Cindy, the life-sized doll, went everywhere with me for a while. In her blue soft wool hat and coat, she looked almost real sitting next to me. She sat in the backseat on the car seat, and I would turn her so she could look out the window. Sometimes I made her wave at children who were looking out their backseat windows from in cars in adjacent lanes. Sometimes I held her on my lap and narrated the scenery.
Our family was invited to the Olympic Peninsula for a weekend with friends. I asked Mother if Cindy could come; the answer was yes. Part of that trip was a ferry ride, and after we drove our car onto the auto deck, we went above to the cabin for the thirty-minute crossing. I lugged Cindy up the ferry’s stairs with her face looking over my shoulder, carrying her as if she were a real child. Her legs and arms were stiff and straight because her knees and elbows were not jointed.
As I reached the top of the stairs and entered the sitting area, a woman passenger looked up from her magazine with a look of horror. Then she began to laugh. “Oh,” she said, “I thought your doll was a real child with polio.”
I explained the reason I wanted to get such a big doll was because she was life-sized—like a little sister—and “she wears the same size clothing a two-year-old would wear,” I added proudly. I propped Cindy up to look at the water and other boats while we crossed Puget Sound, conversing with her the entire trip. My real sister, four years older than I, didn’t want to be seen with her childish ten-year-old sibling who was talking to a doll on the ferry. How embarrassing my behavior was for her.
As fifth grade wore on, my interest in Cindy receded slightly. My teacher engaged her students from day-one, in what turned out to be the most dynamic year of my schooling before or after. I would lug Cindy into the breakfast nook to share weekend breakfasts and lunches with our family, but I don’t remember playing with her as much. I did change her clothes often before propping her up in a chair in my room. I never wanted to give my mother an occasion to say “I told you so.” My grade school friends admired her, but we rarely played dolls together.
All through junior and senior high school, Cindy stayed visible in my room, the only doll so honored, although she shared a spot with several stuffed animals on the small studio couch in my bedroom. I still believed her to be the most beautiful doll manufactured in my lifetime. When I moved into my own apartment as a university junior, Cindy took a place of honor in my vacated room—on the bed. Lying on the bedspread with her head on the pillow and gathering dust, she looked like a miniature, blond Sleeping Beauty. Once in a while Mother would ask if I was ready to give her up. My answer never changed: No.
My mother sold the family house in 1967, and at her insistence, my sister and I purged and removed anything we still wanted. Free storage of surplus belongings was no longer available. Cindy, my life-sized doll, was one of many items I dragged to my husband’s and my modest duplex—we had three children by then. This big, floppy blond-wigged doll was instantly interesting to them. Initially, I was reluctant to let them play with her, and then thought—why not? She would add a new dimension to the toy box as “a girl” for my daughter to play with and a willing wagon-rider for the boys to pull around outside or down the basement.
Because of my three live ‘dolls’ (not just life-sized, but growing), I no longer needed a pretend doll to dress up a doll for amusement. My three wiggle-warts needed dressing each morning and sometimes again later in the day, as well. From the first day at our duplex, Cindy was the new favorite toy for all three children. They held her hands and made her dance; they made her ‘walk’ around the house to see things; they pretended to feed her lunch; they put her to sleep in the laundry basket. Seeing Cindy flopped in a laundry basket actually pleased me. She had more than paid back her initially high investment price, I thought—she had been around for twenty-five years and was still bringing enjoyment.
When my husband came home from work that first day and saw her flopped into the laundry basket, he dubbed her Ophie . . . after Ophelia in Hamlet, a play he was currently working on at one of his moonlighting jobs. Ophie seemed like a perfect name for her. Calling her Ophie instead of Cindy helped make a transition for me, too—her sentimental value immediately diminished.
The amount of amusement she provided—from being stuffed into a wagon and hauled around to being tossed high in the air with her limbs flailing about, from being pushed in a swing to becoming a stand-in patron at the pretend shoe store—was invaluable.
After a few months her shoulder tore, and one arm began to dangle, which gave her a strange, uneven look. When dressed, that arm hung longer at her side—when undressed, she looked broken. One of the children suggested they should just spare her further discomfort by ripping off her arm. They did the deed. It wasn’t long before her wig disintegrated, pulled loose by too much attention. She was soiled, fingertips blackened by too much outside play, and the brand imprint on the back of her neck was filling in with soil. After a while she lost her novelty and became just another toy, occasionally invited out of the toy box, but less and less frequently.
The time came for a massive weeding out of all possessions in 1972. We were selling our house and moving to the Midwest. I spent weeks sorting through every piece of clothing of the children’s, every toy, every book, every possession I’d accumulated over my lifetime. The remains of Ophie were put into the thrift-store donation pile. By then no one remembered to play with her, but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to discard her.
One night as I was hauling more stuff to the giveaway pile, I saw her arms and feet sticking out from the other toys and in a sudden sentimental urge, I pulled her out. I realized it was Cindy peering out at me, not Ophie. I looked at her beautiful face and well-made vinyl (remaining) arm and legs. It occurred to me that she probably could be restored to her original luster. I also still had her original dress and shoes tucked away.
Carefully I snipped away at the filthy fabric body—now with red Kool-Aid spilled on it and marks of ballpoint—removing her head, legs and the one arm still attached. I put the body fluff and stuff in the trash can. Then collecting her limbs (I still had the loose arm) and her head (now resembling one of the heads depicted in Glenda of OZ book where Glenda chooses the head of her choice to wear), I tied a pink satin ribbon around them. On a 3x5 card I wrote:
This is a Madame Alexander doll, circa 1950. With a new body and some loving care, she will be, once again, a beautiful doll.
I put her into tissue with her dress, panties, shoes and socks and put everything into a plastic bag and marked her price as five dollars. She was now in the garage in the rummage-sale pile, instead of the thrift store pile. The sale would be held the following Saturday.
Shortly after nine o’clock when the garage door opened, two old women with a push cart walked up the street toward our house. They were joining many others who came in by the carload—people who were crowding around to take the best of the junk, to capitalize on one family’s change of fortune by scarfing up their treasures. The two old women entered the garage and looked around carefully. One of the them spied the package doll pieces and parts. “Look,” she said to the other one as she nudged her gently. “Look at that. “Is it what I think it is? A Madame Alexander?”
The other woman’s face lit up. “Oh, yes indeed. No doubt about it.” They picked up the plastic bag and turned the parts over inside. “What do you say . . . should we? . . . oh, let’s!”
“How much for the doll parts?”
When I told her five dollars, the other one looked ecstatic. “You know,” she told me, “My sister, Effie, here, has a large collection of dolls who have their own room in our house. They sit in their rocking chairs and chatter all day long. . . and we know how to fix them.” Was this an omen? A sign of providence at work? These women would turn Ophie into Cindy again—my beautiful doll restored . . . and loved. She would have a wonderful new life.
Effie opened her coin purse and pulled out a wrinkled five-dollar bill, then lovingly opened the plastic bag, took out the doll’s head, arms, and legs and arranged them carefully in the push cart. I watched the two women walking down the street wheeling their precious cargo. They were talking to Cindy as they pushed. Her face was staring back at them, her arms raised up in alleluia praise.
The perfect ending for my doll—and the beginning for theirs.