This morning I drove to Tuttle, Oklahoma. My agenda: visit with my parents, say hello to my aunt and uncle, give my grandmother a hug and drive back home.
There is an ongoing ritual between my parents and I. Most every time I go home, I bring something back that technically belonged to me when I was a child, and is definitely something my parents don’t have the heart to throw away. I’m 46 years old and the process continues to this day. Bits and pieces, here and there, trip by trip. Books, school uniforms, the box with my trophies and medals…get the picture?
Today my treasure pile for the return trip consisted of a circa mid-70s mod flower print sleeping bag, a pair of overalls my mother found at a garage sale (just for the heck of it, these were not from my childhood) and a red, white and blue print pressed cardboard suitcase. I assumed it was empty.
On the top of the suitcase written in my best childhood cursive penmanship was a blue ink message: “I like Jeff H. and Mark W.” Evidently, at that point in my life (which I’m pegging around the sixth grade), I had a hard time deciding which boy to like best so I just “liked” them both. Apology shout-outs to Jeff Holsey or Mark Whittington if they ever read this post. Also included in this message was a colored-in arrow and a star beside their names. I suppose that was my way of emphasizing that I definitely meant THEM and they needed to be punctuated with a star. (In my mind right now I’m hearing Mary Catherine Gallagher say, “Soopa-staaaahhh!”)
Later today I called my parent’s home by accident. I spoke with my mother for a few minutes and before I hung up she said, “Kelly – if you decide to throw away those Barbie dolls, I want the hand-knitted doll clothes back, okay?”
I’m sorry…what? Did she say “BARBIES!?” Suddenly the suitcase became important. No longer was it a cute little reminder of my childhood. It was holding my BARBIES!
We were already on our way out the door to run errands. I conducted an interview, took a shower, watched a Roller Derby bout, ate dinner with my eldest and her boyfriend and came home. I walked in the door and immediately opened the suitcase.
As I lifted the lid it was like one of those movies where you open the treasure chest only to find another treasure chest inside made of better materials…wood on the outside, gold inside, right? INSIDE the suitcase was my plastic coated Barbie doll carrier. And inside THAT was Ken, Barbie, Skipper, and some little doll I never named. She was in far better shape than the other three.
Here’s my chain of memories as they came to me next: I had a groovy Barbie van they rode around in. I made them a campsite with pebbles and teeny bits of twigs. I changed their clothes a hundred times. I warded off boys in the 4th through 6th grade who tried to undress my Barbie’s clothes because that’s just what boys do at that age. I cleaned the smudges off their faces. I combed Barbie and Skipper’s hair into ponytails, pigtails, doggie-ears and up-dos. But some of the most fun times I enjoyed playing with them was when my brother and I set up all his little plastic green army men to protect my Barbies from our collection of plastic jungle animal “enemies.”
In our living room we had green shag carpet and an antique green chaise lounge my parents had re-upholstered with green velveteen-type fabric. That combination was our pretend grass and mountain landscape. Perfect, right? The army men who crawled on their belly would be balanced precariously on the rounded arms of the chairs so that they could jump down on top of a tiger if it threatened the Barbie camp too much.
I loved those army men. My mother sucked one up just about every time she ran the vacuum cleaner. They were pretty well hidden in the shag carpet “grass” after we played with them for a while.
Back to reality and fading away from my memories, I looked at my watch. “Late,” I thought. I yawned and sifted through the rest of the Barbie outfits, hung the pastel green purse on Barbie’s hand and turned out the light.
I need to call my brother. It’s just not going to be the same playing with these Barbies if he doesn’t bring over his bucket of army men. I wonder if the missile launcher is still chewed off?
If he DOES find the tub and we DO play again, I’m denying, denying, denying that I chewed off the missile launcher. After all, they can’t make me talk in pretend army camp. And if they try, I’ll just drive my Barbie van home!