Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Mother's Dolls

Today, at the Asheville Quilt guild meeting, internationally known doll maker and fiber artist - elinor peace bailey, gave a lecture on her dolls and mixed media art. I'm sure you're all familiar with elinor and her dolls - they are unique, wonderful, colorful and as clever as the artist who made them. Every doll was passed throughout the audience; we held each and every one and for a brief moment in time,  felt like little girls again. Not only did she create this magical environment, she also sang, recited her own poetry and gave the most entertaining talk. I've known elinor for years, having taught at conferences with her and it was at one of these meetings - long ago, I told her a story involving my mother's dolls. She loved the story and asked me to write it down for her newsletter. It's been close to 20 years since I thought of this story, but being with elinor today brought it all back.
My mother was a dollmaker, not the kind of dolls elinor makes - just sweet little cloth dolls in pretty clothes. Each one a little different, some had hats, some had bows, some had both. All had "rosy" cheeks and yarn hair. They were precious!
My mother loved making them, she named each and every one. I remember a "Lulu Bell and Tilly, Amanda and Sophie to name a few. When I would come to visit, I always stayed in the "doll" room. They were everywhere. Waking up to smiling little cloth faces was magical and never failed to make me smile, no matter how early in the morning!
My mother did craft shows with her dolls and they sold like hot-cakes. What little girl wouldn't want one of these soft, sweet little dolls. My mother was to participate in a Christmas boutique in December of 1991. There were dolls all over the house, in different stages and all with beautiful outfits ready to be worn. But sadly right before the show, she lost her battle to breast cancer.
She was angry, sad, frustrated - all the stages you read about. One thing she asked me to do was to get rid of the dolls, and just keep a couple for myself. I couldn't do that; they were such a part of who she was. She died the week before Thanksgiving; I didn't know how we would get through the holidays, especially my children who adored their grandma.
I cried and thought, and cried and thought, and finally came up with a way to get through the grief, involve the kids in a positive way and also pay honor to my mom. We scoured the attic for all the big empty boxes that things came in (VCRs, toys) and added other big boxes to the pile. We wrapped them in Christmas paper and ribbon and set them in the 2 front bay windows.
We also brought down doll furniture, small chairs and other stuffed animals. We arranged all the dolls on top of the presents, sitting, standing, hanging off. We used spotlights to shine on them. We had great fun watching cars go by and all of a sudden jam on their breaks when they saw our "toy shoppe" of dolls. Little children would venture up the walk to get a better look, very cautious at first until we waved them to come closer.
That first year was very sad but gave us comfort knowing a part of Grandma was with us. We kept the tradition alive every year for as long as we lived there. Each year was a little easier and a more joyous occasion.
I have a few of them left now. I've decided to wash their dresses, dust them off and keep them out for us to enjoy again. It's also time they met our new cats and reunite with our kids - all grown up now. With any luck, they'll find their way into a grandchild's life someday. My mother's friend wrote me at Christmas to say the doll we had given her granddaughter is now being refurbished for her own new little daughter. You see, it was her favorite doll - carried it everywhere and wanted that for her daughter - Full Circle.
On another note, during the meeting, everyone of us had to check underneath the skirt to see the pretty undies and petticoats. And Just So You Know - all my mom's dolls had the prettiest and always matching pantaloons.
What started out as an ordinary day with the prospect of a good guild meeting, turned into a tour of my attic, finding some wonderful treasures from the past and re-acquainting myself with my mother's wonderful talent. It's been a magical day!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing! I have a smile on my face and tears on my cheeks!