To be one of my childhood dolls was to be doomed to a life of suffering. Unlike many girls, I did not coddle or baby my dolls. Instead, I used them to enact vivid and tragic scenarios, which were most likely the result of reading too many books like A Little Princess.
Center stage for my doll tragedies was this wonderful wooden dollhouse that my mother purchased and decorated for me. (I remember the roof was pieces of masking tape overlaying each other to look like shingles and painted a reddish brown.) It was your classic wooden dollhouse—open on one side and closed on the other. There were three rooms on the bottom floor, two rooms on the second floor, and a one room attic. My mother had furnished the dollhouse with detailed miniature furniture that both enchanted and delighted me. (To this day, I adore dollhouse furniture. Anything tiny done in detail and to scale is very pleasing to me.) Apparently, the dollhouse was from the “olden” days as the kitchen featured an old-fashioned black stove and an ice box. Accompanying the dollhouse was small family of dolls, which included a mother, father, a little girl and a little boy.
This was the closest photo I could find.
Mine didn’t have stairs.
And mine was decorated.
It had wallpaper, rugs and was painted.
Most girls—when presented with such an amazing gift—would have played happily for hours. The Doll family would have lived a happy and normal life. Sure, there might be occasional mishaps or adventures, but nothing like the tragedies that befell my dolls.
At the start of any playtime, one or both of the parent dolls would die dramatically and tragically. (This “loss of parents” was a hallmark of almost all my imaginative play growing up, much to the dismay and concern of my mother.) As a result, the Doll family would be plunged into a life of poverty and hardship. They would no longer be allowed to live in the downstairs rooms—no more sleeping in fancy beds, eating at the gleaming dining room table, or sitting in the comfortable chair in the parlor.
Instead, the Dolls would be forced to work as servants in their former home—reduced to living in attic with only an old sock for a bed. The new denizens of the house were almost always those evil and heartless creatures from the Land of Mattel—Barbie and company. (Sure, Barbie and her evil cohorts were too large to actually fit into the dollhouse but that didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that the Doll family had to live in the attic and suffer. And if you feel bad for the Doll family suffering at the hands of Barbie, read on. Barbie ended up “getting hers” at my hands too.) As I played, I would move myself to tears as the poor poor Dolls would slowly wither and eventually die a lonely and pained death—never having a chance to regain their former home or achieve a happy ending. (Wasn’t I harsh? I mean, even Sara Crewe got a happy ending of sorts!)
If living a life of suffering wasn’t enough, many of my dolls were subject to mutilation as I seemed to have suffered from a God complex, which involved making my dolls as much like me as possible. (This is the part where Barbie suffers for all you Barbie Haters out there.) It might help to see what I looked like at the time I was playing with these dolls:
I don’t think so.
But looks can be deceiving.
I guess you could say that I was as different from Barbie as cows are from books. In today’s society, many girls attempt to change themselves to look more like Barbie. Not me. I was happy with who I was. I felt the dolls needed to look more like me, not the other way around. This commenced in a “reworking” of my dolls’ appearance. (“Reworking” is a kinder term than “mutilation” I think; though either term would be accurate.)
This “reworking” involved a lot of work with scissors. Long blonde hair was cut (perhaps chopped is a better word for it). At one point, I got pierced ears. Hence, my dolls were subject to having pins pushed into their ears—a practice that led to blood flow when I squeezed their heads too hard and the pins poked through. I believe I attempted to draw glasses on a doll or two as well. This practice of “doll enhancement” was quickly and violently curtailed by my mother when she discovered me cutting the hair off of an antique doll, which up until that point had been worth quite a bit of money. (Note to all mothers: Do not give expensive antique heirloom dolls to your daughters. It isn’t worth the risk.)
I also wasn’t picky about the condition of my dolls. At one point, our dog Greta got hold of my Skipper doll and chewed her leg. Many children would throw away such a doll or leave it lying neglected in the toy box. Not me. This was an wonderful opportunity for tragedy—polio victim! paralysis after a car accident! The possibilities were endless and exciting. (I remember one scenario involving a curtailed career as an Olympic gymnast after years of hard work.)
One year, I received a Barbie Country Camper. I’m pretty sure Mattel didn’t envision the kinds of things that happened to my Barbie dolls in this vehicle. Let’s just say playtime involved accidents involving long falls from cliffs (a short staircase near my room was perfect!), vehicle rollovers, hit and runs— it was a violent and painful time for my poor dolls. I discovered that ketchup makes for excellent blood … until my mother put a stop that practice as well. If I had the skills, I would love to make my own version of a Barbie Country Camper commercial; it would rival any Quentin Tarantino movie.
As I’m writing this post, I realize that if I had been observed by a psychologist, I might have ended up being institutionalized or locked in The Home for Wayward Girls Who Might Grow Up to Be Serial Killers. Luckily, nothing like that happened, and I made it through childhood to grow up to be a (relatively) sane person who has not inflicted grievous bodily harm on anyone.
Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief.
P.S. In response to your requests, I will be writing a post about my short-lived stand-up comedy career. Stay tuned.