My thoughts are turning to my Great Uncle Buddy as Dia de los Muertos nears, and not just because he was from the hispanic side of the family. Buddy is particularly on my mind because of my daughter's first baby doll.
She picked it out herself over a year ago, and we named it "Sanchez" after Buddy for reasons of affectionate revenge -- my great-uncle's real name was "Erasto", but he came home and told his family one day that from then on, he wanted his name to be "Buddy". To my grandmother and the rest of us, "Sanchez" was just as laughably random. The "mimi" doll -- Lillian can say "baby", but prefers not to -- had been my daughter's favorite toy, and received the kind of vigorous, messy love that only a toddler can give. Sanchez had been dragged across playgrounds, into bathtubs, through snacks, carried around in dog mouths, sat on by butts in less-than-pristine diapers, and run through the washing machine numerous times.
He wasn't looking so well.
The filling in his body had lost its fluff. The cloth on his torso was stained and pilling. His plastic face had scuff marks. His eyelashes were missing tufts and his glassy blue eyes didn't open evenly anymore. Sanchez looked like Mike Tyson's baby doll. Or maybe a plague victim with substance abuse problems. It was getting to the point where I had to take particular care to dress myself and Lillian in obviously brand new clothes when we went out with that doll, or passers-by would press dollar bills into my hand and refer me to the nearest food pantry. Mothers would spray their children with Lysol after Lillian took Sanchez on play dates. I was also getting tired of chasing away the buzzards that would land around the doll if Lillian set him down at the park.
Then one day, the unexpected happened. A neighbor, trying to depopulate the out-of-control herd of feral baby dolls in her daughter's room (that's what happens if you don't neuter or spay), gave us a doll. It was a dead ringer for my daughter's beloved toy, but with nowhere near the mileage.
"Daddez, mimi Sanchez?" she asked my husband thoughtfully as she examined the new doll.
"Yep!" I interrupted, seizing the opportunity. "Sanchez has been to a day spa. Doesn't he look a lot better?"
"Huh," Lillian seemed to accept the explanation. I raced to find the old version and hid it, just in case my deception didn't hold water.
After a week, though, the blip in reality had been smoothed over. The new doll had assumed Sanchez's identity, and I no longer felt the urge to change Lillian's pillow case every morning just because she had placed her doll there overnight.
But when I went finally to dispose of the old doll, he stared unevenly up at me through his balding lashes and beat-up face, his withered limbs limp in my hands. My daughter's first play friend. My great-uncle's (slightly sarcastic perhaps) namesake. I realized that if I couldn't sit through Toy Story without blubbering, I was certainly not going to be able to simply throw Sanchez 1.0 away.
"No problem," said my husband when I brought the issue to him.
So it was that we waited until my parents had gone out of town for the weekend, then snuck into their back yard to hold a proper funeral for the first Sanchez. My husband made a little raft for him out of dried sticks and Duraflame chips, and we set the well-loved doll into the water at the edge of the pool.
"Who will die with him?" my husband intoned, causing me to take one large step away and consider that maybe the neighbors were right about him. John sighed patiently at me. "You know, if Sanchez were a real Viking, one of his slaves would volunteer."
"Um, I have one of those cheap-o Happy Meal teddy bears in my purse."
"Good enough." John looked pleased. "Bring a knife and a loop of cord..."
"Have you been reading Ibn Fadlan's 'Risala' again?"
John shuffled guiltily. "Maybe."
"Okay, there are a lot of things he claimed Vikings did at a funeral that we are not going to re-enact here with a McBeanie Baby in my parent's backyard."
Under my glare, John sighed and put a match to the doll's pavilion, giving it a gentle push. As the flames kindled and Sanchez 1.0 floated out into the pool, John spoke:
"Lo, there do I see my daddez.
Lo, there do I see my mommy, my mimis and my Sanchez.
Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place on Asgard in the toybox of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live forever."
As I sniffled and sent a silent thank you to Great-Uncle Buddy for lending his name -- sort of -- to such a well-loved toy, John placed a hand on my shoulder and said, "Okay, now let's get out of here before the neighbors call the cops. Remember, if that clogs up the pool filter, we were never here. Your dad doesn't like me as it is."
Happy Dia de los Muertos, Uncle Buddy.
This article first appeared in the October 30, 2004 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.