It was just an old piece of aluminum, but the strainer was sentimental to me. When my grandfather had passed away, the one with sparkling eyes and a magical smile, some of his kitchen accessories became my treasures. A short time later, I had married my husband and part of my dad’s father has been with us for many years. It was time to replace his strainer for some fancy, brightly-colored red IKEA decor. I realized this was the last of my grandpa’s life, long before me, except for his jewelry box with the dancing ballerina. Laughing, I reminisced about how the refrigerator couldn’t be moved because he had crafted with his strong, bare hands the“sweetest-looking beach cottage” around the trusty appliance.
Have you ever had one of those defining moments when you say, “Oh, my, I just figured out a piece of this incredibly sad puzzle?” And all because of getting sappy over grandpa’s strainer. Running into the living room, I gently lifted my father’s doll off the top shelf of our book shelf and cradled her in my arms.
Daddy had brought the old doll with him when he married my adoptive mother. To a young girl, it was as if this new “father” appeared out of nowhere holding a suitcase in one hand with a mysterious doll tucked under his other arm.
After he passed away I wanted the doll as a keepsake. I am surprised my mother didn’t toss this piece of him out with every other reminder of the past. But, for some reason she never dared get rid of it. While growing up, mom would laugh and call the doll kind of homely with a name that fit perfectly—Poor Pitiful Pearl, but oddly she still appeared to hold some kind of reverence for my father’s childlike memory.
Poor Pitiful Pearl wore a homemade crocheted dress that looked like the beautiful intricate dollies that our grandmas placed under their lamps. Continuing to honor the long-standing wish, I carefully placed his look-but-don’t touch doll on the top shelf of my bookcase.
I was always intrigued by his silence for its sentimental value. What grown man holds close a doll on his life journey?
My dear neighbor, who is my father’s daughter’s age, shared with me that Poor Pitful Pearl was a very popular doll when they were growing up.
After talking it over with dad’s granddaughter, we both know that it indeed was her mother’s doll. Not having been raised by her mother for most of her childhood, she has no recollection of this precious doll. However, she said her grandma would share stories about how much my father adored her mother (my father’s other daughter). I made a promise that I would return her mother’s doll for her to cherish when I could put my heart into words.
I don’t believe as a society we talk candidly enough about what secrets and untruths do to our families, especially when it comes to mental illness. I wish my father could have confided in me. Even as a little girl, I know I would have wanted him to never stop loving his other children and grandchildren. I didn’t want to be his “replacement daughter.” Regardless, if mom had wanted it different for purely selfish reasons, the truth would have never changed my feelings for him if he had just stayed true to what’s only right. To me, this special doll signifies our losses in this life-time—my father’s deep love for his other daughter—my niece for needing her mother—for me, my father that meant the world to me.
My friend that lives near where my grandpa is buried has offered to put a rose on his grave for me. I would like her to put three roses for my father’s two daughters and a granddaughter with a little card that says, “Grandpa, I had the power to write a new chapter that includes all of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I know that it’s probably why I only had the chance to meet you once as a child; you didn’t see it mom’s way. We just don’t walk away from our children. The two of us would have made a good team. I will always love you grandpa!”