Callie was an ugly doll. No doubt about it. She sat slanted on my window ledge, tucked in the corner, gazing up at the ceiling. She was a painfully stitched memory of my Grandma’s difficult childhood. She was birthed from a mother’s hate and a child’s hope.
It was no secret that Grandma’s mother, Nana as we called her, had had no warmth for her. Grandma had told me broken stories of Nana before she passed away. Sometimes, she would breath out choked memories while I sat between her knees, having my hair braided, or when I stood by her side in the kitchen, watching her stir her stew.
Grandma’s memories had drawn a picture of Nana in my mind. Her dark eyes were frozen lakes and her words were full of frostbite, all reserved for the child who looked like her the most. A child with dark skin, a full nose and tight coils. A child Nana’s mother had warned her not to have and her parents before her. She had birthed a child who had made her fears and her insecurities a reality. How could she teach her child to navigate a world she’d barely learned to navigate herself? The burden was too much, the focus had to be on the other children who didn’t look like her, who had a better chance of success in life. Even though Nana made her disappointment clear, Grandma had braved her harsh words and threats in hopes of receiving something from her. A handmade doll.
When Grandma had gone to play in front of her house with her next-door neighbour Clarissa, Clarissa had brought out a smiling doll. She’d proudly told Grandma that her Mum had made it for her. That had been it for Grandma. Clarissa’s Mum had given her a slice of the sun and Grandma wanted Nana to do the same for her. Not just a doll she could play with, not just something that could be hers, but something she could say was from her mother.
Nana’s will finally cracked under the pressure of Grandma’s persistence and she told her she’d make her a doll that looked just like her. Grandma had waited anxiously for the doll, watching every evening to see if Nana picked up her needle box and thread. She couldn’t wait until she could twirl her doll in the grass with Clarissa’s, both of them showing what their mothers had made them. When Nana finished the doll, Grandma’s stepfather had laid eyes on it and laughed. Grandma’s siblings had laughed too, even Nana had stifled a laugh. Grandma’s stepfather had said it was a ‘Calamity’ but Grandma, masking every emotion, had called her ‘Callie’.
When Callie had first been given to me, I’d asked Mum if Nana had been drunk while stitching her, and her eyes had flashed with the same cold chill as Nana’s. I could tell that Callie had been stitched in haste. The wiry, sparse strands of hair told me that Nana had not handled Grandma’s hair in love. The lopsided eyes, one resting a little too high on the forehead and one a little too low on the cheek, told me that she couldn’t see the beauty of Grandma’s almond-shaped eyes which held the midnight. The dull, brown, bubbly cloth, which felt rough to the touch, told me that Nana had never seen the sun rays caught in the glow of Grandma’s smooth, mahogany skin. Stay out of the sun was what Nana had told Grandma. Stay out of the sun was what my Mum told me.
The half-stitched mouth told me that talk and laughter didn’t flow much between them. They were locked lips rather than a smile, holding back wells of tears and unsaid words. Those lumpy arms and legs told me that Nana didn’t know what it was to hold Grandma in her arms. To feel the warmth of reciprocated love. The brown cloth dress tied around her body told me that Nana could not see Grandma deserving or having the finer things in life.
Callie was a mirror of what Nana felt about Grandma, of what she felt about herself. Nana had passed the doll to Grandma, Grandma had passed the doll to Mum, and now Mum had passed the doll to me. I asked my Mum why we kept her and she shrugged, ‘It belonged to Grandma and it reminds me of her. It kind of looks like you too.’ She laughed jokingly.
I looked at Callie. A distorted form of Grandma’s beauty and a solid form of her pain. Each part conceived from thoughts of anger, frustration and indifference. Did I really look like her? Did my Mum see me the same way that Nana saw Grandma? Every hurtful word and thought had passed from Nana in the form of Callie or Calamity. I asked Mum if she would make me a doll but she’d said, ‘I don’t have time’ and ‘What’s wrong with Callie?’
If there was one thing I knew about Callie, it was that I didn’t want to pass her to my daughter. I didn’t want her to inherit past pains. I didn’t want to carry a generation of brokenness and lay it on her tiny lap. I wanted to break the cycle of a broken inheritance. If my daughter asked me to make her a doll, I would crown it with a thick, black cloud of hair wrapped up with a colourful head wrap. I would give her warm brown, sun-kissed skin and shiny eyes which captured the galaxy. She wouldn’t be stuffed with anger, but filled with love, and the curve of her smile would reflect the happiness on my daughter’s lips. Her dress would flow out, printed with the colours of a bright future. Every time she looked at her doll, she would know she was a gift in my eyes. And this gift of love and life, she could pass onto her daughter, and she could pass to hers. No longer would the name, Callie, sit on the lips of anyone. I would crown the doll with the name Grace, the name of my Grandma.