I just got my first Barbie Doll. She’s a blue-eyed brunette with long sausage curls that make me want to call her Scarlett. The pretty box says that she is the Sweet Valentine Barbie. Scarlett Barbie wears a billowy pink satin and chiffon ball-gown, adorned with soft red roses. Her jewels are a simple strand of pearls with matching stud earrings.
She is gorgeous. She is mine.
I never really wanted a Barbie.
“That’s because you were too intellectual for dolls, I guess,” my friend said.
“What? No. I had dolls. I loved my dolls,” I said.
Barbie first appeared on the doll scene in 1959, the year I turned ten, two years after my last doll, but that was only at a show in New York. My family was preparing for a move from Tennessee to California. My dad was finishing at Belmont College in preparation for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. The next year, I would wear Tangee Natural lipstick and hose with my flats and white satin dress to my piano recital. I never even knew Barbie was around.
By the time little girls of the middle class were getting their first Barbies, I suppose I was through with dolls. But Mom wasn’t. She rescued my two Cynthia’s and my Betsy-Wetsy and gently laid them in a box on a high shelf in a closet.
At the beginning of my senior year at Pittsburg High in Pittsburg, California, Mom and Dad moved to Montana. I stayed.
“Mom,” I said, “Could you keep my dolls for me?” I didn’t need to ask.
Later she told me that dressing the two Cynthia’s made her miss me more during that first Montana winter but she did it anyway because it also made her feel closer to me. When I flew to Billings for Christmas, my dolls were nostalgic adornments for the bed in the guest room.
My three favorites now live next door with my mom and dad. They wear handmade clothing, designed by Mom, and they occupy an entire rocking chair in her bedroom. The three wear a lap blanket to keep them warm. I speak to them as I pass through to the kitchen when I go to check things out over there.
“Good morning Cynthia Dawn, Cynthia Denise, and Betsy-Wetsy.”
Betsy never got a name beyond her brand. She cost $6 in 1956 and Uncle Morgan and I both got in trouble for her purchase; me, because I faked crying to get her, and Uncle Morgan, because he fell for my performance.
Cynthia Dawn is my baby doll. I cared for her daily and we made soft clothes for her and kept her warm in her own bed, always with a receiving blanket wrapped around her like a burrito-tortilla. I felt real love for Cynthia Dawn. And when I thought about naming my first child so many years later, “Cynthia Dawn” was the first consideration. I settled on Dawn Jeanine; I thought we might call her DJ.
When Jade Edward was born—and not Dawn Jeanine—I felt the same love I remembered having for Cynthia Dawn. Oh, it was so much greater, but it was the same love. I learned on Cynthia Dawn.
Cynthia Denise is the bride doll.
I got Cynthia Denise when I was eight, the year that Santa was to bring me a bicycle. Mom and Dad took me “looking” at Kuhn’s, the local pre-cursor of Wal-Marts and Targets, to identify just which model I might choose for Santa’s bag.
After a few minutes of pointing out colors and models and handle-bar tassels, my mother, without covering her mouth, whispered across the line of shiny bicycles to my dad, “She doesn’t want a bicycle.”
“Sis,” Dad said, bending down to one knee, “Do you really want a bicycle?”
I was frank. “No, I really don’t.”
“Well, what would you like to have instead?”
I was frank. “Just get me a bride doll,” I answered.
No one asked me why I didn’t want a bicycle. I’m not sure I would have been able to explain at the time, anyway. The idea of a bicycle sounded good to me. All the boys on Easy Street played Cops and Robbers on their bikes. I played, too, but I ran along behind on foot. I wanted equal status.
However, I was afraid I would not be able to ride a bicycle. I had already tried on my brother’s model several times and I had failed, just couldn’t balance. Actually, I never got good with bicycles.
Sometime during that week after my declaration for the bride doll, Mom went back to Kuhn’s and bought Cynthia Denise to put under the Christmas tree.
It didn’t take long for me to remove her bride’s dress in favor of suits and business clothes. I mean, what does a bride really do? Mom made straight skirts—now we call them pencil skirts—and tailored blouses and jackets. I also straightened her strawberry blonde hair and removed that silly engagement ring, the equivalent of an 8-carat solitaire.
Cynthia Denise would be a career woman. Today Cynthia Denise wears a two piece, olive green A-line skirt with matching short-sleeved top. Her feet are curved to sport the equivalent of four-inch heels, but she is barefoot. No wonder Mom wants her to have a lap blanket.
Barbie had her fiftieth birthday a couple of years ago. My granddaughter, Carly Rose, had her fourth in early January, 2011. Last year, her birthday party was Spider-man themed. This year, she asked for a “Pink Princess Birthday.”
What a difference a year makes.
Grampy Dave and I bought sets of clothes for the Cruise Ship Barbie she had received for Christmas. All I could find was very urban or rock star-ish, or, well, trashy. I also bought pink hair adornments for Carly’s hair and a sequined carry-case for her “makeup.” Our daughter-in-law Dana brought Carly another Barbie to add to her growing collection.
“You never had a Barbie?” Dana said to me, in disbelief, as I admired the new one wearing a royal blue formal.
“No, never did.” I didn’t feel deprived.
“I literally had a hundred of them and some of them could have been worth a lot today. I wish I had never taken that Millenium Barbie out of the box. I’m not kidding, I had a whole closet full of Barbies,” Dana said.
“Where are they now?” I asked.
“Oh, I gave them away to less fortunate little girls–when I was twelve,” Dana said. “Pretty much all of them.”
She shook her head slowly. “I can’t believe you never had a Barbie.”
Carly dresses her Barbies and cruises with them in the Cruise Ship. Lifeguard Barbie rescues the others and swims with the dolphins. They all lie around on the Cruise Ship in various states of dress and position until the next Barbie session.
Carly’s baby, John Graham (named for her daddy just like every other doll she owns), sleeps with her every night. She feeds John and cares for him. She keeps him warm. He has his own stroller and his own bed for the time that he’s not in bed with Carly. I wonder if she’ll want to call her first real baby John Graham. It could be a girl.
Sometime in the 70’s, Mattel outfitted Barbie with career clothes and began to imagine that Barbie could be a doctor. I figure I’ll look online for business suits and scrubs, just in case Carly’s Barbies want to do something besides cruise, swim, and strut.
Me? I don’t want my Sweet Valentine Barbie to do anything but look pretty in her pink satin dress with the red roses and pearls. I’d never, never, never straighten her hair.