Joyce E. Byrd
Word Painting • Web Design • Photo Imagery
The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.
- Edwin Schlossberg


A Family of Dolls

by Joyce E. Byrd

It started as another typical Saturday. Mom and I slept in a bit, then enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at our favorite coffee shop before trekking to the mall for a day of shopping. The net result of these weekly excursions often was just the joy of people-watching and angst of sticker shock. This day was a little different.

As we roamed around Sanger-Harris, we stopped to admire their array of collectable dolls. Set aside on one display table stood a collection by Effanbee featuring dolls from different European capitols. I gravitated toward “Budapest” for two reasons. First, Mom’s family came from Hungary. Her father immigrated to Canada and then to the U.S. in the 1920s, and her maternal lineage also was entirely Hungarian. Second and more significant, the doll looked just like Mom! It featured a round face with delightful cheekbones, short dark curly hair (at the time, Mom’s naturally-wavy brunette hair was permed), demure smile, and beguiling blue eyes. You would have to have seen the doll and Mom side-by-side to appreciate the similarities, but the doll was Mom! I signaled Mom over and though she was embarrassed by the comparison she, too, was amazed at the likeness. Of course, we each wanted to buy it, but the price was out of reach on our limited budgets.

Miss “Budapest” became the talk of the day…and evening…and subsequent weeks. Each weekend we would wander back to Sanger-Harris to behold the porcelain replica of Mom. Week after week we agonized over bringing the doll home knowing she was fiscally unattainable. Then, Sanger-Harris held a sale. Not just any sale, but a close-out sale! It took a few more weeks of mark-downs before the doll came within our financial grasp, and each week we hurried back to see if someone else might have bought “Mom” yet. When the price tag finally came within reach, I remember Mom picking up the doll and carrying it around the store in a trance. I said, “you’re going to get it, aren’t you?” She replied simply, “Of course!”

That was the beginning of Mom’s long love affair with dolls. As finances permitted, she slowly added to her collection. It became easy for me to decide what to give her for birthdays and holidays—dolls! Over time, her doll population grew to over 120! Mom lovingly named each doll that wasn’t pre-christened and regularly pampered them and laundered their frocks.

Actually, Mom’s love for dolls was deep-rooted. Through the years, Mom revealed that she had secretly coveted her older cousin’s Shirley Temple doll. Because Mom was born in the post-depression era, Shirley Temple dolls were not available until she was “too old”. (Mom often said she “was born 10 years too early or 10 years too late.”) As a result, Mom had a strong affinity for Shirley Temple and collected video tapes of her movies and biographical books and articles about her life. Eventually, she even obtained her own beloved Shirley Temple doll—in fact, she had two of them! (So, there, cousin Cecelia!)

Mom collected dolls purely for personal enjoyment. She selected dolls not for their cost or potential future value, but because she liked them—something special about their eyes or facial expression or clothing—or just because. Like the members of a family, each doll had its own unique heritage and personality. Mom acquired her dolls from various sources running the gamut from flea markets to fine specialty stores. She had new dolls and antique dolls, musical dolls, porcelain dolls, rag dolls, bride dolls, boy dolls, dolls of famous people (such as Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, and Charlie Chaplin), dolls by famous makers (Effanbee, Mann, and Madame Alexander, to name a few), dolls that are just plain famous (for example, Chrissy and “Little Orphan Annie”), dolls that aren’t so famous, and even Barbie dolls.

Glancing through newspaper advertisements while waiting for me at the optometrist one day, Mom discovered original Barbie dolls were becoming rare and valuable. The moment I stepped out of the doctor’s office into the reception area she blurted, “Do you still have your Barbie dolls?” Confused, I said, “I think so…,” and the next thing I knew we were re-dressing the Barbies I found buried in my closet in the finest clothes from the accompanying Barbie case. At that point they were no longer my Barbie dolls. Instead, they joined Mom’s proud display in an étagère in her bedroom. Thereafter, the Barbie Christmas collectable doll became a perennial holiday gift from me to Mom.

After a courageous six-month battle with cancer, Mom succumbed in January 1996. She never had the chance to meet the last addition to her doll family: a Valentine’s rag doll with “I Love You” embroidered on her pinafore, which I bought shortly before her death. Mom was a caring and compassionate person who delighted in years of pleasure mothering me and her family of dolls. I now have assumed responsibility for doting on Mom’s prized family. I do not plan to grow the collection any further, but I will assure they receive the personal and affectionate care to which they have become accustomed. After all, Mom watches over me every day through the loving eyes of her dolls—especially Miss “Budapest”.

Copyright © 2001, Joyce E. Byrd.  All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2000-2007, Joyce E. Byrd.  All rights reserved.