I remember my six-year-old self when she unwrapped the present and pulled out the beautiful doll in an aqua velvet dress. The doll had white-blond hair and blue eyes that blinked. Her hat was rimmed in soft feathers. A petticoat and tights and tiny shoes hid under her skirt. I loved her.
It was Christmas Eve and we were at our grandmother’s house where she doled out gifts in shifts to her multitudes of grandchildren. Some years she’d hold up skeins of yarn and tell us to pick a color, and then promise a scarf or hat for us when she had time. While we tangled up her yarn pile my grandmother showed us finished homemade gifts for our cousins. But that one year, I among all of my siblings got an actual gift, that beautiful doll.
I don’t know why the doll came to me and not my sisters, and I don’t remember if other years they got a gift and I did not. But as a small girl, I felt special holding my gift. As a grandmother now, I can’t fathom giving one child a beautiful doll and leaving out her sisters. Also now as a grandmother I cannot fathom having more than 20 grandchildren to make gifts for. It was not possible for our Gram to keep up with all of us on Christmas and our birthdays.
My grandmother worked as a seamstress. She made her daughters’ wedding gowns and prom dresses. I kept the doll she gave me forever–even giving her to my oldest daughter–always protecting that doll in her homemade velvet gown, cloth-covered buttons, and wide skirt. My granddaughters and niece all played with her too when they visited. For 50 years, every girl loved that doll, including my niece when she visited when she was eight.
I’ll always remember how special that curly-haired doll was to me, not only because she was lovely, but because my grandmother found hours to make her outfit just for me. Then, one day a few years ago, I saw this tag on the inside of her skirt. My story and memory crumbled. Zoom in and read it.
My Gram did not sew this doll’s outfit with tireless hands and her legendary seamstress skills. This doll’s beautiful dress was made in Hong Kong.
I laughed. It was too ridiculous to cry over. I thought my grandmother made her outfit just for me. Now I imagined Gram finding this doll as a solution to her time-crunch and to-do list. I don’t remember anyone saying Gram made the dress; I just assumed she did because she made everything. It didn’t matter. I was fooled and happy. I thought about my young niece and my two granddaughters and knew I wanted them to feel as special as I had, only with a doll actually dressed by me. So I got out my seam ripper and dismantled the dress made in Hong Kong. That was therapeutic. Then I used the pieces as a pattern to make new dresses.
I made three outfits out of crushed navy blue velvet left over in my sewing box from a costume from a play decades before. (I keep boxes of old fabrics beside my yarn bag. I am related to my grandmother.) I found old dolls in the thrift store and dressed the little ladies. Here are pictures from my project in progress.
I sent one doll to my niece for her half-birthday. The other two went to my young granddaughters for Christmas. Here are the sweet dolls before I sent them out to those three littlest girls I love. I used my trusty Sharpie to sign the inside of each skirt so they’ll remember I sewed for hours just for them.
These dolls will all coexist with one-year-old puppies so they might be demolished long before they are 50 years in the possession of my girls. Grandmothers understand that. Maybe that’s another reason why my doll was store-bought, and when I have 20 grandchildren maybe I’ll learn that lesson, too.