Memories of our childhood companions fade into the background until something triggers a recollection. The recent heavy rains brought to mind our dear Maggie, a faithful and much loved playmate for my sister and me.
Maggie wasn’t just a playmate. She joined our family very early on a cold New Year’s morning. There was great excitement surrounding her arrival. Some of the family had anticipated she was coming but Suzanne and I were totally unaware of such a momentous change in our lives. At first I wasn’t sure how to welcome her since she was deaf and dumb. But Suzanne and I quickly learned how to communicate with her. Smiles, thumbs up or down, a shake of the head, and many dramatic gesticulations kept us on the same page most of the time. Any arguing was between Suzanne and me over what Maggie might be trying to tell us.
Maggie was beautiful with soft dark brown hair often braided into pigtails. She had rounded limbs, nearly always a sweet expression on her round little face as if she wanted more than anything to please us. She was only a little smaller than Suzanne. We mothered her a lot and she let us. She slept between us and never poked her elbows into us or kicked us, though we weren’t always that kind to her, I’m afraid.
One of us would carry Maggie when we took her to the woods. We didn’t want her to be lost or afraid. But she never seemed to fear anything even when we made her climb trees with us. I would go up first, then Maggie, and finally Suzanne, ready to catch her if she fell. Sometimes I’d be pulling her by one arm while Suzanne steadied her feet on a sturdy limb. Since she was dumb she couldn’t complain but we tried to be mindful of her expressions and often talked for her.
“Oh, that was too hard a climb, wasn’t it, Maggie?” one of us might say.
“No, it was all right, let’s go higher” the other would reply for Maggie.
Maggie was not blood kin but she became a full member of our family. Even with her disabilities she sometimes was the life of our playful dramas. And when we went in to supper Suzanne and I vied for having Maggie at our side. Usually brothers and sisters adjusted their seating so we could have Maggie between us. I couldn’t be sure Maggie cared where she sat. She seemed to love everybody. She was always neat, too, never spilling any food down her front. Suzanne and I argued sometimes about what food Maggie liked the best. Mamma would finally stop us and say we should let Maggie show us what she liked. With the use of sign language it really wasn’t hard to realize she liked best Mamma’s hot stovetop biscuit bread cooked on an iron griddle and loaded with butter.
There was a Maggie song circulating at that time. It became a favorite of ours because, even though it was about someone courting a Maggie, we thought it was quite appropriate for our playmate and big family. Here’s how it went: “There was her father, her mother, her sister and her brother–oh, I’ll never see Maggie alone.” Suzanne and I sang it at top volume as if Maggie might be able to hear us and enjoy the humor.
Though she couldn’t understand much of what we were studying, Maggie sat with us in our home school sessions. Maybe we were even guilty at times of blaming poor Maggie when we didn’t answer questions correctly. Maggie did something funny and made us forget. Or Maggie needed special help just then so we didn’t finish our assignment.
One day the three of us were playing in the backyard. We constructed a truly fantastic playhouse using tree branches, firewood, and cardboard boxes arranged over and around a huddle of great gray rocks. Maggie didn’t help a whole lot. But when we “moved in” our new house she was happy. She was so cute sitting with her back to a rock holding a mouthwash lid teacup in her lap. We all had “tea and crumpets” before Daddy called us to recite our daily spelling words. Maggie liked the house so much she didn’t want to leave so we left her there still enjoying her tea.
A sudden shower came up during our spelling lesson. Would our nice playhouse stay dry for Maggie? As soon as we could, we rushed out to see about her.
Maggie was soaking wet. No matter how hard we tried in the days afterward we couldn’t dry poor Maggie. Mamma put her in a chair near the stove and we all turned her this way and that. Then we set her in a sunny spot outdoors for hours on end but she remained soggy and heavy. You see, Maggie was a wonderful life-size rag doll our older sisters made for us. Her stuffing, consisting mostly of rags, got so wet that it soured before she ever could dry.
We were disconsolate over the loss of Maggie who didn’t get pneumonia, or bronchitis, or the flu. She just “died” from over soaking. We had sung so lustily about Maggie’s never being alone. But that day we did leave her alone.
The frequent rains recently triggered that recollection and reminded me of the diligence and love of those sisters who made our amazing doll. I’m also filled with gratitude for Mamma who played along with us in our imaginative conversations with Maggie and for her valiant attempts to dry our playmate. I’m thankful for brothers who used great self control and didn’t laugh (much, anyway) when Maggie “melted.”
Our playmates, even a rag doll, play a role in who we become.