Special Toys, Special Memories

I’m not sure now whether I got her for Christmas. She may have been a birthday gift. The sentiment is the same. Certain special toys stand out from my childhood.
One of the first dolls I received came from a close family friend who lived near us. Many other dolls have come and gone in my life, but Freeman’s doll (I named her Sally) lies on the shelf in our hall closet still wearing her original dress, her hair a little worse for the wear. I will always cherish her, in part for her special qualities, but most of all because she was a gift from Uncle Freeman.
Freeman Elliott, who wasn’t related to us at all, was the most intriguing neighbor I remember from my childhood. A proud World War I veteran, he was a rather reclusive eccentric in his country home. Its interior was decked with snake skins and hornets’ nests that should pique the interest of most little boys and girls. To enter his house was an adventure in sights and smells.
Freeman’s rough, gnarly, withered hands intrigued me, with fingernails kept considerably longer (and dirtier) than almost any other adult who had held me on their lap. His finger tips reeked with the stale residue of the unfiltered Camels he smoked. Yet I didn’t mind those hands; in fact, I felt privileged when they lifted me up and set me on his lap. I could tell he didn’t have many little girls in his life, and I sensed that Freeman felt just as special as I did when we spent a little time together. It seemed he didn’t always know what to say to me so I hope I helped him out by saying the right things to him. My family thought he was special, and I could tell he was one of a kind.
My doll acquired accessories. Very likely, my parents bought me the white wicker doll carriage to wheel Sally around in. My other grandma, Dad’s mother, made a beautiful set of bedding for the carriage, complete with striped ticking mattress and pillows (Grandma even embroidered the cases with hen tracks). A doll-sized, hand-knotted comforter and hand-crocheted afghan came from another neighbor, Della Wilson, who also had few little girls in her life.
My grandma, my mom’s mother, lived with us when I was little. Freeman was about her age. Sometimes I liked to think of them as a couple as they sat across a card table from each other, bidding over hands of a 500 card game. Though Grandma was a woman with a wonderful sense of humor, she normally spoke in a calm, even tone.
It amazed me how Freeman could stir my fun-loving grandmother into rousing, almost angry, banter. Freeman, a dyed-in-his-Army-wool Democrat, and Grandma, a staunch Republican, came to terms with a clash. It was fascinating to me how they could half smile at each other and yet hurl harsh, sometimes shouting, insults at each other, boasting the names of important people they, no doubt, admired — maybe people I should find out about. I listened to these earliest lessons in politics, perhaps the most definitive I ve had.
Thanks to Della and Freeman, Sally transcended from childhood toy to invaluable keepsake.
Have a very merry holiday!

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