When I was cleaning out my parents’ house last spring, I found an old doll. Its body was corduroy, it was stuffed with something soft, but had a hard plastic face.
I remembered the doll from my childhood, but I didn’t know where it came from. Was it mine? Or my mother’s? I couldn’t remember ever playing with it. All I knew was that the doll had been around as long as I could remember. Because it was so old, I kept it.
My sister, brother and I also found boxes and boxes of pictures in the house. Everywhere we looked, it seemed, there were more pictures. We didn’t go through them at the time. We stowed all the boxes in my sister’s minivan, then put them in her dining room in a Seattle suburb.
In late July, I visited my sister and went through the photographs my father had kept. I spent most of a day in her dining room, thumbing through envelope after envelope of snapshots. If one envelope was mostly me or my family, I dumped it in my stack. And envelopes that were mostly of my sister or my brother and their children went into their stacks.
I didn’t have the time nor the energy to sort picture by picture. Envelope by envelope was all I could handle.
Then I boxed up my stack of pictures and put the boxes in the back of my rental car. My husband and I were headed from the Seattle area to Cannon Beach for a family reunion with his side of the family. In Cannon Beach I transferred the boxes from the rental car to my sister-in-law’s car. She had driven out from Missouri and agreed to drive the boxes back to Missouri for me.
After my sister-in-law delivered the boxes to my house, I stashed them in my dining room, still unable to go through them one by one.
Finally, sometime late this fall, I decided to organize the pictures at least by generations. I thought some of them might be helpful in jogging my memory for this blog. There were a few old pictures of my parents. Many of my childhood. And many more of my children’s childhood. I found some gems, but I’m still missing pictures I know I saw in my sister’s dining room. They must be someplace—perhaps in one of my siblings’ stacks, if not in some box of mine I’ve misplaced.
One of the photographs I noticed as I went through the pictures this fall was of my first Christmas in 1956 and all the presents I received from Santa Claus as an eight-month-old.
And there in the photograph next to Humpty Dumpty was the little doll I found almost fifty-nine years later in my parents’ house. So the doll was mine—probably my first doll.
(And as a side note, I think the cat-shaped rug on which the doll sits was the rug I later took to kindergarten, when I argued with another little girl over which of us got to use our favorite cubby. Many of the items I received that first Christmas remained in our family for many, many years. The rocking horse is still in the family today.)
I don’t know why my parents kept this doll. Since I can’t recall playing with it, it doesn’t have much meaning to me. Unless the meaning is in the fact that my parents kept it—it must have had meaning for one of them, probably my mother. Perhaps the doll brought back memories to her of her first Christmas as a mother, of a time in her life she treasured.
When has a photograph solved a mystery for you?