My mom has a friend named “Mirek,” but the name is Polish, not English, so it’s pronounced more like, “Mee-dehk.”
When I was a little girl, I was afraid of Mirek. You see, Polish is a soft and endearing language; but the Polish accent, attempting English, is forceful and rough. Plus, he had a mustache. And he was an adult. Most kids have some kind of fear of strange adults, right? My mom told me he was coming over one time and I was excited, but still scared, so I hid in my room. Then my mom was like, “Come out, Nell, Mirek wants to talk to you.”
And he had brought me A DOLL from POLAND.
Back to today: my neighbor teases my sister and I when we wear all of the colors. And we wear all of the colors frequently, unabashedly, and my neighbor will say, “It’s OK, you’re Polish, you can wear as many colors as you’d like.”
So, we do.
Last winter I was road-tripping with my sister and a few other ladies and one of them said to Christine, “You’re brave for wearing things that don’t match.”
And Christine was like, “What are you talking about? These things match.”
And she was like, “No they don’t.”
Then Christine said, “It’s animal print on animal print…what more do you want?”
Yes. Cyan leopard print and zebra print happened. What more do you want?
Back to yesteryear: The doll was full of colors, just like Poland is wont to promote. The skirt in crayola-bright green and orange…with sequins! And an underskirt of deep, rich blood reds and black! She had little black boots, red kick-shorts, embroidery across her sleeves and a floral headdress, too! WHAT. So beautiful, especially to little-me. I remember touching her with a singular finger–what a special doll!
I played with her sometimes, but mostly just kept her on a shelf in my room, to look at every day. Her brightly colored skirt, her little pleather boots.
Mirek met a woman and married her…and had two sharp little children. He asked my oldest brother to be the godfather to the little girl and we all trooped a few states away for friendship and food and claiming-of-a-baby-for-God. (Aw yiss).
Mirek had a set of friends who were also present at the wedding, also speaking English as a second choice to Polish. The mom of that family asked if we were related to Mirek. I told her that we weren’t.
She pointed out that my brother was godfather, “So, now you are [family],” she said, factually.
I guess so.
My brother grew some, and so did his goddaughter, and my brother met a woman and proposed to her and they, the happy couple, asked his goddaughter to come out to be their flower girl. So, then the goddaughter’s family trooped a few states up to ours and we shared stories and she threw flower petals like a champ and: hooray for more family, more sacramental grace, more sacred memories.
I came across the doll in the never-ending project of flood-damage basement-revival. Probably she was saved in the first round of keep-the-things-dry! But, it looks like next round of that game which is pile-the-saved-things-in-piles was rough and tumble and…her arm broke off. Completely off.
I was the one who discovered the broken arm.
We’ve thrown away many things these past few weeks, and it has been liberating, mostly. We can do with much, much less stuff than what we had/ have. And, I haven’t played with the doll in, what, fifteen/ twenty years? I’m Camino-strong, you guys, good at purging, experienced at relentless tossing. But, for some reason, I couldn’t put her in the garbage, even with the missing arm. She’s just a doll. But, she’s more than a doll, too, she’s the memories of meeting Mirek and playing with Christine on the floor and attempting to connect to a heritage just out of reach. I look at her and I remember when I first met Mirek’s little son and he translated Polish to English to Polish to English, quickly, second-nature; when Mirek’s daughter saw my sister-in-law’s mother in her wedding finery and gasped, “You look like Mother Earth!” All of those memories of childhood which are, somehow, oddly, a part of my adult life, too.
I’m wearing too many colors today, even though I tried not to. I tried to just wear brown and navy, safe and fall and professional. But, my friend, Lauren, once gifted me with one of my favorite scarves–and it is full of flowers in red and blue and yellow and lime green–and I think a deep part of me needs color, so I wrapped my hair in it, wore it to work and to mass. Floral headscarf…just like the one on the doll.
I decided, over lunch, what I’ll do with the doll. I’ll go home and take off all the articles of clothing and put them in a garment bag and wash them on a gentle setting in the washing machine (for many things smell like “basement” these days, despite our best efforts). If they survive that, I’ll give them to my youngest cousin, the one who took Polish dance lessons knows how to make pierogi. Maybe we can find a doll they’ll fit and she can create her own memories, memories woven with others, woven tight and strong and warm, just like the bright, bright weave of the doll’s woolen apron.