Even if you, like me, have little interest in dolls, take a second and look at this one. It’s my daughter’s. My wife and I gave it to her for Christmas.
We found the doll last September in Maine at the Common Ground Fair. An Amish woman was selling them. She had about a dozen dolls, each of them identical to this one, lined up on a table. A few more were seated on rocking chairs.
When Quetzal saw the dolls, she immediately picked one up and sat down in one of the chairs. She held the doll to her chest and rested her chin on its head. She whispered to it and rocked back and forth. She seemed wise, maternal. People passing by looked and whispered. They smiled and nodded their heads.
We didn’t buy a doll that day in Maine. But as Quetzal made it abundantly clear when we left that she wanted one, and as she mentioned the doll off and on over the next weeks, I contacted the Amish woman and had her mail us one for Christmas.
On Christmas Day just before dark, Quetzal asked if I would push her on the tree swing. She wanted to swing with her new doll. So we bundled up and went out. It was cold, a beautiful cold, with a large and sheltering moon climbing low across our mountain.
We stayed out for twenty minutes, swinging the entire time. Quetzal pulled her hat over her eyes, and, with the help of her doll, held onto the rope. She didn’t speak or act silly. She simply dreamed, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. I didn’t ask because I was preoccupied with my own thoughts.
Why do the Amish make dolls without faces? Because, they say, we are all alike in the eyes of God. And there is also the idea that the Bible dictates against the creation of graven images.
Once when my wife and I lived in Ohio, we needed someone to take over our flock of twenty chickens. We were moving and weren’t able to take the chickens with us. When it came time to find someone to take them, we both thought of an Amish family who lived a few roads over from us. They kept a sign at the end of their lane that read Eggs For Sale Here. So one morning I drove to their farm to ask if I could give them our chickens.
It was early when I got there, maybe 7:15. As I expected someone to be up at that hour and in the barn, I went directly there and called. But no one answered. And while I was certain the family was home (their horse-drawn buggies were in the barn), their house was entirely dark. So I had two choices, neither one of them satisfying: I could go to the house and knock at the door, or I could leave to return another day.
I decided to knock.
There were two screened front doors, both of them off a porch. I tried the first one first, giving it a couple of knocks and waiting. There was complete silence. I couldn’t see anything through the windows because there was no interior light. There was just my reflection in the glass. I waited a bit longer, and then, carefully closing the first screen door, I moved on to the second one and repeated myself. I knocked, waited, and listened. Once again, silence.
By now I was nearly overcome by curiosity. I needed to know what was up with the Amish. Because I knew they were in there, and I knew they weren’t sleeping.
So against my better judgment, I looked. Covering both sides of my face with my hands, I smushed my nose and lips against the glass and tried to see inside. I moved slowly from the right side of the window to the left side. I looked and kept looking until, my eyes gradually adjusting to the darkness, I started making things out—walls, kitchen, people, people eating, ten or twelve people eating at a table—faceless every one of them.
The Amish were at breakfast. The entire household was gathered around an enormous farmhouse table, and all of them, their utensils held in temporary suspension, were looking back at me.
I am pretty sure I appeared faceless, too.
Religious decrees against graven images are not unique to the Amish. Much of the ongoing violence across the Muslim world has direct ties to that very edict. When we remember that religions everywhere have always communicated most persuasively via symbols (the Christian Cross, the Islamic Crescent, the Taoist Yin and Yang), it becomes evident that the faceless Amish doll is not as innocent as it seems.
What I most admire about Quetzal’s faceless doll (she named it Mary) is the fact that it was made by hand by a woman I met and talked to. I like the fact that this woman makes her dolls at a table in an upstairs room (in her home) that overlooks her family’s garden. I like the fact that she invited me to visit her home and the shop she shares there with her husband (a woodworker).
A shop filled only with objects made by hand and the spirit that attends such objects.
A space so utterly removed from Target and Toys R Us as to make one dizzy.
I need to rewrite something I just wrote: What I most admire about Quetzal’s faceless doll is this: The near certainty that it will outlive her American Girl doll by a good half-century. That’s just a hunch, of course, but a sound one. Because authenticity is remarkably persuasive. Authenticity always leaves trace. If you take a moment to look into the dimly lit rooms of your life, I think you’ll understand what I mean.