Old people scared me as a child, even if they were relatives; I only tolerated them because they let me play with the stuffed animals they kept around the house for us great-grandkids.
Then for Christmas, when I was nine, my Great-Grandma Mattie sent me a porcelain doll that contrasted the idealized bride dolls she usually sent me. This doll was short and pudgy, dressed in faded green gingham, and smiling; and I loved her at first sight. I took her everywhere with me, even though I had already given up playing with dolls. That doll changed my perspective on Grandma Mattie. When I saw her again during my next summer visit, we talked for hours and swapped old National Geographic issues. She became my best friend that night.
Grandma Mattie died the following spring; that loss hurt so much I put the doll in a box and did not think of either of them again for years. When I eventually rediscovered the doll, I also rediscovered my memories of my great-grandma. I developed fresh admiration for Grandma Mattie, who could take out a hawk overhead with a hip-shot, who never went to college, but knew so much because she read voraciously. And I may never have known that incredible woman or her invaluable wisdom if not for that doll in the green gingham dress that I now keep on my desk.