“How will we know it’s us without our past?”*

This morning I packed Popje in the car and took her for a ride. It wasn’t quite the same as putting a child in a car seat, but I did put her in her archival quality acid-free box and carefully put her on the passenger seat in such a way that I knew she wouldn’t fall on the floor.

It was a gorgeous drive with the northern New England foliage at near peak. I have lived my whole life with these fall colors, but this year they are better than ever. Somehow they are striking me as more vibrant than usual. The reds along I-89 were particularly intense and there were hillsides that seemed to include every shade of yellow, orange and red perceptible to the human eye.

We drove for about an hour to a small New Hampshire town. This is one of those towns where you miss it if you blink. Ah, you missed it! That was it. What? Where? That building over there was the post-office-town-hall-historical-society-hardware-store-gas-station-lawyer/doctor’s-office.

Popje and I arrived at our destination, and I carefully took her out of the car and crossed the lawn to a modest house. Deborah is a textile conservator. I showed the doll to her, and we discussed what could be done to clean her up and make sure Popje doesn’t deteriorate any further.

photo(86) Deborah lay her down on the sheet-covered table, and I saw a patient on a sterile gurney. She looked her over, pointed out some areas she was particularly worried about, and asked me some questions. We agreed on a time frame for the project and an approximate cost.

When it was time for me to leave, I realized I was delaying. Was I afraid something would happen to Popje? That’s ridiculous. The conservator has over 30 years experience. She has done work for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Was I feeling a maternal instinct? This wasn’t my child I was leaving in the operating room while I paced the hospital hallway. Or was I feeling my mother’s need to watch the doll and protect the family’s last few dollars? Maybe I was honoring my grandfather’s directive to never let the doll be taken away.

This is the first time since July 1944 that the doll has not been in the possession of our family. I realized that I was breaking a 70-year streak as I left the building and headed back to my car. Somehow the colors on the way home were a bit more subdued.

*John Steinbeck-Grapes of Wrath

4 thoughts on ““How will we know it’s us without our past?”*

  1. Lori says:

    Heidi, I can totally understand your reticence in leaving the doll even though the woman was obviously a top notch professional. Popje has such meaning! I remember you telling me (26 years ago) about the doll and how your grandfather told your mom to never let go of it. It was one of the first stories I ever heard when I visited your family. I think you will all feel better when she is back home in your care. Your writing, telling the important story through the voices of the doll and your family, is both a tribute and excellent way to convey the daily struggles and the horror of those years. I’m glad you had the skill, emotional energy, time and devotion to share your family’s story. Thank you!

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