Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Life in Dolls

This week's Sepia Saturday photograph, taken in 1965, is of four little sisters and their dolls on a sunny June morning. From left to right is Jo 8, Amanda 4, Connie 7 and Suzanne 2. Our newest sister, Alice, was only a few weeks old and babies would have been on our minds. This picture still has the power to elate with the sweetness and strength of its history.

I was very much a little girl who loved her dolls. I admit that I was probably around twelve before I reluctantly stopped requesting them for gifts. The doll in front of me in the picture is a cloth and vinyl combination ‘Baby Dear’ doll. My next-in-line sister, Connie, and I had received them for Christmas. I named mine Caroline and often dressed her in discarded real baby clothes.

This photo awakens a sleeping self in me; stirs something from the well of my childhood. I am reminded of all the dolls I had over the years. I am the oldest of six sisters, so consequently none of my dolls survived the successive and varied mothering they received over the years. I was, in turn, the proud owner of:

A 'Posie' doll:

A 'Tiny Tears',

A Skipper,

A Betsy Wetsy,

And perhaps the strangest of all:

A Nun doll.
My earliest years at Primary school were spent at a convent school and I held an admixture of fascination, fear and awe of the nuns who educated me. I had requested my nun doll repeatedly and my mother had no easy task finding her. I named her Sister Mary Rosary ... odd, I know ... but I was only six years old at the time.

Perhaps, though, the dolls I loved the most were my huge family of paper cut-out dolls.

I literally spent hours engaged in play with them. There was something intensely satisfying to me about carefully cutting out their clothes and staging endless games as I whisked them in and out of their extensive wardrobes. They all had names and I created a rich series of relationships between them. I kept them in a box under my bed ... safe from the prying eyes and fingers of my little sisters.

My sister Connie, who is sixteen months younger than me, remembers with delight the stories I used to make-up for her each night when we went to bed. Most of these involved our dolls coming alive and the adventures they had. I don’t recall the specific details, but I do remember the two of us cuddled in our beds as the stories I created took shape in the shadowed darkness.

Humanity’s childhood shares with all created things the primal dreams and desires of embodiment. The little girl who loved her dolls so tenderly grew-up to become something of a ‘baby whisperer’. I have the reputation of being able to calm any baby down. Last year, late one evening, there was a knock at the door. It was a neighbour, the new mother of twin boys (and also of two other little boys under the age of five). She was carrying a frantically crying baby. “I hope you don’t mind”, she said anxiously. “I saw your lights were still on and I’m at the end of my tether.” Her words dissolved into tears. I took the tiny, squalling wee man from her and she followed me into the house. As Gem made tea, I rocked and soothed little Beckham (yes, that’s his real given name) until he fell asleep against my chest.

Perhaps that healing embrace of comfort has its roots in a story of long ago; a little girl playing with her dolls.

(A proud, tired Nana Jo with her real life 'dolls' ... my first grandchildren, A and D, born almost exactly one month apart on August 4th & September 3rd, 2003.)


  1. Ariana and Darian are beautiful.Hey, Granny! You look so proud!

  2. Oh, a Tiny Tears. My Tiny Tears and Betsy Wetsy were both lost in storage. So many toys I miss seeing. So now I just try to buy a glimmer of those memories by buying old paper dolls. Old paper is my refuge of memories. Thanks for the hop, skip, and a jump down memory lane.

  3. I had a Tiny Tears and Betsy Wetsy too. Also a Little Miss Revlon. And played with paper dolls with my cousins a lot. But no nun dolls for this Protestant family!

  4. What a baby whisperer you were! Lovely to think about dolls. I spent quite a lot of time with Barbie, who came out when I was the ripe age to adore her. My mom sewed clothes for her. Thank you for bringing up memories.

  5. Such a resonant post. I was a real doll-obsessed little girl too, and still do love to cut out paper dolls, believe it or not! So relaxing and satisfying.

  6. thats a precious picture

    I used to love those paper cut out dolls too

  7. Memories are fun. I liked how you being oldest that the dolls wore out from use.
    Your grand babies are precious.

  8. What an interesting story! The baby whisperer talent is truly a great gift--you do look very happy in that photo with your grandchildren, & the doll information was interesting. Love the name Sister Mary Rosary!

  9. I loved paper dolls -- there was a Betsy McCall paper doll that came in each issue of McCalls magazine -- I always admired her clothes.

  10. That gift for storytelling has stayed with you into adult life. Great post. And that last photograph glows with pride.

  11. I had a Betsy Wetsy doll, too, but my favorite was my Terri Lee doll. She had a unique face. My father told me that the doll's creator modeled her after his daughter. Denise Van Patten, who is the guide to dolls at, tells about once calling the doll homely and how much mail that spawned--angry mail! A lot of people, it seems, are passionate about their dolls.

  12. What a great post. I loved dolls, also, and spent time cutting out the clothes for the paper variety. I think I enjoyed the cutting out more than the playing - at least with the paper. What a wonderful neighbor you are to help a distressed mom and baby.