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
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.