|Kristina Johnson sat in her room staring at the floor. Her thick black braids fell forlornly on her slender shoulders. Even her favorite denim outfit and designer white Nikes didn't cheer her up. This had not been a good day. As a matter of fact, on a scale of one to ten, this day had definitely been a zero!|
Frustrated, Krissie, (as she preferred to be called), had just angrily flung Bobby, her favorite stuffed Panda at the door, narrowly missing her grandmother's head.
|"Whoa there Kristina Louise!" said her grandmom, successfully dodging the airborn bear as she walked through the bedroom door into Krissie's room. "Watch where you throw that thing, child."|
Grandmom was Krissie's father's mother, and the only grandparent Krissie had. Each adored the other, and they had always been close. Krissie thought her grandmother was the best grandmother in the whole wide world.
"Oh! I'm sorry Grandmom," apologized Krissie, "It's just that...well... you know."
"Yes, I do know, child. You don't want to move to Chicago. But try to understand honey, your family has no choice. Your dad's promotion is very important."
"I don't care," declared Krissie, "I'll be in the fourth grade this year and I'll finally get Mrs. Cummings. She is the best teacher in the entire school. I made the Junior Pep Squad, and this year I even get to fly up to Cadet Girl Scout. I've waited my whole life for things to be this perfect, and now we have to move!" Krissie's eyes filled with tears. Krissie's grandmom sat on the edge of the bed and pulled the little girl close to her. Cradling her in her arms, she rocked back and forth, sometimes humming, sometimes softly crooning the words the child remembered as a childhood lullaby. Krissie's tears began to fall in earnest as her grandmother sang...
| Rag doll, Eugene Mamma Mabel
All my lifetimes long ago.
Magic grows from all these teardrops
Hold me close, don't let me go !
Rag doll Eugene Mamma Mabel
Rag doll Eugene Mamma Mabel
Grandmom hummed her tune a little while longer and then, gently stroking Krissie's cheek, she said, "I know it's hard for you baby, but you just wait. You'll meet new friends, and you'll join a new Girl Scout troop. There are probably many new and exciting things waiting for you in Chicago."
Sniffling and snuffling, Krissie groped in her pocket for a tissue. She was clearly unenthusiastic about going to Chicago at all.
|"Oh!" said Grandmom, "I almost forgot. I brought someone to go with you." With that, she reached over and opened her bag, pulling out a very, very old rag doll.|
|The head was made of blue yarn, the eyes were black buttons, and the blouse and skirt were made from a material that looked very much like an old gunny sack.|
Although the doll appeared very old, it was also obvious she had been much loved, and must have been treated with rare kindness throughout the years, to be in such good shape.
'It's just an old rag doll," sniffled Krissie. She glanced at the doll without much interest and then handed it back to her grandmother. "Why would I want to take this with me?"
Grandmom managed to hide her disappointment at Krissie's reaction. "Why, this is not just an ordinary rag doll, baby," she said brightly, "This is Eugene."
"Eugene?!" said Krissie, as she wiped her tears away, first with one hand and then the other. "Why does a girl doll have a boy's name, and what makes her so special?" she asked.
"Well, you just come sit here next to me, and I'll tell you the same story that was told to me when I was a young girl," said Krissie's grandmom, patting the bed next to her.
Krissie snuggled next to her grandmom and laid her head on her shoulder. "Once upon a time," Krissie's grandmom began, "You see, all stories begin with once upon a time..." Krissie smiled a little bit at that. "Anyway," her grandmom continued, "There was a once a young girl called Natty. She was a slave and her Momma was the chief cook on the master's plantation. Natty's Mamma's name was Mabel."
||"Mabel was a very large woman who always wore a bright yellow apron and a yellow head rag to match. The apron and yellow scarf had been a gift to Mabel from the master one Christmas."|
"Because the master and his family liked to eat well, Mabel and Natty were treated fairly well for slaves. Mabel had her own cabin and often took leftover food right from the master's kitchen for Natty and her brothers and sisters."
|"Natty's daddy's name was Eugene, but Natty never knew him, because he had been sold before Natty was born. In those days, as you know, people of color were considered personal property, and they could be bought and sold, just the same way you might buy or sell a puppy these days."|
Krissie nodded. She had heard about this.
Krissie's Grandmom went on. "In the daytime, Natty would help her mother in the kitchen. The Master would sometimes tease her about taking her mother's place as cook one day."
|"Although she was only six, she was very smart. Natty already knew how to churn butter, and she could bake bread with just a little bit of assistance from her mother."|
"Natty's other tasks included emptying all the slop jars in the house in the mornings, and running errands for the master's wife. You knew in those days they didn't have indoor bathrooms didn't you?" Krissie nodded and wrinkled her nose at the thought of emptying the potty jars. "Yuck," she said.
|"Sometimes Natty would be called upon to watch the 'little ones' while their parents worked in the fields. And on occasion she would have to carry lunch all the way out to the overseer. The overseer was somebody whose responsibility it was to make sure the slaves got their work done in the fields, so that the plantation could grow and prosper. Sort of like a foreman. So Natty was quite busy for a little girl."|
| "One day the master came to Mabel and
with a heavy heart, he told her, 'Mabel, I have to sell your younguns because
I need the money.'
Mabel clasped her hands to her heart and her knees just about went out from under her."
"Now don't you go carrying on, Mabel," he said, shaking his head sadly, "You know it pains me to do this, but I have no choice. You get them ready, they'll be leaving at first light."
"Mabel's heart was aching, but she knew she had no choice either. Basically the master was a kind man, and she knew he would never have sold her children unless it was absolutely necessary."
"That night as Mabel watched her sleeping children she found herself grieving the most for little Natty. Not quite six, Natty was her baby and her favorite. As Mabel watched Natty sleep, the idea for Eugene was born."
|"Throughout the evening and into the wee hours of the morning, Mabel worked to create Eugene. She used bits and pieces of yarn from an old horse blanket, and parts of a gunny sack from the kitchen to fashion the little doll for her daughter."|
"When the time came for Natty to be taken away, a trembling Mabel put the doll into the hands of her sobbing daughter. 'This here doll be named Eugene for your daddy,' she said. 'I called her that so you would never forget who your daddy was. He loved you and so do I', Mabel told her little girl. 'And as long as you have Eugene, you will never forget where you come from.'"
|"That was the last thing Mabel ever got to say to Natty," said Krissie's grandmom. "But I'm told, that as the wagon began to pull away, little Natty clutched the doll to her heart, and through her tears she called out to her mother, saying, 'Her name Eugene Mamma Mabel', and with that, the child was gone forever from her Mamma's arms."|
There was a heavy silence in the room as Krissie thought of the tremendous love and terrible heartache that little rag doll had witnessed.
Grandmom reached out and softly stroked Krissie's cheek. "Natty was my great, great, great grandmother, Krissie," she said softly. "Eugene has been handed down from mother to daughter in our family ever since. As you know, I don't have any daughters, and I doubt that your father would have liked to have had a doll. So I saved Eugene all these years, thinking that one day I'd give her to the granddaughter I hoped one day to have. And now that's you, child," she smiled.
|Krissie reached for the little doll and looked at it
with new respect.
"Not only that," Krissie's grandmom said, with a twinkle in her eye, "...but Eugene has magical powers, and she can talk."
Krissie looked up from the doll in her lap, "Grandmom! I know you've never lied to me before, but dolls can NOT talk," declared Krissie.
"Eugene can," said Grandmom with a nod, "She has spoken to me many times, and she'll talk to you also, but only if you really believe she has magical powers."
Krissie was still skeptical, but she loved her grandmother too much to hurt her feelings. "How do I make her talk, Grandmom?" asked Krissie. "Oh, you don't make her talk, child. She just does when the time is right. You pack her with your things, and take her to school with you. You'll see, Eugene will make everything in Chicago alright. Have I ever lied to you?" asked Grandmom. Krissie shook her head, no.
| "OK, then, you'll see. I love you Krissie,"
said Grandmom softly.
"I love you too, Grandmom," answered Krissie.
Krissie thought a lot about the story her grandmother had told her. She took Eugene wherever she went, always waiting for the magic, and for Eugene to talk.
Within the week Krissie was in Chicago and in her new house. Her room had bright yellow wallpaper with a beautiful green border. Her white furniture looked wonderful in it, but Krissie was still not happy.
She missed her old village of Hamilton, Kansas, and she missed her friends, and she still felt badly that she would not be in Mrs. Cumming's class this year. And to top it all off, Eugene had still not talked, and she was beginning to doubt her magic. "Grandmom has never lied to me" Krissie said to herself, as she looked at Eugene sitting over on her dresser. "But I guess I'm really too big now to believe that a rag doll can really have magic."
|The next day Krissie held tightly to her mother's hand
as she mounted the steps to her new school.
In her other hand, as her grandmom had suggested, Krissie clutched Eugene.
After registration, Krissie's new Principal, Mrs. Warren, walked her to her new classroom. Krissie's teacher Mrs. Reilly stood in front of twenty eager faces.
|"Mrs. Reilly," said Mrs. Warren, "We have a new student. This is Kristina Johnson, but I've been told that she prefers to be called Krissie." Krissie shyly nodded her preference. Mrs. Reilly shook hands with Mrs. Johnson as she welcomed Krissie.|
The class said "Hello" in unison, and then Mrs. Reilly showed Krissie to her seat.
"Now boys and girls," said Mrs. Reilly, "Today we are going to have Show and Tell. I hope everyone remembered to bring something to share."
One by one the students came to the front of the class and talked about their assignment. When the last student had finished, Mrs. Reilly told Krissie "I am sorry you don't have anything to share with us today, Krissie, but we have Show and Tell every Monday, so I'm sure next week you'll be ready."
|| "Oh, but I do have something to
share," said Krissie as she held Eugene up so that everyone could see
"This is Eugene. I know you think she's just an old rag doll, but she belonged to my grandmother, and her grandmother before that, and her grandmother before that. She was made by my great, great grandmother's own grandmother."
"In fact," continued Krissie, "Eugene has been in my family ever since slavery times, and now she belongs to me."
Then, as the class sat spellbound, Krissie related the story her grandmother had told her about Eugene. She told about Natty and her mother Mabel, and the father Natty never met.
When Krissie finally finished, you could have heard a pin drop in the classroom.
"That's truly a fascinating story Krissie," said Mrs. Reilly. "And that makes Eugene very, very special. May we pass Eugene around so that the other children can take a closer look at a toy that is truly part of history? We will be very careful, won't we boys and girls?" Everyone nodded.
|The children passed Eugene around and asked many questions
about her. Some Krissie could answer, and some she could not.
Mrs. Reilly told the class that they could study about slave life in social studies, and said that Eugene would make what she called "a wonderful visual aid."
At recess Krissie had more attention than she could handle, and she made many new friends.
On her way home Krissie smiled and hugged Eugene tight. It had been a splendid day, and all because of Eugene.
Suddenly Krissie knew. She knew Eugene's magic. Krissie grinned. Her grandmother hadn't lied. Eugene could really talk after all. The little doll had talked to the hearts and minds and curiosity of her new classmates. Eugene had talked to her new teacher, who in turn, had told the children how unique Eugene really was.
Eugene had made Krissie's first day in a new school a marvelous day. She now understood that Eugene's magic was love. No matter how old she got, she would always continue to believe, just as Grandmom had said she would.
|Krissie would treasure Eugene's special brand of magic forever. And one day, when it came time, she too would pass the magical little rag doll on. To her own little girl.|
The Rag Doll by Yvonne
Copyright 1997 - 2012 All Rights Reserved
Illustrated by Cecily Harper Mitchell
Copy and Content Editing, by C.K.Gurin