“My Friend Lizzie,” Friend, June 1996, 11
Thunk, thunk, thunk! My two older brothers and I were “washboarding” our baseball bats along the rails on our banister. There were twenty-three steps heading down in a gentle, sloping curve. Between the noise of the bats and our own squeals, we didn’t hear Mom come in.
“What are you three doing? I left you working. You promised that if we moved here, you’d help with the fixing-up. Now get busy.”
We trudged back to our chores.
I felt like Cinderella. Work, work, work! And I couldn’t even escape to a friend’s house, since I hadn’t met anyone here yet.
I sprayed my bedroom walls with water and scraped the ancient layers of wallpaper till strips of brown paper lay in soggy piles at my feet.
When we first moved here, it was fun. We all enjoyed destruction. We helped knock down rickety sheds in the yard and plaster from the walls. By now, however, everything was drudgery.
Our house had been built by our great-great-grandfather, and when the opportunity came for my father to buy it, he leaped at the chance. Mom was more reluctant. I understood why better now.
I brushed a sweaty strand of hair from my eyes. At least the scraping was nearly done. Next we’d patch cracks and put up the wallpaper that waited in my bottom drawer.
As I was scraping near the mantel, I noticed marks on the plaster. I uncovered more and saw that someone had painted flowers twining all around the fireplace—and down near the baseboard something was scribbled: Lizzie Johnson, August 10, 1905!
“Well, for goodness’ sake,” Dad said when I showed him. “Her last name shows that she’s a relation. Let’s look her up in the old family Bible.”
Dad lifted the heavy book from its shelf and gently turned the brittle pages. He found where the names of my great-great-grandfather’s family were listed. They were all boys except one. “Elizabeth Johnson” was written in faded, curlicue letters.
“That must be her,” Dad said. “Lizzie is short for Elizabeth, so she’s your great-great-aunt. I bet your bedroom was hers when she was a girl.”
Suddenly Dad clapped a hand to his forehead. “I knew that name sounded familiar! I think I have her journal with our family papers. She’s one of the people your mother and I have done the temple work for. Would you like to read her journal?”
I was jumping up and down with excitement. “Yes! Please, please, please!”
That night I eagerly read what Lizzie had written. The June 6, 1905, entry made me gasp:
I was angry with Freddy when he took my journal and drew pictures in it.
So Lizzie was tormented by her brothers too!
I’m not mad anymore. We were rattling sticks along the stair railing, and he broke a spindle in it. Dad says he has to do extra chores all week. Poor Freddy!
I dashed to the stairway and searched the banister till I came to a spindle with a thin crack where it had been glued. What a strange feeling it gave me—it was like secrets being whispered through time!
Over the next three days I read Lizzie’s journal. She was so much like me! I felt as if I knew all about her and, strangely enough, as if she knew all about me.
What happened last week made me feel even closer to Lizzie. It was a steamy, sweltering day, and Jacob and I were digging in the cool earth beneath our back porch.
We found pieces of broken china buried there. We pretended we were archaeologists and sorted them into bags.
Then I dug up something small and round, caked with red clay.
“What is it?” Jacob asked.
“I think it’s a doorknob. I’m going to wash it off.”
As I carefully scrubbed away the mud, a rosebud mouth, dark eyes, and round pink cheeks emerged. It was the tiny head of a doll, made of thick china! Even her black hair was china. Except for a few nicks, it was in amazingly good condition.
“Cool!” Jacob cried. “Let’s see if we can find the rest.”
It felt sort of gruesome, digging for body parts.
We found her feet and hands, minus the tip of one foot and a thumb. Mama said her body had probably been made of cloth and had rotted away. She helped me sew a new body from muslin, and a gown of pink taffeta.
How did the doll end up beneath our porch? Did someone leave it there and forget about it till it was buried by time? I guess we’ll never know.
I like to think it belonged to Lizzie. I hope she knows that I have it now and is glad.
When school starts, I’ll make other friends, but Lizzie is my best friend right now. I think we knew and loved each other before I was born.
My family have only been members of the Church for a few years. We have a lot of work to do, finding and turning in our ancestors’ names and dates so that we can do the temple work for them. I’m glad that Lizzie’s work is done so that we can be together some day. Thanks to her, I know that all those names belong to real people, people who were once kids who played with dolls and rattled sticks along the railing—like my friend Lizzie.