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  • Katherine Dudley Hoehn

The Little Freckle-Faced Doll

Approaching the second anniversary of my Mother's passing, I am reminded of a special gift we shared - a little doll. My letter to Mom, who would be 96 this year, tells the story.

Dear Mom:

At age 11, I asked you how long it would be before I outgrew my freckles. My self confidence was low during that awkward stage and freckles did not help.

Pointing to your own face, you showed me you still had freckles, saying, “Learn to like them. They won’t go away.” I was inconsolable. If you had warned me then about age spots and menopause I might have gone over the edge.

We spoke about that awkward day many times over the years. I came to love my freckles, too. They remind me of you and of the little freckle-faced doll I bought after you and Dad called to tell me about your cancer.

True to form, you gave me the information like a clinician, with complete assurance that all was well. Like a horse sensing the fear of a new rider, I knew you were unsettled. Powerless and unable to fathom what I could do to make it better, I bought a plane ticket to come see you.

When I was nervously pacing the corridors at the airport, I saw that little freckle-faced doll in a souvenir shop. Her tiny plastic body with the red hair, freckles, and silly face made me smile. I recognized that she might bring the same joy to you because of her freckly face.

The doll was a big hit. Home from the hospital and being hovered over by Dad, you were grumpy and uncomfortable but still trying hard not to show you were afraid. I produced the doll, explaining that she was to be our totem, bring you good luck, and be with you when I could not. You smiled, rubbed her funny face, and said, “my own little freckle-faced girl.” Then, she disappeared into your pocket.

You were never much for words. Unlike Dad, you didn’t say or write much, but you and I had an understanding. That doll meant a great deal to you and subsequently to the two of us, as she passed between us for more than twenty years

At the end of that visit, you hugged me and dug into your purse and revealed my gift, quickly returning the doll to her hiding place. Something passed between us that even Dad didn’t understand. You knew the doll was to keep our bond close, maybe give you a little bit of strength, and remind you how much I loved and cherished you.

A few years later, I had my own medical scare. You bought a plane ticket and came right away. Pulling the freckle-faced girl from your pocketbook and placing her in my hand with a knowing glance, you simply said, “I think you need her now.”

I returned her to you sometime later, when I was departing your home after a brief visit. The handoff seemed to deflect the parting sadness we both felt. You seemed happy to have her back, and she disappeared into your purse.

From then on, each time we visited, I got a glimpse of the doll, usually in a private time you and I shared. You would produce her from the zipper pocket of your purse, or hold her in your hand and let me see her. No words were necessary. Only we knew what she meant.

I glimpsed you holding her a few days before Dad passed, and again when we moved you from the house to the apartment. In your purse, she was sure to always be with you and give you a little bit of comfort.

I didn't think about her for several years, until I found her after you passed. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the little red haired freckle-faced doll in your purse. She had been with you through a long journey and she helped comfort me during that sad time.

Now I carry her in my purse, too. She can be a happy distraction and a reminder of those days when we shared her. I miss you, Mom.

mother and daughter sitting on chair on porch
Mom and me

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