You’ve got mail

One day about ten years ago, a letter addressed to Sally Jenson arrived in our mailbox. This was a little odd since no one by that name lives here. It had our address on it, and we had no neighbor by that name, so the mix up was a mystery.

I put it back in the mailbox the next day so the mail carrier could deal with it. Perhaps there was a Sally Jenson at a similar address and it would be sorted out.

But a week later another letter appeared, also addressed to Sally Jenson. This time, I exclaimed aloud to my family, but to no one in particular, that we had gotten mail for a Miss Sally Jenson yet again. That announcement produced a chuckle from my daughters and then the youngest one confessed that she in fact was the mysterious Sally Jenson.

During a game in which she and her sisters made up new names for themselves, she had chosen the alias Sally Jenson.   She decided to bring the game to a new level by filling out a form she found, in a magazine perhaps, using the pseudonym. Initially, she explained, the name was Sally Sampson Jenson, but that didn’t flow, so she shortened it to just Sally Jenson.

The form she had filled out was a request for some information, of what she cannot recall. It brought Sally Jenson to life, so to speak, and she’s been receiving mail ever since.

Over the years, Sally has received advertisements for summer camp, Pre-SAT course applications, invitations to visit college campuses, and applications for credit cards. It has been nearly a decade since my daughter filled out that first form, and if anything, the influx of mail for Sally has increased. My husband and I have taken to handing our daughter this mail with a flippant, “This one’s for you, Sally”.

We cannot make Sally Jenson’s mail go away. The childhood game lives on in an alias whose life exists through the U.S. postal service.

How do you cancel an identity? Who do you tell that a person does not actually exist? I know there is identity theft, but how do you explain identity creation? Is there such a thing? Apparently there is, because there is Sally and she isn’t going away.

Since my daughter first printed “Sally Jenson” on that first form, the world of capitalism ran with it. America won’t let Sally go. It wants Sally to enroll, to buy, to sign up, to contribute, to attend, and to borrow. But Sally doesn’t exist!

Can we prove this? How do we cancel Sally Jenson?

Sally Jenson was a game gone just a wee bit awry at the hands of a curious child. What will happen if I fill in this pretend name in this form? Will mail come addressed to Sally?

Indeed it will.

Sally Jenson, a random name from a made up game, in some bizarre way, lives on forever.

What I Wish I Had Saved

If something doesn’t add value or beauty to my life, I don’t save it.

Simplifying my environment is freeing to me. It brings clarity and inspiration, especially to my writing. It’s as if, uninhibited by excess, the muse can sweep through, helping me to put words on the page.

While my three daughters were growing up, I encouraged them to go through their belongings periodically, passing down clothing that no longer fit, donating old toys that were no longer used.

But I protected their play time fiercely. In a time of excessive homework and tests and pressure to be over scheduled, I was determined that my kids were going to have a childhood with time to be creative- freedom to dream and play. This I would hold on to.

When they were five, seven and nine years old, they each had a beloved Cabbage Patch doll and they found ways to include these dolls in just about all of their play.

Their play included a pretend trip to another country to adopt the babies, complete with a travel itinerary and adoption papers. They would spend hours on the planning, even googling plane flights to China, where they would pretend to go to pick up their babies. Never mind that these were blond, blue-eyed dolls. Kids don’t get hung up on such incongruences.

These dolls had birthday parties, with menus and handmade presents and child-concocted cakes. My youngest daughter learned to write in order to create invitations to her “baby’s” birthday party. Who needs Kindergarten, when you have a cabbage patch doll and two older sisters?

During this time, they also had their first interactive computer game, the Oregon Trail and although none of them were very keen on computer games, this one was a hit. They each logged enough time on it to have a pretty good understanding of what the famous Oregon Trail entailed, and then they made it come alive.

So the three sister-pioneers set off in their electric pink Barbie jeep that they called their wagon, adopted babies, in tow. The Oregon Trail, also known as our back yard and the sidewalk that ran along the side yard, and thru out neighborhood was ripe with imaginary danger, and these three little girls were prepared for the worst. Snacks from the kitchen were carefully rationed. Toilet paper became a cast to wrap a doll’s arm after she fell out of the wagon. A puddle became a river to cross.

Plastic faces melted in the sun and required emergency treatment to reform their shape. (My husband got very good at this and also found it very amusing).

Their babies caught diseases common on the Oregon trail: cholera, small pox, and the measles. But they also caught anthrax. This was 2001 when anthrax was being sent through the mail to poison people, so it leaked into their play).

Sometime after they’d outgrown playing with the dolls, which were then stored away in closets, I suggested they give them away. At the time, the girls did not think much of it, and with barely any prompting at all, tossed them in a goodwill bag. They had moved on to more sophisticated endeavors and seemed just fine with letting go of the dolls.

But the regret came later. I had made the mistake of viewing these Cabbage Patch dolls simply as outgrown toys, rather than the precious mementos of their childhoods that they were. They were their most precious toys, a tangible memory of that time of endless playful adventure, a symbol of their imaginations, their sisterly fun. The dolls had ventured across the Oregon Trail with them! These dolls made history. They are the one thing I wish I had saved that I didn’t.

Surely if one of my daughters ends up a hoarder in life, it will be me who is to blame. I mean who could fault them if this regretful instance of decluttering leads them to collect everything they can get their hands on? (Isn’t that what we do? If we don’t like what our parents did, we do the opposite?) This left me wondering if one of them would end up buried alive in stuff, or living with twenty cats or too many kids, Octomom -style, and it would surely be all my fault for not saving the Cabbage Patch dolls!

I was a bystander in their doll games, a witness to it all. I heard the conversations, the planning, and the occasional debates which were usually settled quickly because they were having too much fun to waste time on arguing.

I saw the Oregon Trail from a distance, looking out the kitchen window, glimpses of three pony tailed heads and the pink wheels bumping along through the grass.

I cannot bring the dolls back. But I can call up these memories, clear as a summer day on the prairie.