Maggie Dugan is the author of Maternal Dementia. “It starts the instant you get pregnant,” says Maggie. “Your body needs blood to feed the baby in your belly, and so you get less blood where your body deems you need it least. Very quickly, you lose your mind.” You can read more about parenting, family, life, and the adventures of an ex-pat in Spain at http://maternal-dementia.com
“Wait!” Buddy-roo screamed from the upstairs window of the country house as I walked to the car. “I want to give her another hug goodbye!”
I heard her pound down the stairs before she rushed out the door and took a hold of That Big Doll.
“You’re sure?” I was afraid of the answer. For years I’ve been trying to remove this freaky, nearly life-size doll from our lives. I managed to exile her to the country house, where she was tucked away in a back room, in a corner nearly out of sight beside a wardrobe. But when De-facto cleared out the room to lay a new floor, she ended up in plain sight again, standing by the fireplace in the main room.
When the Fiesta Nazi first encountered That Big Doll, she got that nasty twinkle in her eye that I find especially endearing and suggested in a conspiratorial tone that it might be a humorous series of moments if we were to drag her along on an afternoon at the fiesta in Pamplona. One could imagine instantly the clever (at least to us) stunts we might pull off, with our primary objective, of course, the free drinks we might secure with her in tow. But every time I brought this up, Buddy-roo would hear none of it. She stomped her feet and pounded the table, no, no, no. If I pursued the idea further, there were tears.
This year, as every year, I asked – a throwaway comment with expectation of the usual resistance – and I was surprised by her response.
“Sure,” she said, all cool I-don’t-care-like, “it’s time to let her go.”
I hadn’t asked if she was sure about it, afraid she might change her mind. Which is why, when I blurted it out as she gave That Big Doll an extra goodbye hug, I wished I hadn’t said it. What if she changed her mind now, so close to the getaway?
No need to be concerned. After the embrace, she handed me the doll so I could put it in the trunk. The knees don’t bend so it’s hard to put her in a seat, her legs only spread out in a suggestive V-shape – and we drove off to the promise of her next adventure.
When you carry a nearly life-sized plastic doll around under your arm, you have to be nonchalant about it. I channeled my father, remembering how he once took a three-foot long Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum box with him to meet my brother at the airport. In the ’70s, an advertising campaign featured Wrigley’s “flavor people” walking around with huge boxes of Wrigley’s gum under their arms, signifying its big, long-lasting flavor. My sister’s boyfriend worked as a stock boy at the local five-and-dime store and when the Wrigley’s display was dismantled, gave the box to my sister after extracting her promise to carry it through the school cafeteria during lunch period, which she did without the embarrassment he’d intended. After that, she kept the box on display on top of a chest of drawers in her bedroom.
In those days you could pass through airport security without a ticket to meet an arriving passenger as they got off the plane. My father trooped through the terminal toward the gate with this huge cardboard box under his arm. People turned their heads and stared. A woman – an enthusiastic stranger – came up to him.
“Where did you get that big Wrigley’s Gum box?”
“Shut up lady,” my father said, out of the side of his mouth, “You’re ruining the commercial.”
I carried That Big Doll through three train stations. I acted as if this were the most natural thing in the world but I couldn’t help but notice people’s reactions. They either laughed at me or, in an amusing stance of denial, pretended not to notice. I know my father would have approved: when I boarded my last train, toting a fairly large suitcase in one hand and That Big Doll in the other, a man seated nearby offered to help. He reached for my valise, intending to lift it to the overhead rack. I thrust the giant doll into his arms for him to hold while I heaved the suitcase up myself.
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Of course we dressed her in the fiesta whites. The red faja had to be wrapped three times around her tiny, not-at-all-proportional waist in order to hang properly. A red panuelo tied at the neck put her in full fiesta uniform and it must be said she didn’t look quite as wanton once she was wearing the traditional white and red.
She spent most of the week standing at the window of our apartment, waving out the window. I had to wait to be in the right mood to take her out. Part of the joy of the fiesta is being unencumbered with responsibilities; there’s an agreement among my cuadrilla that there are no obligations, or that if you take on any kind of obligation, the others are not required to participate. It’s one week a year, for me, that I have nothing I absolutely have to do. I can follow the rituals of the fiesta or wander away to something else, on a whim, if I choose. Having a plastic doll to watch out for, even one I intended to leave behind, felt counter-intuitive.
But the day before I left (it was now or never) the spirit moved me and we slipped on her manoletinas and took her out to the street. The fact that she has a strange adult body but is only as tall as a little girl shocked and then amused the people she met. She made friends. She was held, carried, danced around and dipped. She was put into strange poses at café tables and bar stools. She did planks and push-ups in the street. She posed with anyone who asked, and some who didn’t. She applauded a band of mariachis and found herself wearing a sombrero. She was thrown under a bus (while it was stopped at a light) and if only I could have gotten my camera out in time to capture the bus driver in hysterical fits of laughter. She was good fun, in the daytime.
At night something changed. The mood on the street was different. Instead of being the quirky doll-dressed-in-white, her plastic shapeliness took on a different connotation. The pranks and stunts ceased to be clever, and started to feel not-so-funny. She wasn’t received with amusement, but instead with lascivious grins or looks of disdain. Given that there was also a campaign to raise awareness about violence against women at this year’s fiesta, That Big Doll – who on her own is just wrong – felt even more wrong. We took her back to the apartment, and left her at her window perch.
It was my intention to leave her in the back of some bar, or in a random doorway, to be rid of her for good. But I couldn’t do it. Even Fiesta Nazi agreed, it was hard to leave her. That Big Doll had grown on us, being such a good sport at the fiesta. Instead of leaving her to be spoiled in the street, we left her in a closet to surprise our landlord. And she’ll be there next year, if the spirit moves us, to take her out again.
That Big Doll absolutely had the big adventure I’d hoped for. And Buddy-roo was tickled by the pictures of her antics; check out her Tumblr if you want to see for yourself how she survived that big fiesta. http://maternal-dementia.com/2014/07/21/that-big-fiesta/#sthash.4m4olYLQ.dpuf
photo credit: Maggie Dugan 2014