Marge Benson circled and underlined the last of three yard sales in the newspaper. It was a block yard sale which meant there would be lots of goodies and hopefully a treasure or two. She folded the newspaper, drank the last of her coffee and placed the empty cup in the sink.
“Okay, girls, let’s go.”
“Mom, do we have to?”
“Clarise isn’t available to babysit so you’re stuck with your mother. I know this is cruel and unusual punishment but there’s nothing to be done about it. Where’s your sister?”
“She’s next door, hiding.”
“From you or me?”
“From you and your yard sales. Don’t you have enough dolls?”
“It’s my hobby … the one thing I enjoy doing besides keeping you and your sister out of trouble. Someday you’ll have babies of your own and you’ll be begging me for a few of them.”
“But you won’t let us have them, right?”
“Right. Okay, here’s a promise. Let’s do the three yards sales without any more complaining, and I’ll do anything you want the rest of the day.”
“Really . . . anything?”
“Really. Well, almost anything? Now come on. No more dawdling.”
Marge and her twin daughters, Tracey and Olivia, pulled up in front of the Lackner residence. “Last one, girls. And then I’m yours for the rest of day.”
“More junk,” Olivia announced as she closed the station wagon door.
“No, no, sweetheart. There’s history here and hopefully a treasure that will pay for your college education. Oh, look. There’s a clothes rack over there. If you find anything you like, I’ll buy it.”
“Oh, gee, Mom. Thanks.” Olivia and Tracey wandered off to the clothes racks and began sorting through the women’s clothing, trying on hats and dresses mixed with much laughter.
Marge had high hopes as she scanned the yard; then headed for the table with children’s toys. The other two yard sales had slim pickings. She had come away empty handed.
There were two tables filled with an assortment of stuffed animals, toys, a few rag dolls along with more modern dolls which were no longer wanted. She was about to turn away when she saw a doll sitting in a shoebox under one of the tables. It was slightly hunched over as if it were napping. As she retrieved the box, she wondered if it was even for sale. Placing the shoe box on the table top, she gently lifted the doll into a sitting position. Her breath caught when she saw the porcelain face. It was obviously vintage and in mint condition. She picked it up and examined it more closely. The clothing was old and somewhat soiled but the head, hands, and feet were perfect. The stuffing of the arms and legs was a little weak but that could easily be repaired. This was the treasure she had been looking for.
A gentle voice from behind surprised her. “You have someone in mind for this doll?”
Marge turned and smiled; “Good morning. No, it’s for me.”
“For you?” The woman smiled with surprise.
“Yes, I collect these vintage beauties and refurbish them. They don’t make dolls like this anymore.”
“Indeed, they do not. I brought this with me from Germany.”
“Is that so? How very interesting. It’s probably quite valuable. Why are you selling it?”
“I don’t know. I guess I wanted someone who will care for it as I have. It sounds like you’re the person. I’m Fredda Lackner.”
“Oh, Fredda, I’m so pleased to meet you. I’m Marge Benson and I’ll buy her. But I’d also like to hear a little history of the doll if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, yes, indeed, there is a history. And I would be pleased to share it with you, but I must warn you … there is sadness in the story.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I’d still like to hear it.”
“Very well, come sit with me. I have tea or coffee and Stollen in the tent over there.”
“Oh, yum, German coffee cake.”
“You’ve had it before?”
“There’s a German Deli where I used to live. They had all sorts of wonderful things.”
Fredda poured tea and placed a plate of Stollen on the table.
“Are you sure you want to tell me? I have a feeling this doll holds many dear memories for you.”
“Yes it does, but so many years have passed, it’s not painful anymore. And I do want you to know about the doll and who it belonged to.
“Yes, please tell me.” She pulled a small notebook from her shoulder bag and opened it. “I make little cards for all the dolls I own with any history I can find.”
Fredda smiled, “What a lovely idea.” She sipped her tea and settled back. “Let me begin by telling you the doll belonged to my little girl whose name was Greta. She was lost to me when she was three and a half.”
“I’m so sorry. How did she die?”
“Oh, she didn’t die. She was taken from me by her father.”
“Why, for heaven’s sake? Fredda, that’s terrible.”
“I wanted a divorce. I caught him once too often being unfaithful. I wanted to put an end to it.”
“Did you try and find them?”
“Oh, yes, I tried for years and spent a fortune, but eventually I gave up. There seemed to be no hope of ever seeing her again.”
“How could something like that happen in this day and age?”
“My husband was intelligent and a very smart lawyer. He found a way. After seven years I had the legal right to have him declared dead so I could move on with my life.”
“And you obviously did move on.”
“I was very fortunate to have Gustav who supported me through the worst. When I was finally legally free, he asked me to marry him. Of course, I had already fallen in love with him. Without his love, I don’t know how I would have survived the loss.”
“And the doll was all you had left.”
“Yes, it was.”
“I don’t know how you can part with it. I wouldn’t be able to.”
“I’m convinced Greta survived and grew into an adult woman. She would be forty-one now and probably has a family of her own somewhere. The doll was no longer important to me. I just decided to let it go. And voila, you came along and seem like the perfect person to have and care for it.”
“Well, you got that right. I’ll have her looking like new in no time. “
“Mom, here are some things we want. Can we leave now?”
“Hi, girls. Fredda, these are my daughters, Tracey and Olivia.”
“Oh, how beautiful and identical twins. I’ll bet you girls have a good time fooling people.”
“Me, mostly. I’ll be ready to go in a few minutes.”
“Here, young ladies, have some Stollen and tea.” Fredda beamed with pleasure in serving the girls.
Marge closed her notebook and placed it in her shoulder bag, “Fredda, thank you so much. This history of the doll will make it that much more interesting. I’m going to finish this piece of Stollen and then we’ll be on our way. I promised the girls I’d do anything they wanted for the rest of the day.”
“What a lovely idea. They grow so quickly. Enjoy every moment with them as long as you can.”
“So, what have you girls got in mind?”
“The Mall!” Tracey and Olivia laughed as they answered in unison.
“The Mall it is. Now, Fredda, how much do I owe for this treasure?”
“Absolutely nothing … it’s yours.”
“No, you can’t do that.”
“Yes, I can. Just knowing it will be cared for is enough.”
Marge held the doll up and smiled. “She is so beautiful.”
“So, Mom, what will you name her?” Tracy looked at Fredda, “She has names for all of her dolls.”
“I don’t know,” she looked thoughtfully at the doll, touched her face with her fingertips. “How about . . . Hedwig. That’s a good German name.”
The color drained from Fredda’s face.
“Fredda, what is it?”
Fredda hesitated, “That was Greta’s name for the doll. What made you think of it?”
“I don’t know, it just came to me. Oh, Fredda, I’m so sorry. I would never have used it if I had known. I should have asked you what Greta called it.”
“It’s all right. It was just a little bit of a shock,” she laughed good-naturedly. “That’s very interesting. When I first saw you I thought you looked German. Do you know your parent’s lineage? Are they German by any chance?”
“My father is German. I never knew my mother.”
“I am sorry…” Fredda hesitated
Marge looked at her new friend and waited for her to finish.
“…may I ask what your maiden name is?”
“Yes, of course, it’s Karstens.”
“Oh, my God!” Fredda’s hand flew to her open mouth, her eyes stared in unbelief at Marge.
“Fredda, for heaven’s sake, what is it?”
“Karstens is the name of my husband, the one who took Greta from me.”
“And your father’s name?”
“Elmer Charles.” Marge sat down as the pieces of an unexpected puzzle began to fall into place.
“And what did your father do for a living?” Fredda held her breath.”
“He was a . . . oh, my God. He was a lawyer.”
“No, no, it’s probably a coincidence. Where does your father live?”
“He passed away a few years ago.”
Fredda’s mind began to whirl, looking for an explanation. Then her face brightened. “My Greta had a …”
“Had a what, Fredda?”
“… a birthmark.”
“Where?” Marge sat up.
Fredda slowly placed her hand on her right breast. “It was in the shape …”
“…of a star?”
Tears welled in her eyes as she nodded.
Marge opened her blouse, lowered her bra strap, exposing her right breast.
“Greta.” Fredda barely whispered as she looked up into Marge’s eyes. “My little girl. My little Greta,” she whispered through her fingers. “I can’t believe this.”
Tracy and Olivia sat wide-eyed at the table, “Mom, what’s going on?”
Marge stared at Fredda. “Are you absolutely sure the mark is the same?”
Fredda nodded slowly as the joy of realization spread across her face.
Marge sank back into her chair as she buttoned her blouse. Then she began to laugh. “Oh, my God!” she shouted and looked at her daughters, “This woman is my mother, your grandmother.”
Marge leaned forward and took Fredda’s hands and held them tight in her own. “Mother. I never thought I would say those words. Mother, Mother, Mother.” She could not stop laughing. “And these are your grandchildren.
Fredda nodded and whispered, “I know.”
A young woman ran into the tent. “What’s going on? Mom, are you okay?”
“Marge, this is my daughter, Grace, your sister.”
“My sister?” Grace was confused, “Mother, what are you talking about?”
“This is Greta.”
“What?” Grace could only stare at Marge.
“You had a daughter after me?”
“Yes, and two sons. You have brothers and a sister and aunts and uncles.”
“Oh, my God, Glenn will not believe this.”
“Glenn?” Fredda wasn’t sure who Marge was referring to.
“Why don’t you call him and have him come here. We’ll have a little celebration.”
“Yes, of course, I’ll call him right now.”
“I don’t want you to get out of my sight for a minute.” She turned to Grace, “Honey, call your father and tell him what’s happened. Have him bring home some things for a celebration.”
Marge began to laugh. “Do you realize what this means?”
Fredda nodded, “You have a family and I have my daughter back.”
“If you had not kept this doll, we …”
Marge whispered, “Thank you, Mother. A thousand times, thank you.”
“I suppose that means the Mall is out?” Olivia grossed.
“No, no.” Fredda stood up. “We will go to the Mall … all of us. Afterward, we can all come back here for a little celebration.”
Marge got up and embraced Fredda, “Yes, all of us. How very perfect. You and I have so much to talk about, I can hardly wait.”
“I know. Neither can I. But, in the meantime these young ladies need some Mall time. Come . . . let’s go.”