Childhood gift brings adult comfort
I have a thing for dolls. My father bought them for me every Christmas until I was 10.
When I got too old for them and he had to stop that tradition, something went out of our relationship. Maybe that's why I pretended to still be interested in dolls long after I really was. I knew instinctively that my not needing a doll anymore was the end of something.
When I was little and terribly ill, I had a special doll. I don't remember her name, or if she had one. Her head was made of wood and her faces, all three of them, were handpainted.
You turned a knob at the top of her head and the three faces would rotate. One face was smiling, one was crying, and one was sleeping. I spent hours in my little bed rotating those faces. They matched my moods exactly.
We spent six long months together, that doll and me. After I recovered from being sick, my mother, thinking my dependency on the doll wasn't healthy, relegated her to the top shelf of a closet. I didn't see her again for long time.
My husband's mother, Eleanor, was 92 when she died. She left us her childhood dolls, and since she died eight years ago, the dolls are probably around 100 years old.
They are in different stages of decomposition; real hair wigs molting, handpainted faces paling and peeling, the bodies disintegrating as stuffing creeps out from various limbs. They are doll zombies at this point.
I can't get rid of them because regardless of what shape they're in, they are family heirlooms. Never mind that my granddaughters are afraid of them, or even that my grown son gives them a wide berth.
Finally, there is Marie. Marie is 5 feet tall and is a stuffed French maid, complete with a long black dress and frilly white apron. Her yarn hair is done up in a bun and her lips are pursed into a disapproving expression.
I refer to her as the upstairs maid and she has been frightening people, as they encounter her at the head of the stairs, for years. She is just far too lifelike for anyone's comfort level.
She especially spooks my kids, who have been lobbying me to get rid of her. Finally, I decided to sell Marie, so I went upstairs, fixed her hair and dusted her off.
I experienced a very strange feeling as I did so. Silly as it sounds, I felt like I was betraying her. I had owned her for such a long time and here I was, selling her to the highest bidder.
Anyway, I toted her down to our outdoor, covered porch, in order to take her sales picture. I placed her next to our antique washing machine, where she seemed to fit right in.
My husband's surprised comment was, "She looks good there!" So, there she is, and there she probably will remain, her disapproving manner on display for all to see. I think her doll spirit was lobbying to stay, and it worked.
Remember my little three-faced doll that I had when I was small? Fast-forward 40 years into the future. One day, I was visiting my father when my Aunt Vi stopped by with a gift. She gave me a package and said "I don't know if you remember her, but this is a doll you had when you were little. Your mother planned to throw her out, but I asked her to give the doll to me because I thought you would want her someday."
As soon as I saw her, all the memories came flooding back. I had loved this little doll, because she was such a comfort to me when I was sick. But I had forgotten her — left her buried deep in my subconscious.
Suddenly seeing her after 40 long years, I found myself beset by chills and an onset of tears. It was like having a memory shock, and it instantly threw me back into childhood.
Her happy face had been a ray of hope; her sad, crying face showcased all my fears; the sleeping face was a remembrance of my exhaustion — all three of her faces exemplifying the hopeful, indomitable childhood me.
What a gift she was, what a precious, irreplaceable gift.
Kay may be reached at
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