I found Katie at the kitchen table with paper, scissors, markers, and a glue stick.
"Whatcha making, Sweetie?" I asked.
"Shapes." She said, barely audible. The artist does not like to be distracted by conversation while she's working.
When she finished her project, Katie came and got me, leading me by the hand to the table.
"What is it? I asked.
"Mr. Shapes. He's eating a fly," she explained.
"I see. He reminds me of Mr. Teeth," I said.
"Who's Mr. Teeth?"
"My paper doll friend I made when I was your age. I must have been about six or so because I distinctly recall riding in the back seat of Mom's 1976 Vega--"
"--What's a Vega?" Katie interrupted.
"A tiny car they made when I was your age." Seeing Katie had no more questions, I continued. "It was summertime and very hot. I periodically--"
"--What's periodically?" Katie wanted to know now.
"Every now and then," I explained, then continued, "I had to lift my thighs to keep them from sticking to the black vinyl seats--"
"Plastic. I remember we were driving with the windows down and I was holding Mr. Teeth out the window, his paper choppers--"
"What are choppers?"
"Teeth...flying in the wind. When his teeth would blow like that he looked more like on octopus than a set of teeth but I didn't care." I rattled on.
"Oh," Katie said with big eyes and a smile. She picked up Mr. Shapes and made him do a little soft shoe dance on the table, even though he was missing not only shoes but feet.
Why did I cut up paper to resemble a set of teeth instead of a typical paper doll person? I have no idea. I was a weird child? That seems to explain much of my behavior. I don't remember what inspired me to first make Mr. Teeth. I guess teeth were a big thing in our family. My mom had been a dental hygienist before I was born, after she divorced her first husband, Jim, but before she married my dad. Sometimes she filled in so her replacement could take a vacation, so I was aware that teeth must be pretty important if they took my mommy away from me "to work" every now and then.
Could be too, my dad wore dentures, so I was aware of the concept of a "set" of teeth. It used to fascinate me to watch him take out his teeth at night and set them in a cup full of some kind of liquid. I wanted to sneak in there and play with them but I knew better than to touch Dad's stuff. One time a neighborhood friend picked up one of my Dad's hearing aids while we were snooping around my parent's room while Dad napped. Before I had a chance to warn her to put it down, Dad woke up. My friend peed her pants as Dad chased us out of the room, screaming, "Put that down, Goddamnit! Do you know how much that thing costs? Get the hell outta here!!!"
So yeah, I had a thing for teeth.
Mr. Teeth went through many incarnations. Being made of paper, he was prone to rips and tears. If I saved the final version of Mr. Teeth, he long ago disintegrated. My memories of playing with him have not faded at all.
Katie likes me to tell her stories about what life was like when I was a kid, just as I loved listening to Mom's childhood stories when I was a kid. Katie also likes me to retell these stories of Grandma Bev's childhood that my mom had told me when I was Katie's age.
Which I'm sure is where Katie got the idea to make paper dolls. After Katie introduced me to her paper doll invention, Shapes, I told her about how my mom used to love making paper dolls when she was a young girl in the 1940s.
"How did she do it?" Katie wondered.
"Um, let's see? She folded paper a certain way and then cut out a silhouette--a shape--of a girl, then unfolded it and it makes a string a paper dolls. I think. It's been at least thirty years since my mom showed me how to make paper dolls."
"Can you show me?" Katie pleaded.
"Oh, honey, not now. I've got a million things on my to do list. Sometime soon."
Katie hung her head. The girl has heard "sometime soon" so much she knows it really means "yeah right." So, she took it upon herself.
I came home from work the other day and found Katie at the kitchen table again with paper, scissors, markers, and a glue stick.
"Whatcha making, Sweetie?" I asked.
"Paper dolls!" She beamed. She had a glue stick open and was just piecing together some finishing touches. She held it up. "See!"
"Oh! Who is that?" I asked.
"This is Stitch."
Katie's voice sounded like she was making formal introductions, so I played along, lifting Stitch's right hand to shake it, "Nice to meet you, Sir."
Katie jumped up and down and clapped her hands together. Then she introduced me to her other paper doll friends. Here is Katie:
"Take Katie to work with you, Mommy, so whenever you miss your real Katie you can look at this paper doll Katie and not feel so bad," Katie instructed.
"Thank you. That is very sweet of you! Let me put Katie by my keys so I don't forget to take her to work with me tomorrow."
Katie smiled and waited for me to return to the table. "This one is Stitch's friend. His name is Stip."
I shook what I thought was Stip's arm, and said, "How do you do?"
Katie bent over laughing and squealed, "Mom! That's not Stip's arm! You're shaking his leg!"
My response, "Oh, dear. Pardon me, Stip!" just drew more laughter.
No need for me to miss my long lost friend, Mr. Teeth. Katie's good at sharing her paper dolls with me.