A gift from my childhood.
Almost forty years ago my parents brought me a collection of dolls from each of the countries they had visited while on a
honeymoon trip to Europe that had been postponed by the births of four children and as many moves across this continent.
My brothers and I were being guarded in their month long absence by Hilda, the grandmother.
Maker of open faced peanut butter sandwiches with the barest number of raisins required to make a smiley face.
It is my adult memory that those weeks spent with her were akin to survival camp.
I am sure she did her central Ohio best to bring us to heel and keep us from harm in our California backyard,
(with a towering swingset and vast expanse of a sandpit which was surrounded by a six foot wall of daisies),
while our parents were gallivanting around the ancient ruins of Egypt and the tombs of the Kremlin.
But her rules were strict and our brood challenged their righteousness at every turn.
In the stillness of my creek side studio, almost forty years later, the ghosts of that early childhood
crane their closth and bisque necks to catch the whispers of the distant Santa Ana winds.
The Russian Nurse Doll, who still sports her elastic banded watch and tray, now minus the plastic glass and beaker, and the anklet
bracelets of glitter gold, has bent her sharp and pointy head to accomodate the height restrictions of the doll closet she now calls home.
The thin and severe lines of her brow and wrist echo the KGB like tactics of the grandmother who fleshed out every one of our
subversive plots in the parental absence.
My mother recently retold the story of their visit, while on that trek, to Lenin’s tomb.
“Ah yes – Red Square is a HUGE area (at least most of it then was paved with cobblestones or brick) several large city blocks surrounded
by 18th and 19th century buildings with several basilicas domes from the Kremlin along the immediate skyline. The dark brick Kremlin
Wall lines one side like a fortress, and there are niches along it holding the remains of prominent communists. The distance of several
football fields from one gate nearest St. Basil’s to Stalin and Lenin’s tomb had a number of orderly lines of mostly Russians in drab colors
and little girls with huge bows holding back braids. The lines wound around blocks of stone dirty yellow ochre buildings.
Thousands of people but very orderly.
We walked from the Kremlin through the gates near St. Basils with our young, small attractive guide (I think her name was Luda or
Luna). She was on a schedule (we had miles of subways to explore still). Our driver was waiting. So she motioned for us to follow and she
started walking across the cobblestones to the tomb. Very quickly a number of army types whistled and stood in front of her. I was ready
to crawl any direction but ahead. She didn’t reach their shoulders but stood her ground and they argued in that lovely tongue of which I
knew just a few phrases. Recognized a lot of ‘nyetsl’. No idea what she said but before long she pulled us with her
and we marched the long stretch to the tomb.
She seemed to dismiss it and I never felt at ease until we flew across the border toward Vienna.
The tomb was a ghostly lighted green blue. It was a dark small building inside and out and we had to walk down some steps
then around 2 glassed covered biers supporting Stalin and Lenin. For Lenin it had been 30 or so year rest (don’t know when he died) –
and for Stalin it must have been at least 10. This was June 1961.
A day or so later, when we arrived in Vienna, we read that Stalin’s body had been removed during the night of the day we were there.
That added extra drama into the scene.”
This cratchety ornery doll twisted in her closet is part shifty grandmother and part communist tour guide with attitude, and still has the
power, when I catch a glimpse of her on the shelf in the moonlight,
to make me inhale a thermometer.