Gail and Susan Yvonne.Wasigan
My Susan Yvonne
by Gail Fishman Gerwin

     Dy-Dee . . . an overwhelming
     overnight success.
     —Playthings Magazine (April 1934)

A little metal box, holding nickels, dimes,
a little girl’s cache, maybe from allowance,
maybe from my parents’ good-hearted indulgence
during the years when parents across an ocean
were herded to ghettos and lost to family forever.

A little metal box, money saved, maybe padded
when I didn’t look, maybe matched penny for penny
like corporations willing to bolster alumni donations
for the sake of attracting the cream.

A little metal box, hidden in the maple bookshelf
that sat at the foot of the bed in the room I shared
with my teenage sister who cut my bangs too short
when my parents were out dancing.

Chief operating officer of my own corporation,
I’d check the box daily, count the change,
hungry for the moment that came sometime
in my ninth year.

Maybe it was twenty-eight dollars, maybe more,
less, but enough to beg my father to take time off
from loading the trucks to drive downtown
to Quackenbush’s on Main Street, where my
dream baby sat in a lighted display case
with her clones, all adorned in white organdy.

My Dy-dee doll, perfect hardened head, brown hair
painted in curls that would never wilt, lifelike ears,
moveable arms and legs that sounded like creaking doors,
hazel eyes that closed for sleep, pursed mouth
with a hole for a pointed-nipple bottle.
She’d drink, then pee through another hole,
this one on her diapered buttock.

I named her Susan Yvonne, Susan, the name I
wished for myself, Yvonne for the glamorous star
who vamped onscreen in theaters that marked
Paterson’s glory days.

Beautiful Susan Yvonne, docile in her stiffness,
propped in a pram, marched in my beaming motherhood
up and down Madison Avenue. Gracie down the street
didn’t own one, neither did Nancy, who made it
her business to call me dirty Jew dirty Jew.

When Susan visited me in summer camp,
she sat on my bunk cot’s itchy wool blanket,
garnered more farewell kisses than my parents
at the end of the weekend. When visits with hugs
were forbidden (polio rampaging through New Jersey
towns), she curled in my mother’s arms across the dirt
road, her chubby arms waving hello, then goodbye,
puppet doll who couldn’t see my tears though my
mother’s soaked her glossy head.

My new husband and I pretended she was
our own baby, offered her a spot on our pillows
until our first daughter arrived, and she took
her place on the closet shelf next to our childhood
comic book collection.

I wonder, could she see our girls grow, could she hear
me lament the son who never came home, did she glimpse
the scar on my breast that could not be painted away
like the scratch on her head, easily mended in the
doll hospital, Daddy’s maroon Pontiac her ambulance.

Today she sits atop a tall bookcase, watches
grandchildren flit around the upstairs hall,
her yellowed organdy hat in shreds, her face
as perfect as it was on the Quackenbush
shelf, her forever youth a reminder
of my parents’ devotion, of my hope.

SOURCE: “My Susan Yvonne” first appeared in Dear Kinfolk (ChayaCairn Press, 2013).

PHOTOGRAPH: The author as a child with Susan Yvonne.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: With apologies to Descartes, I write, therefore I am. I find my comfort in the narrative, although I exercise craft by penning in formal styles. I write for myself, for readers who want to know more about me, but primarily for my grandchildren who someday will be able to hold a piece of me, their Nana, in their hands and perhaps feel the need to tell their own stories to the generations that follow. “My Susan Yvonne” captures a time in my life that remains more clear than recent yesterdays. Though my parents are gone, I can capture their love through poetry, and many friendships from those long-ago days have endured.

GERWIN

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gail Fishman Gerwin has authored two poetry collections—2010 Paterson Poetry Prize finalist Sugar and Sand and 2013 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence designee Dear Kinfolk (chayacairnpress.com). Her poetry, essays, fiction, and plays are featured in literary journals, newspapers and magazines, and onstage. She presents readings, facilitates writing workshops, and is currently is developing a third collection.