Swapke, a tiny rag doll owned by Marmod in The Netherlands, travels widely, and even has her own website!
I was fortunate enough recently to entertain her in my home in El Paso, Texas, after she visited with Chris in Wisconsin and Fern in Rhode Island. (Read more about her and her visits with them on the websites given at the end of these pages.)
I was surprised to see how tiny she was when I opened her little suitcase.
The first words she spoke to me, after a warm hello, were, "My goodness, Texas is a big place! Why, I could have traveled across several countries in Europe before getting across your state to El Paso!" (El Paso is the red star on the very westernmost tip of Texas.)
"Yes," I agreed, "you have come from the smallest state, Rhode Island, to the second largest after Alaska. And by the time you crossed Texas to reach El Paso, you had also crossed the width of the entire state of Oklahoma and come halfway across New Mexico!"
My husband printed a map to help her visualize our location better. "That's New Mexico and Arizona above and to our west, with the Rio Grande serving as the dividing line between us and the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, below us to the south."
"You can see why I attend mini shows in New Mexico and Arizona, rather than in Texas," I told her, "although I do go to shows in Lubbock, since our son's family lives there. This spring, we attended a show in Amarillo, about a hundred miles north of Lubbock, and the family drove up for a visit. But it's a heck of a long way from here to Dallas or Houston or Salado or San Antonio or any other place in Texas with shows."
At this point, I realized my little visitor had become very quiet. I looked around in alarm to find her snuggled into my husband's bike shirt ...
... fast asleep. She was either quite tired or else I was beginning to bore her!
Here is a typical late summer view of the Franklin Mountains as you approach El Paso from the East. They are the southernmost end of the Rocky Mountains and are quite rugged.
Our rainy season is normally July, August and September, a result of the monsoonal weather caused by hurricanes and tropical storms off the Pacific from the west, or the Gulf of Mexico south and east of here. Most of the time, however, ours are hard slanting rains that come and go fast, typical of the desert. This year they have been straight down - and stayed and stayed. In the last week of July it rained steadily for 17 hours, resulting in the Rio Grande overflowing its levees and dangerous flooding throughout the area. And it kept on raining and flooding for the entire month of August ...
... resulting in lots of misty rainy weather and far more green than normal!
One day when it was not pouring quite so hard, we decided to take Swapke for a drive, and here was the East Side of the mountains on the way to Transmountain Road, which cuts through the Franklins to the Upper Valley. (Oops, I notice I cut off Swapke, who was sitting on the dashboard looking through the windshield.)
It felt and looked as if we were in Colorado or Oregon!
As we started the climb up Transmountain Road, we looked to our right and there was a new arroyo that had been cut by the runoff from the mountains.
This was much larger than it appears in this photo.
And as we climbed further we were astonished to see waterfalls everywhere.
This is a view from high in the mountains, looking down on Northeast El Paso, after weeks of rain.
Franklin Mountains State Park, on the West side of the Franklins, where my husband is a volunteer, is the largest state park within the confines of a major city, and a beautiful, rugged place. We were greeted at the entrance by our friends, three of the park rangers who were taking a break after working to clear the main roads in the park. Old arroyos which had been covered with vegetation had been gouged out, and new ones had been formed, covering the roads in places with tons of rock, debris and uprooted vegetation.
The rangers had labored for days to clear it away, and then more rain brought more crashing and roaring and tumbling down. "You talk about loud!" they said. "Man, that was noisy - and scary." Rather than using a bulldozer to push off the tons of debris, which would have torn up the roads further, they had to hire someone to come in with a front end loader to load it into trucks to get it out of there. They were very tired but kept their sense of humor.
"Well, at least we've been enjoying all the waterfalls," they told us, smiling, and pointed out the best places for us to look.
This was the most amazing season we had ever seen for rain. Unprecedented; at least as long as they've been keeping records, which is over 100 years. In the 46 years we've been in El Paso we had never seen the Rio Grande full. It was breached several times in August. Even when it wasn't raining here, if it was raining further up in New Mexico, or in the mountains somewhere around, the result was flooding further down the river.
The ground was so saturated, and all the ponding areas and drainage canals so full, that the entire area exuded a terrible kind of tension, waiting for the next shoe - or rather rain - to fall. Many people in certain areas were flooded out more than once, and it was absolutely terrible for them. The President declared this a disaster area as a result of the massive damage and destruction. Fortunately, the basic infrastructure was still intact so the rescue and emergency units and streets and highways departments functioned admirably to help people and clear the major thoroughfares.
El Paso is a city of rock walls, and even a month later, remnants of these walls that came tumbling down the hillsides are piled along the roadways in certain areas and there is a massive amount of work to do to help people recover. Some neighborhoods may have to be relocated.
"If I had wanted rain, I could have stayed at home," Swapke said, winking at me as we watched more toadstools sprouting in our front yard. "I didn't think it rained in the desert!"
Because of all this, many festivals and normal seasonal celebrations were washed out, canceled or postponed, including the Fiesta De Las Flores (which had to be moved indoors at the Coliseum) and the Hatch (New Mexico) Chile Festival. So, unfortunately Swapke had to return home without fresh chiles in her suitcase! But we had fun anyway.
One of the first miniature settings she looked at was Serena's Crib.
She thought at first she might be able to wear that little pink crocheted dress but it was a wee bit too large!
She wanted to show me her webpage, so we visited my computer room...
... where she decided to check out the view as she joined some familiar pieces that perch atop my computer screen.
Who could return to Holland without having ridden a Texas armadillo wearing a Mexican sombrero?
"Oh, wait until I tell all my friends!"
"You have lots of school stuff in this room," she said. "Are you a teacher?"
"I was a teacher, but retired now. See that plaque at the bottom of the arrangement? It says, Old Teachers Never Die: They Just Lose Their Class."
Swapke laughed, and said, "I like that big pencil laying across the top."
"Our good friend and next-door neighbor Epi, who is also a teacher, made that pencil for me. He also made the red wooden apple hanging on the wall over the computer, too."
The watercolor was a gift from the art teacher when I opened The Write Place, my writing and tutoring center. If you look closely, you can see that the pen's feathers spell Ysleta, which was the name of my high school. Some of my students were members of the Ysleta Pueblo, and our mascot was the Indian. This painting used to hang on the wall of my writing center.
"Well, since you are still writing stories, this is a good place to have it," Swapke commented.
"Wow, there's more stuff!" she noticed.
This arrangement is on the wall over my computer station. Besides the school plaques, there are other personal items relating to my career that have special meaning. The loving cup was a gift at the end of the 1976-77 school year from the best English III class I ever had.
There's the red apple Epi made.
On this little display shelf you see an iron Mrs. plaque that one of my students made for me in his welding class. It sat on top of a bookshelf for the rest of my teaching career, along with the fellow in the headdress who seems to be having difficulty knowing which path to take.
I used that bust of the poet Longfellow as a paperweight all the years that I taught. Notice his eyes show a bit white? One of my students gave him white eyeballs once!
Swapke wanted her picture taken on the display shelf next to the little metal schoolhouse.
Hanging on the wall to the right of the display shelf are two little plaques which were gifts from my teaching colleague Fernie, who passed away in 2001.
The top one is a quote from Henry David Thoreau:
If a man does not keep pace
with his companions
perhaps it is because he hears
a different drummer.
Let him step to the music he hears,
however measured and far away.
And the second is from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Though we travel
the world over
to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us
or we will
find it not.
Fernie was a dear friend and a great teacher. I delivered the eulogy at his funeral, and my setting The Wife of Bath is dedicated to him. (You can see that scene in preparation here )
Swapke was just a bit too small for that smallest old-fashioned desk on top of my computer unit.
That little sign used to sit on the desk in my classroom.
I love these little reproduction Philco radios and want to remove the innards and make a quarter scale setting in the larger one. The smaller I use as an actual radio.
Here is a plaque with another line from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Write on your heart
that every day
is the best day of the year.
I did love teaching Emerson and Thoreau!
This wooden plaque with my name was also a gift from a boy who made it in his shop class. The little Indian face was another gift, actually designed to be pinned onto a coat or jacket. The girl who made it used a nylon stocking stuffed with cotton, and yarn.
My granddaughter Jenna's big brother brought her over so she could finally meet Swapke. "This is one little rag doll!" he said. "She has been so excited about Swapke. I thought at first she was talking about a real person! "
"Don't listen to him, Swapke," Jenna said. "We know she's real, don't we, Nana?"
Jenna and her youngest brother and my other two youngest grandchildren have been doing projects with me since they were each about five years old, so she was very interested when she learned about Swapke. (You can see many of their projects with Nana here.)
Then she started looking for the little rag doll, who suddenly was nowhere in sight. "Are you in the garden room?" Jenna asked.
"It's getting dark, and I can't see her!" Jenna said, nervously.
"Oh, yes, there she is!"
"Yes, I found a nice kitty," Swapke told us.
"You're going to sleep in here with me, Swapke," Jenna said, taking her into the guestroom/playroom."
Gee, I should've gone in there and straightened up that bed first, shouldn't I? lol
"You can visit Miss Minnie in her house, if you want to," Jenna said to our guest. "There's also lots of stuff on this wall. The games and toys that Nana has for us to play with are in those baskets. All the rest of it is her things - and she has a LOT!"
One of these days I am going to do something with all those pieces on top of the shelf unit!
Jenna took her on a tour of some of the items in the guestroom hutch. This is a 2 inch scale chair.
I was not able to hear their conversation.
This is Annabel in a 2 inch scale rocking chair. She is a sculpted cloth doll over wire.
Swapke enjoyed snuggling with Annabel and her dolly.
Annabel was purchased at a local doll show many years ago, although her maker was from Washington state, I believe. Unfortunately, she didn't give me her card, and I cannot remember now who the artist was. I love this doll, and was thrilled when some years later I found the tiny dolly which was perfect to go with her.
The next doll to meet Swapke was Mama Cow.
I bought Mama Cow in Tennessee, and believe it or not, later found her baby at a local doll show!
"I like your dolls," Swapke said. "They make me feel at home."
"Oh, that little bench would be just right for me," she said, sitting in front of the Raggedys' box.
But her very favorite was this one, whic was handmade by my Aunt Irene when my son was born. She was confused, and thought I had had another girl! This is a Topsy-Turvy doll; if you turn her upside down and pull her skirt down, she is wearing a blue dress and her eyes are open.
"She reminds me of my mama," Swapke said, smiling.
"Well, as long as I'm exploring, I might as well check out this house," Swapke said as she stepped onto the tiny porch.
"It's kind of nice for a change to find something that is smaller scale than I am!"
"That's The Poky Little Puppy next to the Fall Bench, " Jenna said. "Nana used to read that to me when I was going to sleep."
And Jenna told me later that after they watched the movie she had brought from home about Madagascar Penguins, that she read the little book to Swapke and then they spent the night together in our guestroom bed.
I wish I had gotten more pictures of Jenna with Swapke. I had forgotten that she was not going to be able to spend a second night with us because she had to go home for a Block Party that her parents were hosting. All the neighbors were bringing pot luck items, and it was going to be great fun and Jenna didn't want to miss it.
When the rains stopped for a while, we did manage to get in one picnic where Fido took Swapke for a ride.
Did she give him that cheese, or did he take it off the table? Maybe it fell on the ground ....
Seeing my hat, Swapke commented, "You know, I would like to have a sombrero like the one on the armadillo. "
So, when I was getting her ready to return home, I found her a sombrero, and a Mexican thread doll.
And some fabric for pillows and a bit of paper trim that might be good for decorating a Southwestern roombox.
Also a Kokopelli figure and a piece of matching Kokopelli fabric. "Who is he?" she asked. Kokopelli is an ancient Native American mythical figure, a hump-backed flute player found in rock carvings.
"This special figure is yours," I said, "to remember us in El Paso."
And how about a straw burro from Mexico?
"Oh, he's cute!" she said. "And not too big for me to play with."
"Just watch out for the agave plant in his basket; sometimes their tips can be quite sharp," I told her.
"Oh, I feel like a cowboy with this steer head," she said happily.
And here's a little pottery jug from Mexico for your milk.
"Oh, this figure is pretty," she said. "How shall I use her?"
"Well, you could stand her in this little cactus garden," I said.
"Good idea! And I'll bet Marmod can use this buffalo fabric for something special, too."
Well, all good things must come to an end, so we carefully packed her gifts in this little star box (to represent Texas, The Lone Star State).
And tucked the box, along with a card to Marmod, inside this little gift bag.
The last thing I did before putting Swapke back in her suitcase and sealing up her traveling box for her return to Chris in Michigan was to attach an El Paso label.
There is an old Texas saying that begins, "If the Devil don't get me and the creeks don't rise ...."
Well, the Devil didn't get her and although the creeks rose pretty high in our neighborhood, Swapke was able to return safely home.
We shall remember with fondness the visit of our little Dutch friend. I guess she'll have to remember us for floods, rather than the typical El Paso sunshine!
Vaya con Dios, Swapke, and come back to Texas, y'hear?
NOTE: Swapke came to the United States through the efforts of Chris Verstraete in Wisconsin, who first wrote about a possible United States visit on her website.
From Wisconsin, Swapke traveled to Rhode Island for a visit with Fern, and then she came to El Paso.
It was lovely having her, and we were all so relieved when we learned that she had arrived safely home with her owner, Marmod.
Unfortunately, in January, 2007, we learned that on one of her travels Swapke went missing. People all over the world have been concerned, and great efforts are being made to locate our little traveling friend. The last I heard, however, she had not been found.
Rumours are rampant that she may have eloped with a friend.
2013: At the time I added these pages to my website, this link to Marmod's site was still active: www.swapke.nl
However, in March of 2013 the link was no longer viable. If anyone knows of another site for Marmod and the story of Swapke's travels, please let me know.