Age Three: Some Life Lessons

A dress my mother made for me

When I was three years old, my paternal grandmother died just days before Christmas, almost a year to the day after her husband had died. What awful Christmases those must have been for my dad, but I never knew it. As I said earlier, I have no memory of my dad’s father. I don’t remember his mother, either, but I remember the wake. I remember being carried into that little house that felt close and hot (it was late December, after all) and seeing a big box placed against the back wall of the living room. The room was dimly lit, but there was no avoiding that box. My grandmother was inside it. I remember wondering why she was sleeping there. I didn’t associate her stillness with “dead.” I had never seen anything lifeless. I didn’t know what dead was.

I filed that image away in memory. Many years later, thinking maybe I had dreamed it, I finally asked my mother if she and Daddy had really taken me to the house after my grandmother died.

She looked at me sort of funny. “We did,” she said. “Why?”

“Well, I remember it.”

She shook her head. “That’s not possible. You were too little.”

“But I do.” I described the room and where the casket was placed against the wall and how it seemed like I was looking down at my grandmother.

“It’s because your daddy was holding you,” Mother said, looking stunned. “That would explain why you were looking down.” I don’t remember whether Mother asked me if I was afraid. I was later, with other deaths, but I did not see another dead person until I was ten years old.

“There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead . . .”

An only child, by the time I was three, I was used to playing quietly by myself. I was a girly-baby doll kind of little girl. I had already begun to collect storybook dolls. Each time my dad went to Memphis on business, he brought me a “surprise”–sometimes a little doll (Bo Peep, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood . . .), sometimes something very special, like the rabbit fur hat and muff that made me sneeze. I loved pretty dresses. My mother was pretty, and I wanted to be pretty, too. (She did her part, rolling my hair in pin curls to try and tame it.)

I loved playing dress-up. I could make a playhouse out of anything–under the table, outside under the willow tree or even under a shrub!

Early morning dress-up time

About this time, the first thing I did every morning was put on a pair of my mother’s slingback heels and a hat and stash a big purse under my arm and head out to the garden. Never mind that I was still in my nightgown or that my hair was in pincurls. Nothing stopped me!

Meanwhile, in the house, there was sickness. But that’s a story for another day.

Maybe I was already learning to escape.

I still have some of those dolls, by the way. What childhood mementos do you have? What brings the memories back?

13 thoughts on “Age Three: Some Life Lessons

  1. I have a little wooden box that i used to collect different things in, but nothing from when I was little. My mother threw most of those things out when i was away at college. I’m really enjoying your stories!

  2. My grandmother Margaret – my father’s mother, died just a few days before I was born and everyone always told me I was just like her. That always seemed remarkable to me, how I could be “just like” someone I never actually knew. I wish I had known her, maybe it would have helped me know myself a little better 🙂

    1. I feel that way about my grandparents, too, even the ones I knew. My mother’s dad died when I was ten, and I wasn’t old enough to know what questions to ask. I would give the world to know what his service in WWI was like.

  3. I think I still have my first doll, but she didn’t turn up when I was sorting things in preparation for this challenge. Which makes me think there’s more to find.

    Interesting memories with such glimpses into a the personality of the girl.

  4. I enjoy learning about you a a little girl. Love the dress up picture. I too remember my great grandmother in a casket. I was older than you though. Look forward to your next post.

  5. Most of the dolls I received were the ones that you don’t play with. My adoptive father was in Europe and Asia for most of those early years and sent those dolls that are shelf-sitters. I donated them to a doll museum in Southern Illinois.

  6. So sweet Gerry. I have 3 school books from my childhood but mostly everything was left in the Czech Republic when we left. My children however…totally different story!

  7. When I was three we had a neighbor who was a retired school teacher. She’d invite me over and read to me, teaching me the alphabet. She had a big, heavy, oak pedestal table in the middle of her living room. The base had three long branching feet that curved out from the center. She had a collection of wooden spools from her sewing thread that I’d line up on top of the feet, from the bottom up, trying to get as many on as I could before they all slid off. I dont’ think I have anything but memories and aging family members from that time, but sewing thread spools always bring those deceptively bucolic memories back.

  8. One thing I really loved to do from about age 3-5 was take all of the plastic animals I received from my trips to the doctor, put them in a pot, and stir them. I thought I was cooking–never mind that it was zoo animals I was cooking. I would serve my “soup” to all my dolls and stuffed animals that I’d gathered into a big circle around the outside picnic table. We had tea too. I think the only mementos I still have from this early in life are books. Dr. Seuss was a particular favorite!

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