Rag Dolls and Riches: The Things that Endure

Day 6 of my 30-day writing challenge


This morning, my youngest graduated kindergarten. She was first in line as all the kids walked into the auditorium, flanked by their teachers. As soon as she heard the first note of “Pomp and Circumstance,” she charged down the aisle, a wide smile on her face. The boy behind her was more hesitant, so she’d bounced down half the length of the auditorium before anyone else followed behind her. She loved every minute of the spotlight.

She’s moved through all of her five years so far just like this. She was a flirtatious baby and toddler, always looking around for the next person to pull into her orbit. She can make friends with a lump of coal. She walked early. She waits for no man, woman, or small fry, and heaven help the person or object that thwarts her will. She’s a force of nature, bright and warm as the sun: loving, passionate, and fiery when crossed.

As her godmother and I sipped coffee this morning while waiting for the ceremony to begin, we talked about how our little graduate takes after her namesake, her great-godmother, or Vovo (which means “Grandma” in Portuguese).

Last week, my daughter brought me an old, well-loved rag doll in need of serious coiffure repair. She had decided its messy nest of yarn hair needed some trimming, and found her haphazard snips didn’t yield quite the results that she wanted.


Vovo originally made this doll for my son. She also made the soccer uniform it once wore. Now, its shorts are missing, as are its socks and shoes. It is covered in stains whose origin I do not wish to know. The impromptu haircut did not help its bedraggled appearance.

My older daughter also has a doll from Vovo. But my youngest was born after Vovo’s doll-making days were over, so she has adopted the dolls of her siblings.

Vovo made hundreds of these rag dolls throughout her adult life – sewing the muslin body and clothes, stitching in yarn hair, and using cloth markers to give them eyes, noses, and smiles. She gave her dolls to new babies, to young children, to anyone she thought could use a happy, floppy face brightening up their space or their day.

Since around the time my youngest was in the womb, Vovo hasn’t made any dolls. She has a form of dementia that doesn’t allow for that kind of work, or for her to live outside of a nursing home. But her sweet and giving nature has remained. She still recognizes family members and enjoys their company. She’s a favorite at her home, helping other residents and cheering them up when they’re sad. She sings hymns and prays for her companions.

Once, she slipped out an unlatched gate and wandered out of the nursing home. Several hours later, after a frantic search, she was found, untroubled and completely at home, in a church.

Before the onset of her condition, Vovo prayed for my family many times, in an earnest stream of Portuguese, always wearing a smile that was the very definition of “beatific.” We didn’t understand a word, but we recognized in her prayers, and in her, something holy and blessed. That’s why, when our youngest daughter was born, not long after Vovo’s symptoms had begun to be recognized and diagnosed, we decided to give her Vovo’s name. It seemed fitting, and also holy, that our baby was coming into the world at the same time that Vovo was also coming to inhabit it in a new way.

So far, my daughter has not demonstrated the fundamental patience of her Vovo – we’re still working on that! – but what they do have in common is an enthusiasm for living that draws people to them like planets around a star. Both love to give and receive gifts, no matter how small. My girl will become radiant with excitement if someone gives her a pretty stone or a 25 cent toy. She gives complete strangers her artwork; tiny, weedy flowers picked from the cracks in the sidewalk; stuffed animals; or anything she has on hand. The focus of her attention, the intensity of her desire to draw people in, whether old friends or complete strangers, is a gift she bestows on almost everyone she meets.


I thought about Vovo’s legacy as I worked on the doll she made, re-attaching yarn hair and mending a cut in the fabric from my daughter’s over-enthusiastic scissor use. In spite of her neurological deterioration, she retains an unshakable core of faith, kindness, and generosity of spirit that continues to illuminate everyone around her.

Vovo continues to reflect what the Apostle Paul tells us about the limitations of our human existence, and the things that endure in spite of our frailties. I can’t think of a better person for my daughter to have as a namesake.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:12-13). 






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