December 11, 2011

What is your earliest memory?

One of the people I held "in my pocket" throughout my early life was my Godmother. Like my Parents, she and her husband had arrived in the United States as Displaced Persons. Like my Mom, she was a physician.

My Godmother treated me like I was something special. She stayed close to me over time. In the early 1970s, she took me to see Rudolph Nureyev when he danced in Chicago. I wanted to meet him in person, and my Godmother complied. She stood with me outside the stage door after the ballet, until Nureyev walked out in his fatigue coat and beret. She treated my paternal Grandmother, Tatjana, and me to a rousing performance by the Russian Balalaika Orchestra. There were many special events to which she took me until I left for college. Later, when we lived in different cities, she visited me once a year, usually around the time of my birthday. When I went back to school later in life, she attended my graduation. When she died, she left me her favorite piece of glass.

My Godmother gave me a stuffed dog that became my preferred toy. I slept with it, ate with it at my side, and walked around the house with it. The dog was unusual because it only vaguely resembled the poodle breed. Its coat was made of some curly material that closely imitated real dog fur. To me, the stuffed dog looked like our neighbors' parti-colored poodle, Mikey.

A few years later, my Dad and I returned one morning from our weekly, Sunday trip to Brookfield Zoo. My Mom greeted us at the door and announced that the stuffed dog was gone. She had tried to wash it in the Maytag; the stuffed dog had disintegrated in the suds. I looked into the washing machine, and I saw tufts of snagged stuffed dog hair lining the washer's basin.

Mom tried to compensate for the loss by buying me an even more beautiful, stuffed dog, but there was no replacement for this dog.

Suburban Chicago, May 1961. This is one of the earliest moments I remember. My Godmother gives me the stuffed dog. She likely was visiting us to celebrate Mother's Day.

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