Sunday, November 18, 2007

Living Doll

Long family history post - very little knitting content - proceed at own risk.


In the mid 1970s I donated my doll collection to someone who loved and appreciated it more than I did. Today I had the privelege of doing it all over again.

I was the first child born in my parents' circle of friends. This circle was made up of my father's Air Force mates.

Dad's mates all brought me dolls from all over the world, usually dressed in national or culturally distinctive costumes. Consequently I became the possessor of many dolls even for a little girl in the 1960s.

People who visited our house were shown my doll collection which had a special set of shelves on the wall of the bedroom. Visitors usually slept in my room so they got to see the dolls a fair bit. These were display dolls, not play dolls. All visitors assumed that I loved collecting these dolls and they brought more.

In fact, I had a love/hate relationship with the dolls. I loved receiving them as gifts and loved the being known as the little girl who collected beautiful dolls because that was somehow special, but I didn't like them much. I really wanted Barbies like my school friends and particularly like the glamourous girls who'd been to the States and had LOTS.

By the early 1970s, we'd come to Canberra and I was at school, playing sport and had lost interest in playing with dolls - dolls were boring when there was a game of backyard cricket or war with the kids in the next street, or hockey, or softball and most of all dolls were girly.

I was also the eldest grand-daughter on my mother's side of the family.

Just before my first birthday, Dad was posted to active service in Vietnam and mum returned with me from Malaysia where they had married and I was born. We went to live with my grandparents, who by then had a property near Jerilderie in NSW.

Nanna had only ever been given one doll in her brief childhood. She had the doll only a few days when her mother made her give it to cousin Betty who didn't have a doll. Nanna's mother, Eileen, was confined to a mental institution following the birth of Uncle Jack and remained there until she died in forty years later. I suspect it was post-natal depression, but the family story is that Eileen got better but refused to come home to her husband Reuben and the children because Reuben was such a brute. Nanna was 9 yrs and 2 months old when Jack was born. By the age of 10 she was, effectively, mother to her 3 younger siblings.

Nanna made sure I had LOTS of dolls. Somewhere there is a photo of the 2 year old me toddling down the garden path at "Sunnyglee" with the white metal pram with navy trim that Nanna bought me. The pram is absolutely stuffed full with dolls. Mum says I was running away from home and had turned to glare at the camera, hands on hips, in what was to become a familiar pose to my family.

By the mid 1970s Grandad sold the farm at Jerilderie and they moved to Canberra. I spent a lot of time with them and in a clear-out fit, familiar to people who read this blog's Sunday posts, I gave Nanna all my dolls. She loved them.

The deal was that she would look after the dolls and maybe add to the collection and when she died, they would all be mine. I must have had some donor-remorse because I remember being torn between wanting her to live a very long time so I would get even more dolls, or dying soon so I could have them back. Not a very worthy thought, but I recall having it.

Add to the collection, Nanna did. And so did I. Nanna joined the Canberra Doll Club. She knitted clothes for her babies, and together we sewed frocks to clothe her growing brood. She learned to make porcelain dolls, as did Aunty Marg. I sewed clothes for those dolls, too.

When I was older and op-shopping on my own, I would bring her back gems that appealed to me. We had very different taste but she graciously accepted my gifts. She began travelling overseas in the 1980s and bought several collector's pieces, too.

In January 2006 Nanna moved back to Leeton. Firstly into a flat and then into a nursing home. She took many of her dolls with her, leaving the majority at her house which was being rented by my cousin. In October 2006 my cousin insisted I remove the dolls and a couple of months after that Aunty Marg brought many more dolls back. 4 x 100 litre plastic containers full, plus 2 large cartons and several small bags of them.

My aunts, cousins and mother all had their pick of the dolls, and I selected a couple of significant dolls to keep, but for nearly a year they've been on my mind. It was so sad to have them stored. My grandmother loved these dolls and I really wanted to find homes for them. I couldn't just turf them. Some of them are wearing my baby clothes, or clothes made by my mother out of fabric left over from clothes made for me. Many are wearing dresses, singlets, knickers, booties and bonnets knitted by Nanna. Some of the dresses I made. There was too much love in this collection to dump them on an op-shop which would quite likely turf them anyway.

Then Janet began to blog about her rescued babies. I was pretty sure I'd found the right person to help out with Nanna's babies and it turns out that Janet is an angel. Her excited and positive response to adopting Nanna's dolls was a god-send and today the adoption took place. Actually, it's more like a fostering because when Janet's beautiful grandsons dropped by, they chose one each. You can see the pictures on Janet's blog. I couldn't be happier and reckon I've done Nan, and the 151 dolls that were fostered today, proud.


Janet McKinney said...

Your story makes me cry. Yes I love all the dolls, and I will have the most marvellous time cleaning them up and doing up clothes for the. There are plans for some of the dolls to go to new homes at Christmas time. My only requirement will be that they are wanted and loved. My brother has a 2 year old foster child who I know will love some of them

Janet McK

m1k1 said...

That's such a lovely story, especially as it has a happy ending. Am I a softie or what?

Donna Lee said...

What a lovely story. I loved my dolls as a little girl and made doll clothes for my children when they were small and had babies of their own. It's so nice to see the dolls carrying on and taking your love out into the world.

The Shopping Sherpa said...

A wonderful story with a wonderfully satisfying ending.

All that was missing was "... and they all lived happily ever after..."


Janet McKinney said...

There will be a "happy ever after ending"...

Michelle said...

Ah Taph - you are a good egg!