Yesterday's Magazette

13 – Doll Babies

Doll Babies

By Carrillee Collins Burke

I was never one of those little girls who loved to sing to a make-believe baby. I would rather pick big fat green worms from tobacco plants and run barefooted through muddy water puddles. I had real live baby siblings to rock and sing to. But, just like most girls in the 1930s, I was given dolls for Christmas.

I don’t recall naming any of my dolls, except the rag doll made by my grandmother. I was around four or five-year-old. The doll was made from two alike pieces of muslin sewn together in the shape of a head, two stiff arms that stuck out from the body and two legs from the body’s bottom. No feet or hand shapes needed. It was stuffed with cotton or anything else available. I’m not sure what my doll was stuffed with. Her eyes were blue buttons, eyebrows, nose and mouth were hand stitched.

I named her Emily. I don’t know why I called her that. I had no relatives or friends with that name. I tried to make her clothes from scraps of material left from my grandmothers’ quilt making. That never panned out. Beyond the pink dress she originally had, Emily was dressed pretty shabbily. I had her for at least a couple years, or more. I have no idea what happened to her.  But I remember her with love.

Around the time of Emily or maybe a little later, I received a doll made from pink rubber. She didn’t last long after I discovered her laying on the little doll-sized bed my father had made for Emily and covered with a tiny hand-pieced quilt. One day I picked her up to discover I could see inside her. Her stomach had been slit open. After I did a lot of screaming, my brother, Jim, said “she should rest, he had to take her appendix out.”  She must have died for she ended up in the trash pit.

The most beautiful doll I ever received was a “lady” doll, who lived a long time before Barbie. I don’t recall naming her and don’t know if she had a factory name. She had a gorgeous face and was about eight inches tall. She could have been from my mother’s childhood. Actually, I was too young to appreciate a lady like her. My mother made her a blue fur-like coat and matching pillbox hat. I found her under the Christmas tree. I don’t recall how long she lived with me or what happened to her. I do remember being told she was dressed for traveling. Maybe she took a sea cruise and drowned.

The last doll I received was from my dad. I was around eight at the time. In my opinion, much too old for dolls  He worked approximately fifty miles away and came home only when time and money permitted. It was Christmas Eve and dad arrived home late that night. Soon after greeting him, he opened his suitcase, empty, except for a few unwrapped gifts for my mother and us four children. I don’t recall the other gifts, but I remember mine. It was a baby doll, at least two feet tall with eyes that opened and closed and lips slightly parted showing two pearly white teeth and a head full of blond curls. Up until then, all my dolls had been small and the eyes painted on. She was something new on the market.

I wondered why he gave me a gift that he had to know I was too old for. I didn’t appreciate it. I would have loved roller skates or a kitten more. After he had gone back to the city, I gave the doll to my sister, Isabelle, who was three years my junior.

Later, I found out the reason for the gift. It was because every time mother wrote him a letter, I also wrote him one. Dear Daddy, how are you. I am fine. Well, you know how informative a child’s letter can be. But he appreciated it and thought the doll was one I would keep.

As an adult, my sister collected antique dolls. Upon her death at thirty one, her ten-year-old daughter fell heir to the collection of over 40 dolls. Her father hired a live-in babysitter for my young niece and nephew. She cleaned house one day and all the dolls ended up in a dumpster and were hauled away. I learned the one I gave my sister years before had become a collectible and was worth a peck of money.

The only other doll  I had a connection with was my mother’s childhood china head doll. I was never premitted to hold or play with it for fear of me breaking it, although I begged. Mother had inherited it from her mother. It was very old. I never played with my own dolls, yet I know I wanted to play with hers because it was denied me.

However, my baby brother, Davy, was allowed to play with it. One day we were cracking walnuts on the fireplace hearth when Davy laid the doll beside a walnut, picked up a hammer, much too heavy for him to handle, missed the nut and smashed the china head to smithereens. My mother who rarely cried, sobbed. Nothing but the cloth body was left of her beloved doll.

Now that I am old, I look back to my childhood and my dolls. Sadly, back then, I identified with little girls of the future who had  more interest in other things than dolls. Today, the store shelves are not lined with baby dolls and doll clothes as in my day. I remember the special odor that a new doll dresss had. And those little white shoes with laces and socks also had a distinct odor.

Little girls and boys rocking and singing with their dolls is a touching thing to see. Maybe it teaches them to be better parents. I don’t know. I know I was not one of those children but I  still turned out to be a loving mother. When my daughter was young she didn’t care for dolls either, other than one grown-up Barbie. Today she is also a loving mother and grandmother.

Che sara, sara.


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