Sparked by Words

Hawaiian Baby Doll

We lived in Paradise. Tripler Army Hospital base housing for married officers in Honolulu, Hawaii, to be exact. Our home was an apartment in side by side units that had been converted from the original wooden hospital wards before the iconic pink hospital was built. Opposite our row of housing was a mirror image of the same, separated by a strip of lawn bisected by a row of palm trees. That lawn was my playground, mine and all the other kids who lived there with our physician and officer families.

Although Hawaii is famous for its cooling trade winds and daily tropical showers, I don’t remember either. I was four in the early 1950s, my day marked by playing outside. We were safe, we were free to play. After breakfast all the kids zipped around the lawn, back and forth between houses, going home only for lunch, then dinner as the orange orb of sun settled in for the night and cast Moanalua Ridge in balmy darkness.

I learned to ride a tricycle and to fly a kite, to string tiny koa seeds into leis, and to dance hula. I tasted both cotton candy and snow cones for the first time. Each was culinary magic, one a sugary pink cloud brought to earth on a paper cone, the other a paper cone of turquoise and pink sugared ice served on an island where it never snowed. Both are still favorite treats. Most days I wore a yellow or red hibiscus blossom in my hair, plucked from one of the nearby bushes, and carried lantana clusters, each a miniature pinwheel bouquet.

I didn’t have a baby doll. I wanted one desperately but we were poor, a concept I understood as meaning not enough money to buy a doll. A grotesque cloth clown and an ugly sock monkey, both discarded by other kids, substituted for the baby doll I wanted to rock in my arms.

I did have Pudd.

Pudd, pronounced like the first part of the word pudding, was the baby girl born to the couple who lived across the lawn from us. I visited her every day, politely knocking on the door until Pudd’s mother, Mrs. Dalton, welcomed me inside.

Renaissance beautiful with satiny pink skin and enormous blue eyes, Pudd remained smiley and sweet-natured. She rarely cried. She wriggled her hands and feet but never tried to turn over. She kept silent as if concentrating on music in her own heart. She grasped my hand, making it seem like a giant’s, and she grinned and bubbled when I sang “Twinkle Star” and “My Little Grass Shack.” If I got the words wrong, Pudd never complained.

Mrs. Dalton lifted Pudd gently, holding her head carefully. She spoke in dulcet tones to her daughter as loud voices startled Pudd and caused her to jerk in fright. Pudd and her mother were great training for big sisters-to-be, a good thing as my mom would soon present our family with a sibling for me. I was ready for the baby doll coming to our home.

I never stayed long when Pudd needed a nap or it was time for Mrs. Dalton to feed her, acts I wasn’t allowed to witness. Giving Pudd a kiss on her forehead but never on her lips or the top of her head on her fragile fontanel, I said good bye until the next day, and danced down the steps to the lawn.

One afternoon my mom told me I couldn’t visit Pudd, her tearful eyes warning me not to go over to the Dalton’s house. I pestered my mom about why I couldn’t visit until she said, “They’re giving Pudd her last bath.”

My brother was born only a week or so after I’d been forbidden to bother Mrs. Dalton on the afternoon of Pudd’s last bath. I didn’t see Pudd again as I had my own baby doll to watch over and sing to. We left Hawaii a few months after my brother was born, eventually settling in Trenton, New Jersey.

Seven years later we drove to the Midwest to visit the Daltons who now had three kids like us. Only they weren’t at all like us.

The last bath hadn’t been the last one after all. Pudd’s real name was Edwina, a fact my parents revealed on the drive. Her parents had to teach it to her before she started school. The Daltons had been planning to give up Pudd to an institution but changed their mind and moved to a state that had the best school in the country for children like Pudd. Children born with hydrocephalus – water on the brain. It’s a misnomer for a defect that allows excess spinal fluid to collect around the brain and spinal cord, causing the head to swell and a myriad of developmental problems. Though Pudd’s life had been saved shortly after birth with a shunt to drain the fluid, the damage had been done.

My parents tried to prepare me to meet the Pudd who was now almost eight years old. But nothing could have prepared me. She was still incredibly beautiful, with golden ringlets and satiny pink skin. She wore thick glasses and leg braces from ankle to thigh. She could neither sit nor stand without assistance though she had learned to take a few clumsy steps. I talked to her about school, art projects, and TV shows, as I would with any friend. Her speech was nearly impossible to understand and I realized she had limited mental abilities. She wasn’t the perfect baby I’d sung to in Hawaii, but she smiled with radiant warmth as if she remembered me.  I squelched my tears.

At bedtime her parents undertook an elaborate ritual to prop Pudd between half a dozen pillows to hold her body still so she could sleep without convulsions, without breaking one of her fragile legs or arms. They would wake to check on her twice during the night. We didn’t stay longer than that one day’s visit and I never saw nor heard about Pudd again. I don’t know if she is still alive though it’s unlikely.

Pudd suffered an unimaginable, freak injury that can be ameliorated today with advanced medical technology, but her life wasn’t a lesson for all the rest of us to digest. Her fate was unfair. Knowing Pudd helped me develop a sense of compassion for people with disabilities but it wasn’t why she was put on earth. She wasn’t born to be a model for research, though her life was an example to her doctors and teachers. I don’t know why there is a magnitude of injustice in the world. Paradise doesn’t exist if one person hurts. I do know I can make someone feel that they are loved.

I love you, Pudd, wherever you are. You will always be my sweet Hawaiian baby doll.

 

Photo of Sharon at four, Bonin-Pratt family photo

 

 

 

 

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Comments on: "Hawaiian Baby Doll" (36)

  1. A beautiful and insightful post. I used to babysit two children with cerebral palsy. I wonder where they are now.

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  2. Wow, my eyes watered reading about Pudd. Yes, life can be extremely unfair. So many children are born with disabilities or fates that makes you question the purpose of their existence. You understood the purpose of Pudd’s.

    A very touching post.I wish Pudd all the best, wherever she is.

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  3. Lovely post, Sharon, and lovely picture of you as a child. I just visited an establishment catering for special needs people and was so touched. I’m preparing a post soon.

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    • Marina, I’m looking forward to reading your article about this. It’s important that we have facilities and opportunities for people with special needs. We can’t call ourselves a civilized world until everyone is taken care of.

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  4. What a story, Shari. It was hard to read but worth it.

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  5. Shari, a post of such compassion, love and sadness. From the paradise of Hawaii you take our hearts and souls to Pudd – I felt as if I was with you as a child first holding her and then returning those years later with more understanding but deeper sorrow. She was deeply loved and treasured but the heartache must always remain as well.

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    • Everyone has a soul, no matter how damaged the physical body. I had a spiritual understanding about life long before I knew anything about religion or God. I still think about Pudd, and it’s even more heartbreaking that I know how limited her life must have been. I hope she felt the love so many people felt for her.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautifully written, Sharon. Wise understanding of maternal instinct.

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  7. What an achingly beautiful story. Such hardships Pudd’s family have faced, but no doubt joy as well from having Pudd in their world. Thanks for sharing her story with us.

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    • I think that’s what Pudd’s parents finally realized when they couldn’t give her up. They loved her and decided they would find a way to help her in their own home because she gave such unconditional love. Thanks for reading, Carrie.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Jenna Barwin said:

    Your story brought tears to my eyes and made me think of a cousin I never met. Due to a high fever as a child, he suffered brain damage and was institutionalized. My mother never took us to visit him. I’m glad you shared Pudd’s story. We don’t always understand why bad things happen, they just do.

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    • I knew I would write about Pudd one day, but had to wait till I could face the pain of knowing how limited and painful her life had been, how difficult the decision her parents faced knowing the burden it would place on the rest of the family to keep her. Maybe it isn’t understanding why bad things happen, but figuring out how to respond compassionately.

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Jenna.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. touching and beautifully written Shari. Our souls touch each other with love, always. A wonderful remembrance of that.
    j.

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    • I think about Pudd off and on – she’s always in the memory bank but I’m never sure why she surfaces when she does. Maybe that’s why I wrote her story – she’s been asking to be revealed. Thanks for your loving comment, Judy.

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  10. Sharon, this is such a moving post. Compassion and love were possibly Pudd’s gift to everyone around her, and from a soul level she possibly knew this. Perhaps she is with you still, as you felt the urge to write about her. A beautiful essay!

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    • You’re right, Betty, Pudd is still with me, as I think about her often. She was such an incredibly sweet baby, full of love, despite what was likely some (and maybe great) pain. When I met her years later, she was still so sweet despite being severely handicapped.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. That was such a beautiful story, from the descriptive details of hibiscus and lantana to the emotional gut punch of the main subject. I don’t know why there’s so much suffering here that we can’t ameliorate. When confronted with it, I always have a certain dread in the pit of my stomach. This is something I can’t fix. I’m afraid even to offer my clumsy comfort, afraid that that I’ll say something that only makes matters worse. I usually force myself to try, but sometimes it’s merely an offer of prayer. Thanks for sharing this with us. 🙂

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    • Fortunately, medical research marches forward. Hydrocephalus is often part of spinal bifida, as it was for Pudd. Ultrasounds today can often detect the probability of these conditions before the baby is born, and a strategy will be in place at the delivery. Directing pressure off the brain is essential and there are many options available, though most of these children will need lifelong medical attention. Pudd didn’t get the chance of early intervention as they didn’t have that level of medical care available. I also feel helpless in the face of what I can’t fix, but what I can do is be sympathetic and understanding. The offer of prayer is crucial. Thank you, Cathleen, for your impassioned reply.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Sharon: Here’s the line: Paradise doesn’t exist if one person hurts. Floored me! You pulled me in and held me captive!

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  13. I love this post. I had a baby friend named Craig. He was different from the others, too. When he died I remember feeling quite thankful for the lessons he taught me. And sad because I’d yet to teach him all of mine. Thank you for this, Shari. You’re a wonderful woman.

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  14. One of my students suffered from this. she was also slightly intellectually disabled. Luckily with the right medical treatment she lived a fairly normal life. Her one joy was running track. It was amazing to see the parents’ devotion and patience because as you know even if you love someone their disabilities bring stress and that stress can at times lead to impatience. i’m learning this only now.

    Beautiful piece.

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    • Thanks for your story, Adrienne, another window into the lives of families that deal with monolithic burdens. When I was 11, and certainly not when I was 4, I couldn’t comprehend how difficult Pudd’s parents’ lives were, trying to figure out how to care for her. When they decided not to institutionalize her, they must have undertaken a huge amount of research to find the right school and environment for her needs, well before the Internet made this kind of task somewhat easy. That alone gives a sense of the scope of their commitment to their child. Pudd is someone I’ll never forget but it wasn’t until I’d been a parent myself that I understood how much her parents’ decision impacted the entire family. And only as a mother did I grasp their choice to have more children, something I know you also get.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. A heart breaking story but one that is also uplifting. The burden some families bear with such fortitude and love give you much to reflect upon.

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