I have written about dolls several times for the many years that I have authored the History Corner, but several weeks ago I came home to retrieve my mail and in the box, in a plastic bag, was an old doll. Not the ordinary way to find a doll but there she was, a beautiful little Horsman doll from the twenties or thirties and, as it turned out, a gift from a dear friend. My passion for dolls is rather new because in my childhood, I had only had a couple of them since I would rather climb a tree, build a fort or climb on the roof of my house having climbed out of the attic window to sit on the roof of the porch. My friends and I even tried to make a clubhouse out of an old shack in the woods near my house.
I once built a wonderful fort with a myriad of sheets nailed around our garden shed we called “The Laughin” Place” from the movie “Song of the South”. You know that Disney movie you can only buy with money “under the table”. Well this ‘laughin’ place looked great with my ardent nailing and hammering until my mother came home and told me it looked like “tobacco road”. Not knowing what that meant, but hearing my mother’s tone of voice, it wasn’t a good place to be, especially where it could be seen from the road. Reluctantly, I took it down, piece-by-piece, nail-by-nail.
Let me get back to the dolls. To this day, I do not know what possessed me, at the age of seven to get out of bed, in what seemed like the middle of the night and walk up the stairs to the attic. We had an upper attic which was like a loft where all of the Christmas items were stored as well as other treasures. I went over to a box which I can still see in my mind and found a doll, well a doll head and a body. The face was cracked, as were the arms and legs as she was a composition doll which is basically glue and sawdust and subject to damage in a heated attic.
I came downstairs, cried about this poor headless creature and got back to my bed with her in my arms. Where my mom fit into this memory is faded now. But the next morning, I showed my dad this poor little thing, asking him to fix her. We called my father Geppetto because he could fix things like the character in Pinocchio. He went to his workshop and soon returned with her head intact with a fancy piece of wood on an elastic, which kept her head attached to her body. Now for some clothes. My Mom made her a fancy dress and eventually we bought her a skirt and blouse and I loved her more dearly than the other two, newer dolls I had.
As I got older, Santa brought me a Saucy Walker which was to be my last doll. You would hold her arms and help her legs to move forward. Now she had quite a wardrobe and I changed her clothes often as she sat in a doll high chair and I curled her hair weekly for no other reason than to do it. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I named my attic find Roberta, a name I cannot connect with anyone at that time. The Saucy Walker was given the name Suzy. But she was not my last doll as Vogue came out with the “Ginny” doll in the 50s with a huge collection of clothes! Now you can imagine my delight in having a doll named just for me. Yeah right. The maker of the doll had a daughter named Virginia and the “Ginny” doll was available through the eighties. My thoughts on my dolls are somewhat of a surprise to me considering what I told you I liked to do as a kid.
I once went to the circus with my friend Sharron and a huckster talked my mother into buying a chameleon because it would change color and match my shirt and my friend’s dress which was a light purple check. We held onto these tiny boxes until we got home and put each in their own fish tank. To my surprise, it only turned two colors…what a jip! I learned to like this little fellow and since he already had a collar, I put a longer string on him and set him out on our mulberry tree where the ants were everywhere. I brought him in every night but alas, one day, he got out of his collar and escaped. Perhaps he went back to the circus. Sharron lost hers in the house!
Getting back to the dolls, I now had a nice collection and when I moved to Orange, everyone got packed up except Suzy. She had a place in my new bedroom until I got married and my room was given to my niece and Suzy went to the spare room. At this point I am now devoid of dolls….not a bad thing because I had my daughter Lori, a real, live doll and then there was my flower garden and teaching and, and, and dolls were the furthest from my mind. Until that fateful day when I thought it might be nice to have a real porcelain doll. You know one of those collectible dolls you see in antique magazines. I bought one at the age of 62 and gave her a historical name, Hannah.
But what about Roberta? And there was another doll Linda, whose rubber body melted in the attic and only her head was left. What became of them? You see I couldn’t keep still, thinking about these two waifs and one day, I went up into the attic, now my own attic, looking through box after box for my childhood friends. Where could they be? No luck. I checked in my Mom’s attic….no dice and this haunted me for months. I made one more check in my attic and saw, under the eaves, a tattered paper bag. And…are you ready for this? Both of them were in the bag! Linda still looked good, happy to see me but Roberta…oh poor Roberta, she lost what had been the rest of her face. You see, my Dad couldn’t fix that part but as I said, I loved her anyway.
Since I am now in touch with a wonderful woman who repairs dolls, I brought my two girls to see her. Roberta’s face was completely restored and Linda has a new body. Both girls sit majestically in their own chairs, wearing their original clothes and Suzy sits in her doll high chair. “Ginny” sits on my desk which I can look at while I write my many stories for you readers and she is wearing her original dress with three friends, who have joined her over the years from friends who know I “sort” of collect the Ginny doll. Does four of a kind make a collection? Three more and I can call out “Gin”.
The “mailbox” doll is sitting on my desk to my left as I write this, the prettiest little face, two teeth and a smile that would melt your heart. Her dress doesn’t fit very well but she looks like she was well loved. It seems today’s children are asking for Disney character’s for Christmas and I am a little sad to see my granddaughter’s baby doll stuck in a doll crib in the corner while her Princess dolls have places of honor. It’s the sign of the times….not a bad thing, just different. We had to make up our own stories for our girls, put them at our little table for tea, dress them again and again according to what we were doing and then at night, they all had on their pajamas, not matching ours like the American Girl Dolls but ones our mothers made for them.
Old doll collecting seems to be out of fashion these days as we have several, old dolls at our Academy Museum Antique shop that sit, waiting for that little girl to want to take them home. Whatever happened to wanting a bride doll? That brings up another of my childhood memories; one, which I have passed on to my granddaughter. Flora McFlimsey. I wrote about her in a Valentine issue so I will be brief here. Flora was a doll, once loved by a little girl but when the little girl grew up, Flora was put in the attic with her trunk of clothes. Hearing commotion downstairs, she asked Timothy mouse what was going on. His answer was Christmas. She fondly remembered the Christmas when the little girl picked her up from under the tree. Now her clothes were faded, her hat askew on her head and her legs rather stiff, although she managed to get downstairs to see the tree. I said I would be brief…I just have to tell you the whole story. There were two other dolls under the tree who, and upon seeing Flora laughed at her for her tattered look. Before long, the angel from the top of the tree came down to Flora giving her new clothes and when morning came, Flora was the first doll to be picked by one of the three little girls living there. I wonder if she named her “Roberta?”