Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A Two-Dimensional Life

Once upon a time there lived a girl. She slept in a lovely little cottage made of gingerbread and candy. She was always asleep. One morning she woke up, and the candy had mold on it. Her father blew her a kiss and the house fell down. She realized she was lost. She found herself walking down a crowded street, but the people were made of paper, like paper dolls. She blew everyone a kiss goodbye, and watched as they blew away. -Angela Chase (from My So-Called Life)

When I was a little girl, I loved playing with "people". I had the Fisher-Price Little People and the hospital to go along with it as well as any number of Barbies and Kens (no Skippers though...weird?). Poor as we were, I built my own Barbie Dream House out of a cardboard box and decorated it with cut out pictures from the Smithsonian and New Yorker magazines to which my mother subscribed. I would write stories and illustrate them - stories of other "people"...normal people...happy people...loved people. I would build Lego houses and populate them with "people" who lived out lives in solid, happy houses that were nicely maintained with flower gardens and lovely, manicured lawns.

But one of my favorite "people" games was playing paper dolls.

I had a rather large collection.

I don't remember my first but I do remember bundling up the day after Christmas in 1976 - I was 4 - and heading alone to the general store in Midwest, WY (population 408 in 2000) to spend the $20 "Santa" had left in my stocking, nestled in next to the annual navel orange, on paper dolls. I bought Tawny Godin, Miss America, 1976. The paper doll looked nothing like her.

She was pressboard and thick - a rare thing in those days. Most paper dolls by that time were paperboard, flimsy, and came in a booklet - perforated cuttings to press out doll and clothes. But Tawny...she came in a box with all her pageantry clothes already cut out in all their '70s glory.

I had 20 or more dolls at last count. They still exist, I believe, somewhere in my mother's house.

I'd line them up in a semi-circle around me. Organized by "age"...or, at least, the age to which I'd assigned them. Age also equaled beauty. Pippy Longstocking was one of the youngest with her ginger hair, freckled nose, and stout body. Tawny was somewhere in the middle. Cinderella (also pressboard) was the pinnacle of beauty and loveliness of age. Regardless of her age.

Hours, I played with these dolls.

But. There was a secret collection nestled in the bottom of Blind Betsy's bureau drawer. A collection kept sacred in a vinyl, quilted, brown pencil box lined on the inside with glued on seashells. Paper dolls - so small! - painstakingly drawn and cut out, the clothing drawn to fit perfectly and colored with colored pencils (probably full of lead) by a little girl growing up in the 1940's in the Virginia.

Drawn by a little girl who would become my mom.

And, every once in awhile, I would get to play with them...carefully.

Tonight, I talked with both my parents. My father - in his haste to die - has called a family meeting this summer when everyone is in town to divide up his property and take it with them so that he can whittle down what he has as he prepares to move into a retirement community.

I want nothing from him save some of my granny's schoolbooks - if no one else wants them. mom?

I have one - only one - very special request. Her grand piano, it ain't. Her artwork, while I love it for its meaning, isn't important. The cameos my grandfather brought back from his stint serving in Italy during WWII can go to someone else if there aren't enough to divide among all of us.

The one thing...the only thing...I really really really want? Is that little box of paper dolls.

They don't mean anything really to anyone else. They were important only to me (save her). I played with them...reverently. I savored them, cherished them, took care of them knowing, even then, that they were special. I can still recall some of the particular, a little black dress (heh. Goth to the end).

Tonight, I asked her for them. She said she would give them to me now. I don't want anything else. The rest of my family can fight over what they want. I'll have everything I'll ever need in that box. Something special. Something...just for me. Something that I have loved so well from my earliest memories.

Everything else is unimportant.

Age 8? - in Casper, my parents' bedroom where the TV was. Tawny is dead center just above the doll nearest my right calf


MsSparrow said...

When my grandparents started to go through their things and decide who gets what I only made one request. A painting that my grandmother had done of my grandfather right after he came home from the Korean War. To me it it meant having a piece of both of my grandparents and since I was a little kid I've always loved that painting. It is currently hanging up above my own mantle piece and every time I look at it it makes me smile. This small piece of canvass helps me hold onto and remember all the wonderful memories I have of my grandparents and I will always cherish it.

Diva said...

Two words: Oz books. In a house fire, I would save them over photos. Mainly because my sister has most of those (read: replaceable), but I digress.

How interesting that we three - you, me, and Peej - place no value on the items which could bring any of us real cash.

This is me, unsurprised.