I once had a hundred dolls. I lined them up on my dresser and counted them. My math was probably off, but they were my children. Every year at Christmas, there seemed to be a new doll I just had to have. If Santa didn’t bring her, I’d die. One year Santa brought a three-foot-tall walking doll I named Patty. My friend Sherri got one, too. We walked them down the street toward each other so they could be best friends, just like us. My dolls always had dark hair and eyes like me. Sherri’s dolls were blondes.
Each new doll I received spent the first night sleeping against the pillow next to me while the others slept with the stuffed animals at the foot of the bed. It’s a wonder there was any room left for me. I named the newcomer, kissed her and wrapped my body around hers to protect her from the night terrors.
The next morning, I dressed her, combed her hair and brought her to breakfast with me, setting her up against the milk bottle, pretending to feed her bits of toast and eggs. I took her to school with me, never wanting to leave her alone. I knew she was just a cloth or plastic doll, but she was a real person to me.
Back in the 1950s, the big innovation was baby dolls that drank and wet. You inserted the tip of a rubber bottle in the hole between their lips and squeezed the milk or water down their throats. Rather quickly, the liquid came out a hole on the other end. It was too messy to do in the house.
Sherri and I fed our “babies” outside in the patio. That was our house. It never seemed odd to us to be two mothers sharing the same house. Our husbands were nonexistent or off at imaginary jobs where they belonged. Like our mothers, we spent our days taking care of the house and our babies. We talked to our dolls all the time, telling them how sweet they were and how much we loved them. We taught them what we had learned about Jesus in catechism class, along with the ABCs, the times tables, and the capitals of all the states in the U.S.
Betsy Wetsy and Tiny Tears led to Chatty Cathy, who could talk when you pulled the string in her back. “I’m hungry.” “I’m thirsty.” “I love you,” she said. Then we got Barbie and her curvaceous friends. My black-haired Barbie had a best friend named Sandy, and they hung out with Sherri’s blonde Barbie and Ken. We invented boyfriends and careers for our dolls. Mine were always in show business. Sherri’s Barbie was a stay-at-home mom.
We watched our children grow up in that redwood patio with the cracked concrete floor. We cooked our pretend meals in the brick fireplace that my father and grandfather had built together, and washed the dishes in the sink Dad had made from scraps of wood and old pipes.
I was a good mother to my dolls, but all too soon I faced the empty nest.
When I was around 13, growing breasts and having my first periods, my mother decided I didn’t need dolls anymore. “You’re getting too old,” she said. “It’s time to give them to Goodwill.
“No,” I protested. “They’re mine.” My children. How could I give them up?
Mom was not one for sentiment or saving things. Most of my dolls went away. I kept only a few, the ones Mom couldn’t find. My favorite, Chatty Cathy, sits on top of my bookshelf right now, looking down with a goofy smile. I change her outfits to match the seasons, choosing from a red and white trunk full of clothing. Chatty Cathy gargle-talks like an old lady who’s had a stroke. One of her shoulders is cracked so her arm falls off if I’m not careful. She doesn’t have any teeth. But I love her anyway.
Mom ditched my dolls as a sign it was time for me to grow up, date, get married, and have flesh-and-blood babies.
Well, I did part of that. The invisible husband became real, and every now and then I got to play mommy with my stepchildren—until their real mother showed up.
But I never had babies. A little girl with a doll is a mommy in training. I guess I was training for the wrong career.
How about you? Did you play with dolls? Did you consider yourself their mother?
Copyright 2011 Sue Fagalde Lick