I'm lying on the floor of our rec-room, watching cartoons. I'm about eight years old and this is pretty much all I do on a Saturday morning.
I hear the front door slam, a familiar sound, and glance up only when I realize that my father is coming down the stairs of our split-level home. He peeks over the railing at me, and says, "Come on..."
He is sweaty, and covered with grass clippings. His black curls have already begun the steady march of recession across his head, and yet the stubborn hangers-on find a way to stick out everywhere. He is blind in one eye because of a childhood accident involving a bb gun, but somehow when he smiles, both eyes seem to twinkle mischievously.
My eyes are wide as I follow him outside to his truck and ask where we are going. I like riding in his work truck. The seat goes all the way across, and it smells like him. He twinkles at me again, and we drive no more than a block when he stops in front of a house. There's a yard sale.
"I saw something here I think you'd like. See if you can find it.”
He says this casually, and then walks off to inspect the wares, leaving me to explore.
I wander across the yard, hoping I can spot whatever it is he found for me. My hand tries to gently brush across various baubles on the tables, but I'm clumsy and knock some of them over. I pick things up, examine them, set them back down. My eye falls to a sheet spread out across the lawn, covered with toys; incomplete board games, action figures with one arm or leg missing, stacks of children's books covered with crayon markings...and then a box.
I kneel in front of it, and begin picking up stuffed animals, one by one. It’s the same box of stuffed animals you find in every yard sale in every suburban neighborhood in America, with one exception - I lift a rag doll from the very bottom. She is obviously hand-sewn, an embroidered face forever glancing to one side with a mouth forming a permanent surprised "O". She wears denim overalls with matching denim shoes and a shirt that looks like it could be worn by “Mr. Furley” from Three’s Company. The top of her head has a few strands of orange yarn flopping over one eye. She is skinny and strange looking.
I love her immediately.
I stand up, clutching my prize, and look around for my father, wondering if I've found the right thing.
I see him talking to a man, and as I wait impatiently to ask him, he barely glances at me, resting a calloused hand on my head and continuing to talk. He suddenly jerks me roughly against his big
belly and proudly proclaims, "This is my baby!" He hands the man a dollar or two, and a few more words are exchanged before we head back to the truck.
I open the passenger side door, and see in the seat of the truck a doll's bed that wasn't there before. I had chosen correctly. He turns to me and gives me an exaggerated wink, and then without a word exchanged between us, we drive home.
I name her Amanda, and she becomes my always-present friend from that day forward. I carry her with me everywhere, and at night, I sleep with her cradled in the crook of my neck. My older sisters ask me why I play with her so often, pointing out all the beautiful dolls I own. I shrug and say, "Because I love her."
"Yes, but why do you love her?" they ask.
The answer is so simple.
"Because she's my favorite."
I count her strands of yarn - eighteen, and hug her tightly before disappearing again into my little world.
I'm in my thirties now, and Amanda has only ten strands of yarn left. She sits on a shelf in my living room, and still wears the same denim overalls, but is now missing her shoes and “Mr. Furley” shirt. I will sometimes place a little stuffed animal on her lap, hoping she isn't lonesome for the little girl I once was. She has been loved nearly to death. Her arms are sewn in place with very child-like threads (I must note that my sewing skills are not much improved), and her head has all but fallen off.
Sometimes, when it’s very late, and I can't sleep, I reach up to that top shelf and carefully pull Amanda down. I hold her head in place, pull her against my chest, and tuck her into the crook of my neck. In these moments, I'm eight years old again, my father is alive, and he loves me. And though it sometimes seems that he isn't around very much, he knows me well enough to know the exact thing I will want at the yard sale.