It is seemingly a coincidence that master doll maker Ginny Standler inherits a co-op apartment fronting on the Chatham Square of Savannah, Georgia, from her Aunt Marie while simultaneously being offered an interim teaching position at Savannah’s College of Art and Design. Both circumstances enable and propel her to escape the Fan district of Richmond, Virginia, and its constant reminders of a romance having gone disturbingly sour and giving Ginny pause to question her value system and relationships with others.
Dropped unceremoniously in the quirky charm of Savannah’s park-laced historical district—and most significantly into contact with the people who live and thrive in that environment—Ginny quickly becomes entwined with a grouchy recluse; a sour, erratic, and sometimes irrational bag lady; a young girl direly in need of healing; a young waiter laughing through his tears; a bitter poet; and a possible new love interest. And she just as quickly becomes embroiled in the individual letter-signaled mysteries of this set of characters that both repels and compels them one from another—but that somehow makes them a caring community. A community that Ginny comes to suspect her Aunt Marie has purposely enfolded her into to begin the healing in her own life.
This charming and inspirational story reflects perfectly what makes the beautifully designed and peopled southern city of Savannah the special place that it is.
“There now, you’ve got it. I think you’re ready to help with Marie’s smile.”
“It’s her eye, isn’t it? It’s her eye I’m putting in. You said this was the eye.”
They were sitting at the workbench in Ginny’s apartment. Samantha was all attention and seriousness and care, and Ginny wanted to both laugh and cry as she looked upon Samantha’s concentration to get the blue pupil of the eye “just so” on the practice template.
“Yes, it’s her eyes you’ll be putting in—or, rather, the very center of the eye. We call that the pupil. When someone is happy, Samantha, they smile from much more than the mouth. You can see it in their eyes—and you can feel it in places you can’t see.”
“In places you can’t see?”
“Yes. You can feel it in the heart as well. Now, it’s time you gave this Marie Antoinette doll the smile in her eyes—that’s what the sparkles in the paint will do. Careful now—but don’t worry, if it doesn’t come out just right, we can take it off and do it over.”
“Do it over. We can do that?”
“Yes, with dolls we can do that.” Ginny knew it was time. She released the precious doll into the hands of the little girl. Then she sighed. “Sometimes I wish it was that easy to do over in real life—for people to do that.”
“My mamma says people can have do overs,” Samantha said without even considering what she was saying. All of her concentration was on the doll as she approached its face with the tip of the charged paint brush. “She says that’s why we go to church—so we can be given do overs.”
“Your mother’s a wise—and patient—woman, Samantha. You’re lucky to have her. There, that was perfect. Just perfect. Now, let’s charge the brush with more of the glittery paint and we can do the second pupil.”
“My mother smiles a lot. Even when I don’t think there’s anything to smile about.”
“That’s a gift your mother has then, Samantha. Here, here’s the brush again. Turn her head just a bit that way. It’s a secret of the art, but if the paint is just a bit heavier on this side, the eye will look more realistic—it will seem she’s looking right back at you.”
“My mamma gots a letter yesterday. It was from my daddy. She cried. But then when she saw I was there, she looked right back at me and she smiled.”
Ginny had to look away. It wasn’t that she couldn’t bear to watch Samantha put in that last pupil—because Samantha was doing it just right; her hand was steady and her aim was true. It was because she just couldn’t bear to think what was in that letter from Samantha’s father and what strength Samantha’s mother must have needed to smile.
“I like my mamma’s smile. I think she smiles from the heart. You have a nice smile too. Are you smiling in your heart?”
“I wish. I only wish.” It was not what Ginny said but what she whispered inside her mind; it was what she could do no more than wish for.