My dolls, my playmates
Simple joys of childhood
By Lily Kongslien
Having a brother and no sisters, I was lonely for playmates and turned to my two dolls – Betty and Pink Bonnet.
My first and most-loved doll was Betty, a second-hand doll. My father worked at the Carroll Fox Farm on old Hwy 47 north of McNaughton where he purchased his own silver fox for breeding stock. The Carroll family had three girls, the oldest was Betty who was my age; they were quite well-to-do and it was customary for them to give my father things that the girls no longer wanted. Among these toys was a large pretty doll with blond hair and movable eyes; a bit battered and in need of some new clothes, but I was thrilled when he brought this “new” doll home for me. I named her Betty after her former owner and she quickly became my best friend and playmate. Betty was around 18 inches tall with a China head and was without jointed arms and legs and had a cloth body. She was supposed to say “ma-ma” and her eyes closed and opened. There were some scratches on her face, but we touch-painted her face and put new red paint on her lips; we fixed her hair the best we could. She was a WONDERFUL doll! My mother, with her sewing talents, made her several dresses, slips and little panties. Little yellow shoes were fashioned out of oil cloth, complete with a shoe button on the strap across her foot that held the shoes on her dainty feet. My father fixed the voice box and now she said “ma-ma.” How I loved her! I fixed a tiny string of beads and a bracelet to match and now she was complete. Betty’s little mouth was slightly open with two cute little white teeth exposed – and of course I tried to push a tiny baby bottle into her mouth (she was hungry!) and loosened her two teeth. Mother came to the rescue and glued the teeth back into place.
A few years after I received Betty, my parents said that for Christmas I could order a companion for her out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. I pondered the pages of dolls and their descriptions until I finally chose my new doll—a dark haired doll somewhat smaller than Betty who came with a pretty pink organdy dress and a stylish pink bonnet. And what do you suppose – I called this new doll Pink Bonnet. She, too had eyes that opened and closed and she was shaped more like a little baby than Betty. She had painted-on hair, a cloth body with China head and arms and legs that were not jointed. One of the first things my mother did for me was to give Pink Bonnet a head of REAL hair, as at this time mother decided to re-style her own hair and cut her braids. How she did this transformation I do not know, and it must have been quite difficult, but it turned out that her hair stayed on this doll’s head even after giving her many a bath.
These two dolls, Betty and Pink Bonnet, made up my make-believe family as I played for hours dressing and undressing them for different occasions; my mother each Christmas would make a complete wardrobe for each of these dolls, using bits of rick-rack, lace, ribbon and left-over fabric from her sewing projects. The newly-dressed dolls were kept in a corner of the couch, covered with a blanket, until gift time on Christmas Eve. I did try to peek under the blanket, but knew I would get caught, so I just dreamed about the new doll clothes. I really was surprised when they were uncovered and given to me.
I don’t remember just when I acquired the doll, but I had a boy doll that I named Bobby. This was a small doll about five inches in height, arms and legs were not moveable. He was outfitted in one of my mother’s creations – a little overall outfit. I did have several celluloid kewpie dolls, too, but they had no movable parts and I could not make them sit down or change positions. Then my grandmother in Denmark sent me a small China doll, only about three inches high, with arms and legs that were jointed; and she had knitted a tiny red dress for this doll – again another plain name for this precious doll – Red Baby!
Paper dolls were popular, but I did not have the store bought ones. Instead I would cut the lady or girl doll out of the catalog, paste it on cardboard, and then search the catalogs to find clothes that could be used as the wardrobe for the various dolls. I would try to make a family, with the mother, father, a boy and a girl. It was quite a trick to find the right shaped “doll” that had its arms in a good position so other clothing could be easily fitted to it. I made the tabs on the clothes as I cut them out, usually on the shoulders and sides so that the tabs could secure the clothes, and make changes of wardrobes an easy task.
Next to playing “house” or playing with my paper dolls, was the fun I had playing “school” with Betty and Pink Bonnet, and sometimes Bobby. I lined my students up around my play table, put sheets of schoolwork on the table, read them a story, and proceeded to help each one fill in the blanks or color pictures; I would have them stay after school if they were naughty. Of course, the “teacher” did all the talking for each doll!
Playing house and school is considered a normal outlet for little children. My dolls each had a distinct personality, and mixed with imagination, this made for a delightful childhood – actually a very important preparation time for growing up. I’m so glad I was able to enjoy my childhood without being forced to grow up too quickly. Happy Memories!