When I was 6 years old, you sewed something for me. You did not know me or my family or what would land me in the hospital (tonsils), but still, you sewed. You sewed a doll by hand, a doll about 7 inches long, her head the size of a silver dollar. My doll had yellow yarn hair and a full-skirted kelly green and white checkered dress. She was a post-surgery gift, given to me by a nurse.
In the 1970s, you were a hospital gift sewer, a hidden volunteer, my doll’s mother. You created this doll with simple peach hands and bits of lace on her collar and sleeves. You made her bright green satin legs. And I never said, “Thank you,” because I never knew who you were.
Today, 36 years later, I think about you. Looking at the two dolls my own daughters made in school I am telescoped back in time. At once, I am in my childhood bedroom, sitting on that pink gingham bedspread back in Vestal, N.Y., playing with the doll you crafted.
I adored my doll. She was soft. Her embroidered eyes were gentle, and I would rub her satiny legs on my cheeks. I had many toys in 1976, but in my adult memory, this doll – our doll – still pirouettes. Someone – you – had made her just for me.
Sitting by the heater, socks off, 6-year-old me would imagine my dolly’s rainbow friends, other dolls you must have sewn. In my imagination, these dolls – red and blue, yellow and purple – each had perfect satiny legs and woolen thread faces, too. I loved having a present from a mysterious generous person, a talented stranger soul. I wondered who you were. I still do.
Twenty-six years after you made the green dress doll, you made me another present. It may not have been you exactly; it may have been a friend from your sisterhood of secret gift-givers, a knitter. When our son was born, the nurses in Batavia warmed his head with a hand-knit, blue and white striped hat. This tiny hat was topped with a white pom pom, and you – or someone from your society of givers – made that too, for a baby you would never hold or know. That baby is 11 now, and he has never thanked you. He does not and will never know you. But Henry is a good boy, and wearing your handmade hat helped him become so.
There are children from today and of yesteryear who have worn and played with presents made by you and your thoughtful colleagues. Few, if any, of us have ever thanked any of you. But you have silently helped us grow. Your hats, blankets, teddy bears and carefully stitched dolls are among the warmest objects in our memories. And so today, for all of us, I thank all of you … the unseen makers.
My small doll is gone. How I wish that I could rub her green legs against my middle-aged cheek right now, but my doll has taken the bittersweet path of all velveteen rabbits. And somehow, like that immortal bunny, she too lives on. For whenever I let someone ahead of me in traffic, each time I handcraft a gift for someone or listen fully to a child, you are there. No one can see the green doll in my heart reminding me to be kind, but she is there. She is you.
Today I thank you for sewing a doll for a sick girl you would never know. I am that girl, and it mattered.