Recently, I was cleaning out the bins in the basement and came across a well worn old doll – a small bald baby with a soft squishy body and felt lined booties – that was given to my daughter by a total stranger years ago in a random act of kindness. I cradled the doll, smiled, and put it back in the bin for safekeeping. A visiting friend asked why I was keeping that ratty old doll so I told her the following story.
Years ago, my husband’s parents lived on a small island in the Bahamas called Eleuthera. In 1972, they bought a double lot on the ocean and built a house where they lived for nearly 25 years. A long narrow island with sporadic phone and air service, the island was well-known in the 1990′s for having a family Club Med in the central part of the island by Governor’s Harbour (the capital and oldest settlement on the island). Even though Club Med was destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the beach is still referred to as Club Med Beach.
When our daughter was 13 months old in the Spring of 1997, we decided to take her to visit her grandparents on Eleuthera. Although the island is off the coast of South Florida, there was no direct route to fly into the bumpy air strip on Rock Sound or the main airport in Governor’s Harbour. We decided to fly out of West Palm Beach to Miami and connect to a flight to Governor’s Harbour and then endure an hour long drive on a pothole filled road to my in-law’s home. Normally, these short up and down flights were not a problem but with a baby who hated to be restrained, we were not looking forward to the travel portion of the trip.
On our connection from Miami to Governor’s Harbour, the plane was full of French families traveling to their Spring holiday at Club Med. In the seats surrounding us were a family of six: two parents and four children that seemed to be between the ages of 4 and 12. Our daughter was endlessly entertained by the four children who were delighted every time she clapped her hands, smiled, or raised her arms to be rescued from her seat. They spoke French to her and she didn’t understand a word but she did understand the universal language of smiling, laughing, making funny faces, and tickling. The youngest child, a 4-year old boy was carrying a small well-worn doll that reminded me of my daughter’s beloved pink blankie or my nephew’s “lambie” – things that small children carry around in the name of security. He used his doll to entertain our daughter and she squealed with joy at his playfulness. Without those kids and especially the youngest son who doted on her, the flight would have been a disaster.
When we landed and had to depart the plane, the French family’s youngest child handed my daughter the small doll he had been carrying. Recognizing the doll was a beloved child’s toy, I distracted my daughter and gave the doll back to the mother who told me “no, he wants your daughter to have it and it’s time.” She proceeded to tell me that each of her four children used that doll and that her youngest was now 4 and ready to give it to another child to love. I was taken aback – touched by their gift – and thanked her and her son for their kindness and generosity because I understood how much that doll meant to those four children through the years. My daughter loved that doll dragging it through sand, salt water, dirt, and playgrounds for years before placing it in a bin that holds special momentos from her childhood.
I wish I had asked the French family their name and address so that I could have thanked them a better way or even sent back the doll to the mother years later. Her children are 19 – 27 years old, grown and maybe with families of their own by now. I would want them to know that I have never forgotten the kindness of that day in Spring of 1997 and that my daughter loved the doll as they did. Their gift is one of those treasures remembered for a lifetime. One day, one of them may find their way to this story or see the picture of the doll on the internet, recognize it and contact me so that I can give it back to them for their children to love. Until then, I’m saving the doll for my future grandchildren.