoved it into a black garbage bag and tried not to think about it. It took at least half an hour before my sentimentality took over. And when I told my daughter about what I almost did, she claimed him for herself. The last thing she needs is another old toy tugging at her heartstrings, but hey, it’s out of my house.

A second doll did not fare so well. I let my husband take to the landfill the life-size Patty doll I got for Christmas when I, too, was three feet tall. I had to remove the adorable outfit she was wearing. My mom had sewn it for my daughter. I kept that to give to my son for his girls. He can dress them, take a picture, text it to me, and drop the outfit at the Omaha Goodwill.

But the doll itself, the pink girl made to resemble a 5-year old, was now naked. Naked! A plastic, manufactured product, yes, but we referred to it as “her”! How could I let her go like that? The choices were grim. Put her – no, put IT! — into an ill-fitting garbage bag with either her feet or her head sticking out? Wrap her in an old towel like a serial killer in a bad mystery? Bob helpfully offered to yank off a few limbs to make her fit in the trash bag. In the end, she went, and I did not ask any questions. I tried not to picture her in the landfill, buried except for her pink, outstretched hand, looking like something from “Tales From the Crypt.” Out of sight, out of mind. It’s the only way to do this.

Last is a teddy bear of my sister’s. She collects stuffed animals with a hoarder’s zeal. Each one is given a name, though after she passed 500, I wondered how she kept them straight. She doesn’t know this, but when Bob and I cleared out her storage unit this summer, they all went to the landfill. Whether covered with cat hair or just too well-loved, they were not suitable for donation. Was it hard to toss so many cute kitties and happy hippos into the trash? Well, what do you think? I kept only Punkin, the little bear entrusted to me after she moved to the nursing home. He comes with us for visits, and she covers him in kisses. I have instructions to place him in her casket someday, and I will.

I also found, in a small prescription bottle, a thin piece of yarn with a note identifying it as  “Punkin’s original mouth.” This will probably go into her casket, too. Some people think that when we die, we’re reunited with any body parts removed earlier – that lost appendix, say, or a big toe. So Punkin may be reunited with his original mouth. Far be it from me to stand in the way of that happy reunion.

Three things, three fates. All completely inanimate objects, made in factories out of fabric and thread, plastic and paint. We are human, though, and programmed to love anything that smiles.


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