I recently got carried away with a huge spring cleaning project at home. I sorted through boxes of stored dolls. I had an amusing time, trying to see how many I could display on an antique organ. I stopped at 69.
Around the Quilt
Most of these dolls have just been taking up storage space. I knew I needed to find homes for them, but I wanted to put them to good use first. I planned a doll theme with my senior groups. On Tuesday I lugged part of the collection, along with some books and photos.
No one remembered the Lonely Doll book, that I adored. My seniors all remembered paper dolls, but the high school volunteers had never heard of them. I told them how my mother used to make paper dolls from cardboard. My sister and I would describe the clothes we wanted Mom to draw. Then we colored them and cut them out. The young volunteers listened, but their expressions told me... "That does not sound fun."
I had a couple of men in my morning group. I was glad they weren't scared off by the theme. One remembered his sister sharing her dolls with him. The other never played with dolls, but he happily eased into the theme by looking through a book about doll history.
Kewpies, Barbies, Shirley and Chatty Cathy
Kewpie dolls and Shirley Temple dolls were popular when my mother was a child. Many in my afternoon group remembered them well.
Many in my morning group were closer to my age. They remembered what Barbie looked like when she debuted in 1959. A few remembered the popular Chatty Cathy and her robotic voice, when you pulled the string.
My young volunteers laughed at the 1959 Barbie image. They admitted they had collected tons of Barbies when they were younger. They seemed surprised that girls often just had one Barbie Doll... or Ken. They had never heard of Midge, Barbie's much more human looking friend.
Not everyone had a memory of owning a store bought doll. We brainstormed how you could make a doll at home... from wood or scraps of fabric, paper or clothespins. A few had made cornhusk dolls, but no one remembered carving dolls from soap, like the ones that Boo Radley made for Jem and Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird.
We talked about what makes a doll appealing. Some thought pretty baby dolls were the best. Others liked cuddly, soft dolls. One admitted that she never really liked dolls at all.
I was the kid who liked cute & little over fancy & expensive. I preferred Troll dolls and "Liddle Kiddles" over Barbie. I had to laugh when I saw my dear friend wearing my 2 favorites, like festive broaches!
The small dolls were fun to pass around. It was interesting to hear the group conversing, as they passed.
While we passed we wondered... Are all dolls toys? What do kids do with dolls? Where are dolls kept? Why are some dolls scary? How can dolls be used to teach?
Do Boys Like Dolls?
We decided that plenty of boys do like dolls ... especially this guy, with Elvis and Popeye.
I was glad I had a few of these fine gents to share. My son had these when he was younger, but he didn't just have boy dolls. We talked about how boys and girls can learn a little something with baby dolls.
Dolls that Teach
I got this crazy looking babydoll when my mom was expecting. I learned how to care for my baby, while I watched my mom with my tiny brother.
My morning group had fun listing all the crazy "performing" dolls. Dolls that walked, talked, drank water and wet! My mom gave my daughter a battery-filled doll that crawled. Somewhere on an old VHS tape there is a video of Heidi and the doll, racing in the grass.
Dolls for a Purpose
I was excited when Ramona could tell me about the "Last Doll" tradition. In some Mexican families, fathers give their 15 year old daughters their "last doll" when they celebrate their Quinceanera. Ramona said her granddaughter had a doll displayed on her Quinceanara cake.
No one in either group knew anything Kachina dolls and how they've been used to teach Hopi and Navajo children about the ancestral spirits. I didn't open up a discussion on Haitian Voodoo dolls... but I shared a happier version, that is more of a good luck doll. We didn't have time to talk about the "Johnny Walks Last" doll, that I discovered on the internet. I wonder if anyone would have remembered these sad looking dolls, that were used to inspire sympathetic donating, for St. Labre Indian School. My theme research always teaches me something and this was an unusual bit of info!
We talked about collectable dolls, that adults buy and display. Some collect antique dolls or dolls that look like famous people.
I shared character dolls that represented 4 generations. My grandmother's Uncle Sam got a few chuckles. My mother's Sonja Henie doll was less familiar. No one could guess my doll in pink was Caroline Kennedy, but a few recognized my daughter's Shirley Temple - Heidi Doll. We tried to guess which of these dolls was actually used for play.
Posing with Dolls
In my morning group, everyone grabbed a doll or two and I snapped some photos. I was surprised at how many thought the Doctor Dolittle doll was handsome. Rex Harrison was indeed handsome, but I always thought the smiling doll was eerie.
What I Learned
I learned that my senior friends are a lot more forgiving about doll flaws than younger kids. No one seemed a bit put off by dirty faces or ripped clothes. Both groups were delighted to spend time sharing and comparing and most of all, telling their own doll memories... dolls that got lost, stolen, broken or playfully tortured!
Now that we've had some fun, I will have to decide where these dolls go. I think I spied a few folks who might be up for adopting!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.