Starting with my very first Christmas, Santa always left me the most popular baby doll of the times. She was always center front just under our tree. And, my babies were always my most prized possessions.
My first infant
My first infant baby was all rubber and very life-like. She was delivered in only a diaper. I remember that I would do a traditional swaddling wrap using a flannel blanket to keep her warm. I would pull up the bottom corner of the blanket from her feet to cover her waist, then wrap left and right corners over her body making sure to snuggly cover her shoulders and arms to keep her as secure as she was before she came to me. I’d fold back the top corner as an option to cover baby’s head and eyes, should we choose to go outside for a walk later. Her name was always just “Baby.”
Over the next decade or so new babies were delivered each Christmas to add to my family. There was Tiny Tears, Betsy Wetsy, porcelain babies with cotton filled torso and limbs, a bride’s doll, a walking doll, more dolls that cried and more dolls that wet, big dolls, and little dolls. My family dynamic just continued to grow and I treasured each and every baby dearly.
As I grew older and my small bedroom space seemed to shrink, I remember moving my dolls, furniture, and accessories upstairs to the unfinished, unheated and uncooled attic. As a result of the extreme temperatures, my first baby’s forearm melted in places and became disfigured. She, being the first, and now disfigured made her even more real and special to me.
By the time I was 12, I had accumulated quite a large family of dolls. As I recall though, all of them were girls. I never once thought that at least one of them might be a boy. Of course, this was an era when most dolls produced appeared to be finished and dressed like girls. And, I never had a Barbie or Ken doll either because they were first produced in March 1959, two months after my 12th birthday. (I think I’m glad I didn’t. Barbie’s unrealistic perfect image and shape would have driven me crazy.) And, by then, my daily playtime with baby dolls was waning and I was looking forward to reaching that BIG 13 and being able to officially refer to myself as a teenager.
Meanwhile, my first brother was born in 1958 when I was 11. That’s when our real family became too big for our 2-bedroom cape cod. The sale of our existing home and the search for a new one took about two years. To prepare for our big move, mom told me that we were getting rid of all clutter and that we weren’t moving anything unnecessary into our new home. Then she said to me: “It’s time to let go of your dolls. Throw them out or give them away, whichever, but they’re not coming with us.” These words and this demand hurt me to my core but I just couldn’t make mom understand my feelings and attachment to my doll babies.
I inventoried my choices of cousins that I might surrender my babies to, but not one seemed to care as much as I did about their possessions and especially doll babies. So with mom’s continued insistence, I turned over possession of all of my babies to my cousin who lived closest to us. She was six years my junior and a tomboy at times, but she hadn’t disrespected, disrobed, or dismembered her doll babies as my other cousins had done to theirs.
In the Fall of 1960 our family moved to our new home and by Spring of 1961–just six months later–I discovered that all my babies had been left for ruin. I found them in my cousin’s backyard in her open-doored and open-windowed playhouse. She had left them outside and unattended over the winter. They had been unprotected from the weather, their faces and arms all dirty and their bodies damp and covered with mold and mildew. And I cried for them and was angry with my cousin for not caring for them or for my feelings. She had betrayed my trust and my faith in her. And like Forrest Gump used to say: “And, that’s all I have to say about that!”
So, to all mothers whose daughters have cared for their dolls and kept them as their prize possessions, my only plea to you is that you never ask them to give them up. We do in fact become like their real mothers and they, our real children, and the hurt of giving them up never goes away.
My dolls with all their shapes, sizes, and different attributes were an extension of me and my family. My babies had kept my secrets and had heard all my deepest thoughts and feelings about me and my life. They were there for me when no others knew or understood where I was in life or what I may have been going through. And, no matter how old daughters get, there will always be times when they would like to return to and cherish their baby dolls and memories of those simpler days gone by.