The Doll


Alison’s picture of my old doll.

As a child, I was a trial to my mother. Throw epithets at me and I’ll own them: mean, resentful, difficult. I was jealous of my sister Evelyn, one year older than me. She was the beautiful one, with the blue eyes and golden ringlets my mother adored, the one with the heirloom china doll with its own blue eyes and golden hair, handed down from some relative or other.

Another word: ungrateful. That describes me this week, when an email from my youngest sister Alison arrived. She and my other sister, Patricia,  had been doing a spot of spring-cleaning and had found my childhood doll. Did I want it? No, I replied, flooded with guilt about that unloved “child.”

A memory. I am maybe five or six. I am lying on my parents’ bed, sobbing and sobbing. I have been put there on time out for fighting with my cousin. Lee was a few months younger than me. She was then an only child, with parents who doted on her. Lee had a fancy new baby doll. Evelyn had the exquisite china doll. We played mothers and babies, but all I had for a baby was a yellow knitted creature of indeterminate parentage. I picked a fight. Lee and I came to blows. Time out. I sobbed at being hauled in from play, at the unfairness of life.

The door opens and Lee creeps in.

“What do you want?” Surly, still angry.

“I know a secret. You’re not supposed to know. Your Dad’s fixing Sally.” Sally was another heirloom, a celluloid baby doll so fragile she was constantly on Dad’s workbench with a broken limb.

An adult arm reaches through the half-open door and drags Lee out. It gives me satisfaction to hear her being slapped and scolded. A few minutes later my mother appears. “You might was well come out, then. It was supposed to be a surprise.”

Dad’s repair to Sally lasts no longer than usual. But at least I have a glimmer that someone cares. For my birthday I receive a large package from my parents. It is a doll who can close her eyes in sleep. But not a beautiful doll. She looks like me: straight dark hair cut into bangs like mine, brown eyes, a tiny mouth, her features molded in some coarse composition material. I play with her, of course, but do not cherish her.

Seventy years later, the doll’s portrait shows up in my email in-box. Where on earth has she been all these years, I ask my sisters. It turns out they found her among the effects of our eldest sister, Evelyn, who died several years ago. Had Evelyn kept her safe all these years? Or had she rescued her from our mother’s cluttered house when she helped move Mum into an assisted living apartment? We’ll never know. But it humbles me to think that both of them cared enough to keep the doll safe when her oblivious “mother” abandoned her.

The doll is now officially an antique, sister Pat tells me. She’s somewhat the worse for wear. Her hair is gone. It looks like she’s fallen on her face a few times. I feel a rush of tenderness for the forlorn creature she has become. I’ve asked my sisters to find her a good home.

7 Responses to “The Doll”

  • Martha Buck:

    Oh Maureen, I so identify with you as the “bratty” younger sister who was not blonde-haired and blue-eyed who just couldn’t be as Perfect as her older sister … it’s taken years and years to find my value. Thank you for putting words to my feelings.

  • Lovely, Maureen. I cannot imagine you were ever given “time out” though! It will be interesting to learn what “new home” your dolly discovers. (We have my grandmother’s doll on a shelf here, and I suppose she, too, is available for adoption! Wonderful how artifact inspires story.

  • Henri:

    Ah, the doll–childhood incarnate: we get the picture.

  • Nona:

    Such an honest, heartbreaking look at a tender Maureen. Thanks for sharing this story. Blog on!

  • Jewels:

    Ahhhh, your “child” surely was not as abused as mine – I gave them all crew cuts and stripped them of their girly clothes. My brothers and I would then have races with them by throwing them down the stairs. The one who hit bottom first was the “winner.” Suffer not the little children unless their “mother” is a tomboy.

  • KATE:

    Oh Maureen, how you make me smile and tear up at the same time.

  • Judi:

    Be gentle with the child that you were. She became a most wonderful and self-reflective adult and my very special friend.

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