Marie makes me remember. Maybe that's why she came back.

The first time we met was on the only childhood Christmas I remember. She and her twin (I think her name was Annette, but my sureness about that has dimmed over the years) sat in their life-size buggies in the blue-carpeted living room next to the Christmas tree.

My sister Ann and I knew what we were getting for Christmas that year but knowing only heightened our excitement. The Christmas morning ritual in the house of my growing up never deviated from waiting, waiting, waiting until father had awakened, shaved and dressed leisurely, eaten his precise breakfast at the same intolerable measured pace, and then, grimming in a manner of relishing and being burdened at the same time by our impatience, approached the living room like a king come at last to court.

Finally the big dolls were ours. Ann and I were proud mommies, anxious to be off outside, showing off the biggest doll buggies in town. My mother wrote their names on their cloth backs so we'd not get them mixed up. We named them after two of the Dionne quintuplets, heroines of our 1930s childhood.

I think it was seeing my mother's faded handwriting on Marie's back (that's how I knew it was Marie, not because I recognized her) that touched me the most.

There it is: Marie Raymond in block capital letters in black ink, written by my mother, whose name was Ruth Raymond once (as mine was, too).

In those years of missing pieces, childhood memories locked away somewhere not ready to edge out into the light of consciousness, my mother sold the dolls and buggies to two other families, each with a little girl to play with them again.

Last summer I came to know again a person from that childhood, my father's old law partner, who asked after a while if I remembered those dolls my sister Ann and I used to have.

His wife had bought Marie for their daughter to play with. Their daughter is grown now and has daughters of her own but somehow Marie had stayed with the parents, kept all these years in a doll bed in their bedroom.

Finally I asked him if Marie had visiting hours and he smiled as if he knew and asked "Would you like to have her, Ruthie?"

Well, we arranged the details of the adoption and set the final meeting. He cautioned me that Marie had been played with a lot over the years and might look slightly more scruffy than the condition in which my memory held her. But her eyes he said, her eyes have never changed. They look almost alive, as if she knows you.

There was Marie waiting for me, her face cracked, her shoulder torn, a finger missing, dressed in a sunsuit I didn't recognize.

There was no rush of memory for me but Marie fit nicely into the curve of my shoulder, and her bright eyes did indeed look right at you, happy, mischievous, not dimmed at all by the tattered condition nor the years since she was new.

Marie came about with me in the car that day and sat in our living room and bedroom during the weeks until the doll lady could take her to fix her. I introduced her to friends and carried her around a lot and told anyone who would listen the story of finding her, never for one minute disturbed by my family's slight embarrassment that a woman nearly 50 was playing with her doll again.

Marie didn't want to be fixed and gave the doll lady an awful time. So did I, calling and calling, wondering when she'd be ready to come home. She's finally here, dressed in the pink dress my three daughters wore for their 1-year-old pictures, with new shoes and socks and her own little heart necklace a friend gave her.

I thought when the lost, scraggly, unkempt doll named Marie was fixed and home again, her first little-girl mother would be all healed and whole, too.

Now I'm not so sure. Marie and I kind of Like each other the way we are. She's wrapped in the soft white blanket covered with pink roses that my little girls were wrapped in for dress-up occasions. She loves to be held and rocked and talked to.

My little companion may be how I manage the empty nest, perhaps a balm for loneliness, of the way to find those childhood memories.

She could be; now I know what it's like to have her, since I don't remember. Now I'm storing up memories of her presence.

By the way I hold her, I know how I feel, assured and comforted to know at least that, now.