The doll

December 2013

Growing up my mother had a favorite doll—her constant companion.  Here she is in 1920 at the age of one, with her doll and her grandfather Malcolm McFee.

For years it lay cushioned in a cedar chest.  Occasionally my sisters and I would be allowed to take it out and then, just as quickly, return it to safety.

There it lay until Mom and Dad moved into Supported Living.   And suddenly it emerged—sitting on the top of the bookshelf.

She didn’t play with it—certainly not.  As she once told me when she saw a neighbor walk by holding a doll, “If I ever get like that, just shoot me.”

But when Dad died, she had a lot of time to fill.  In the long evenings in her small apartment, she would sit surrounded by memories—photographs of Dad, her children, her siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Plus piles of books and magazines (mostly filched, I fear, from the downstairs library and other people’s mail boxes), all sorts of jewelry and odd trinkets, a few stuffed animals…and the doll.

Every night she would “fiddle about.”  The next day everything would have been rearranged—photos moved, necklaces draped on paintings and furniture, pictures cut out of the steadily growing piles of books and magazines (alas, more stealthy late night raids) and taped to the walls, stuffed animals in new groupings…and the doll.  Sometimes with socks on its legs to “keep it warm.”  Sometimes wrapped in a blanket, sometimes keeping company with the stuffed animals. Some days eyes open; other days closed.  Every day a new tableau.

I was so charmed by this that I began taking photos. This went on for years—the doll again her best friend and constant companion.

“Poor little fellow,” she would say as she cradled it in her arms.

Now I have the doll.  So far it’s just sitting on a shelf but who knows.   If I ever start playing with it, I hope there is someone there to take pictures.