Friday, October 23, 2009

Geisha in Training

It's hard to imagine being a Geisha in training for almost fifty years. Fifty training, learning how to serve and be gracious to others. While she was never called by any other name than "Geisha Girl In Training", she has been part of my life for just that long, and served to train me, and shape me mysteriously as well.

When I was out in San Diego I visited her again...the Geisha in training doll that my father's sister, my Aunt Marcia dressed while her husband was stationed in Japan with the United States Air Force back in the early 1960's.

My Aunt had three children at that point, two sons and a daughter, who was a few years older than me. Aunt Marcia had a chance (and apparently the time and talent...) to take a class on Japanese doll making. She learned how to make the costume for the doll, and carefully dressed her as a geisha in training.

The "in-training" part was signaled by the fact that the tradition back fabric bundle was left undone as in this picture; (and I just learned why rubber flip flop sandals are also called zoris!)

ou can see both full fledged geisha and in training costume in this picture (I should have taken a picture of my doll's backside too while I was in San Diego this time) that is, two panels of richly woven brocade fabric trailed stiffly down from the dolls waist to her heels. I would routinely fold the fabric up, imagining how she would look as a full fledged geisha. The black band around her waist was the fabric I would fold, but the soft fine silk of the orange and white check fabric actually held my tactile interest more. That fabric was somehow embossed so each little dot was slightly raised.

My Aunt carried the doll home from Japan in a traditional display case formed of glass and shiny black lacquered wood. The door had a small key embellished with a minuscule tassel. By "carried" the doll home, I was told by my Aunt that the case and the doll had sat on her lap the entire flight from Japan to San Diego. When I think about that fact, I cringe. I can't imagine why she did that for me. As far as I know, she had only met me once or twice before she left for Japan.

Much later, when I visited with her as an adult she shared one detail about her flight over to Japan. She told me she had boarded the plane with her family, heading out to a country she had never known, dressed appropriately for that time, in a suit, heels, hat, nylons and gloves.

She had just begun her period that day; and the sanitary products were inadequate to the task at hand. Upon boarding she retired to the lavatory, where she undressed and washed out all the layers of her clothing-pantie, girdle, slip, skirt, and then re-dressed in the wet garments for the long flight with three young school age children. Naturally that trauma stuck in her mind for many years, and I wonder if she recalled that indignity as she layered the doll with garment after garment, then tied the costume all together with a sash.

Laura now owns the doll, and sadly the carefully carried display case was destroyed by water damage while it was stored when I was in my thirties. Her lovely sheer red silk parasol is also gone now; I only just this moment remembered that she had one, and it was always fully open, riding on her shoulder, exhibiting finely painted cherry blossoms in white, creating a back drop for her sweet white face.

Except those details, a slight shattering of the fine silk, and a tiny bit of fading and dust, the doll looks exactly the same as it did when I received it.

I wonder what inspired my aunt to give the doll to me; she had an identical twin sister who had two daughters that were older, and arguably more suited for caring for such a treasure, as well as a daughter of her own. I was amazed that I was chosen to receive the doll when they returned to America a few years later, staying at our house before trekking to their next military assignment, which I think was in Arlington Texas. Our family visited her there once a few years later. I was stunned at how hot and humid Texas was, and made a mental note to never, ever visit the state ever again. Oh how curious life is...I never imagined I would live deep in the heart of Texas myself later on.

More surprisingly, it turned out that my completely San Diego rooted daughter would be uprooted as well in order to enter nursing school at the college not far from where my Aunt and her family lived, none other than the University of Texas at Arlington.

I also wonder if the doll lit a life long passions within me: a love of the color orange, the fascination with beautiful fabrics and costumes, and the decision that of my three aunts, I liked my Aunt Marcia the best. Later she and her family moved to Oregon; I took a train up to visit her when I was a teen and shortly afterward decided I wanted very much to live in Oregon too. I later fulfilled that decision for at least two years of my life when I moved to Oregon to attend college. Funny how my Aunt seemed to have blazed a trail for future college location decisions!

Geishas are mysterious beings; their white mask like make up, shy demeanor, and wrapped in layer upon layer of bright color fabric that conceal their form, yet announcing to all who would see exactly who they are in their unique world. My doll is still signaling mysteries to me, and reminding me that she and I are in many ways still "in training" to learn how to serve be of service after all these years.


Amy Letinsky said...

Beautiful doll! My great uncle came back from military service in Japan and brought me back a little silk baby kimono (I was an infant at the time). Sadly, I don't have the pics to share (mom does).

I enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha in book form (not so much for the movie). There's a lot of great historical information about the life of a Geisha in there, especially of the Geishas in training.

Lovella ♥ said...

What a lovely story Jill. I also have an aunt that is easy to have as a favorite. ..It doesn't take much to make a child feel special and loved.
I wonder if she saw something in you as a small girl that we now know to be a love of learning and a joy in being curious and surely an appreciative response to her kind gesture.

It is also true. .that we never ever stop learning . . to be gracious in serving.

Julie said...

Jill, you had me leaning forward in my chair hanging on your every word!
What a fascinating, and informative post.
You never found out why your aunt gave you that beautiful doll? Maybe so you could honour her in a post 50 years later ?? smile..

Sara said...

She's very lovely. You have a lot of special memories and associations tied up in her too. My grandparents brought my two sisters and me wooden dolls from Poland once. My grandfather was born was Austria-Hungary in his day, before WWI. I wish we still had those dolls...but alas, they are long gone!

Your little Japanese doll is a real treasure.