In 2012, our teenagers, realizing they’d forgotten to get me a birthday present, made a rather last minute dash to the store looking for something. Anything. They returned home with a piñata stuffed full of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I emptied her body cavity of goodies and looked long and hard at her face. “What is your name, lady?”
This magnificent creature used her telepathic powers to tell me her name was Doris.
A couple of months later, under almost exactly the same circumstances, Mike was presented with a piñata of pastel hues bearing Hershey’s Miniatures. Mike doesn’t possess piñata telepathy, so I translated for him and everyone else that the name was Morgan. Gender was never discussed. It was clear Morgan and Doris loved each other very much and who are we to question?
A couple of weeks later, they attended our wedding with us. That’s where this photo was taken. They came to a few of our anniversary parties, too, but for years they watched over our family from their perch high atop my china cabinet . On occasion, we’d look to one of them to officiate heated dinner conversations. Being forced to talk to a Papier-mâché donkey is a great way to diffuse sibling squabbles. It works on religious and political debates, too.
A few years ago they were joined by a child piñata, but they were secretive about its name. One day, who knows when, the child piñata just vanished. Morgan and Doris never seemed particularly alarmed about it, so we chalked it up to a cultural difference and didn’t worry about it, either.
Since that time, two of our children have finished college. Two more have gone away to college, and only two of them are left at home. Suddenly there were smaller and fewer family dinners for Morgan and Doris to oversee.
During the dual floods of 2015 Morgan and Doris took direct hits as the water poured out of our kitchen ceiling. With plenty of sunshine therapy, they healed good as new – if not a tad bit faded.
In November of this year I relocated Morgan and Doris to our newly (almost) refinished basement. I thought they’d like the change of scenery, and God knows that room needed a splash of color! I made plans to hang a shelf up high for them. Until I could get around to it, they would live on the floor. Dino, Madi’s new doggy was excited to see the grey piñatas (dogs are colorblind, right?) just about his size when they came home for the Thanksgiving holiday. He playfully pounced over to greet them. Cautiously, he sniffed Doris first. The whole family sucked in our breaths and watched – ready to rescue a piñata if necessary. When Doris proved too boring, Dino moved on to sniff Morgan, who was clearly more interesting! After thoroughly sniffing every inch of Morgan, Dino parallel parked himself up along side, and cocked his leg, completely drenching the starboard side of Morgan.
The injury proved too great. Doris was given a chance to say good bye, and Morgan’s piss-soaked body was given a proper burial service. For a piñata. When Morgan’s name is mentioned, we now pause for a moment of reflective silence.
I finally got around to hanging the shelf where I intended Doris to live, but I placed it too high and Doris did not fit without bending her ears. Forced to live on an end table, she just looked lonely and miserable. The new home was too small for her, really, and sometimes she’d get knocked to the floor by a wayward guitar. I knew I needed to find another solution for Doris, but I assumed I’d just end up hanging another shelf for her to adorn.
But then this morning I had the opportunity to go hang out with some refugees for a birthday party. I didn’t really have any more details than that. Sue said party and I said, “Yes, ma’am.” Age and size of the refugees for whom we were throwing a party was irrelevant, she told me. They just wanted “birthday things.” If that doesn’t mean presents, I’m at a loss. But then, I thought about Doris. There was never any thought that I shouldn’t do it.
We loaded her with candy and took her in to the refugee birthday party. What a truly…well, weird experience.
When the State Department sends however many refugees from wherever they’ve allowed them to come to the United States, these local offices must house them, feed them, and provide them with some support. From ESL, to cultural, to job training, these people must attend classes every day until they are ready to assimilate into their new American Lives.
On this day we entered a room where between twenty and twenty-five recently arrived refugees were attending only their second day of class! I believe all of them were from countries in east Africa. All were adults, except for two young girls. Sisters. It was explained that they had no volunteers today to watch the children, so they came into the classes with their parents.
Today they were learning about birthday parties. Sue brought the cupcakes and balloons and decorations. Someone else made a pumpkin cake. I had a metric crap ton of candy that didn’t fit and one very excited piñata! I think she saw the little girls.
The adults were busy playing a creative form of musical chairs that incorporated birthday-related words like, “friends,” “presents,” and “birthday cake.” And all of them seemed to genuinely be having a wonderful time! One man was in an Arsenal jacket and I wondered if that was a personal item, one of the few treasures he brought with him. Or was it a donated item that had been collected by kind-hearted people who would never meet him, but wanted to do something – anything – to make a stranger a little more comfortable. Warm.
But let’s take a moment to think about this scenario. These people have just come from some unimaginable hardship; violence, famine, natural disaster. They are in this shiny, new country and, presumably, learning the important things they will need to know to start a life here. Just how much ground did they cover on the first day that by the second they have already worked their way down the list of important cultural events to birthday parties? I wonder if too much emphasis was placed on birthday hats today. Imagine you’re sitting in a class, completely lost because you speak not a lick of English, and you are repeating a series of sounds that are said to you. You don’t know what they mean – at least not in any context. You are shown how to strap the paper horn to your head and repeat the sound, “birthday hat.”
Did these people ride the bus back to their homes tonight on the lookout for someone else wearing a paper horn? Were they hoping to use their new word?
“Why yes, it is! Thank you for noticing.”
“You already said that.”
It is my nature to worry that because I did not witness the beginning of the class, maybe some of our new community members might not have grasped that we were even talking about birthdays. How do you communicate the idea of a birthday, anyway?
Soon, the impracticality of using a piñata in its intended way became obvious. We couldn’t hang her from a drop-in ceiling, and they do require an awful strong beating. The room was cramped as it was, and I hadn’t remembered to bring the whacking stick.
In the back of the room, the two little girls continued playing. Sue walked Doris to them and held her upside down, high in the air, letting candy rain down in front of the squealing girls. Back on the ground, Doris received gentle petting from the four year old while the younger sister sat on her back and tried to ride her.
I can’t show you the picture of this because we were asked not to post any photos of the refugees to the internet. Also, I’d feel really uncomfortable telling you much about this family, not that I know very much at all.
What I can tell you is that their parents each come from a different, war torn country -one of which I’m willing to bet most of you have never even heard of. But that’s ok. I bet last month they’d never heard of North Carolina, either. And now they are here with the promise of a new and better life. And as cynical as I am about the near future of this country, I cannot help but feel hopeful that they will find more than they could have ever dreamed here.
If they get to stay.
If they aren’t forced onto a registry.
If they aren’t harassed by their new neighbors.
Too many heartbreaking possibilities are there, in the back of my mind.
But today two little girls got to take home a new friend – possibly confusing them for the rest of their lives about what you’re actually supposed to do with a piñata (and my God! I’m suddenly terrified for the day they learn the truth!) – and Doris found a new family to love.