The Doll Lady

A few months ago my daughter piped up that she wanted an American Girl doll. I have seen the dolls, heard about the dolls. I have friends whose daughters have one or more of these dolls. I have seen the price tag on said dolls. I went to EBay and searched and I still didn’t like what I saw. So I smiled and said “We’ll see”, which my children have come to understand usually means “not on your life”. She looked despondent. After that, friends who owned American Girl Dolls who were going to come play at our house were asked to bring their dolls. And when they arrived my daughter would smile and introduce me to the doll and bat her sweet little eye lashes at me. I would smile back and say, “Very cute.” And her smile would slowly turn to a frown since she was looking for more of a “Now I get it! Of course I will get you one of those crazy expensive dolls!”

As Christmas approached my daughter set about writing letters. She wrote to her aunts and uncles and grandparents telling them what she would like. Normally I wouldn’t encourage this but she was showing some initiative and she was saving me from asking her and then telling them what she would like. She wrote the letters herself and put them in envelopes for me to address and mail. When she was done she sat down to write to Santa. She saved the big gun for last. She asked for Grace, the Doll of the Year. Well as we say in our house “go big or go home”.

So now Santa had a dilemma. Fork over a large amount of cash for a doll that could be played with for an hour and tossed aside, as many gifts do or risk the disappointment of the century by not giving her what she asked for. I asked friends where they bought their dolls and searched the American Girl website. I put Grace in the cart. It was done.

For the next week I kept reminding my husband to be sure he watched out for that delivery. I didn’t want to risk ruining Santa’s big moment. He kept checking and nothing was coming. I checked my email to see if the confirmation came for the purchase. Nothing. A week passed and I finally sat down and checked the web site. Grace was still in the cart. I had not finished the purchase. Panicked, I explained my dilemma to a friend who told me to go to the doll place down the road. Why that had not occurred to me I can’t explain. I pass the old Victorian that sits on a corner of a busy intersection every day on my way to work. So I set out the next morning. I pulled into the small circular driveway and walked up to the front door. A sign states “Please Ring the Bell, Door is Locked”. So I pulled the old handle and a bell rang. I waited. I rang it again. I waited. I rang it again. And just as I gave up and turned to leave the door opened and a woman, looking fresh from the shower smiled and let me in. She explained she didn't hear the bell because she had indeed just come out of the shower, the doll house being her own house.

She was personable and has transformed a home that was just about to fall down into a showplace. The architecture was astounding. Original medallions on the ceiling, hardwood floors and a carved banister gracing a slight, curved staircase, crown molding thick and majestic. And did I mention the dolls?

I will say this place is not for the faint of heart if you have a fear of dolls. It really could creep a person out. But it didn’t have that affect on me. The dolls are beautiful and beautifully displayed. She has a room filled with American Girl Doll everything! Hand me down clothes and dolls and accessories and suddenly I needed to buy more than just a doll! I asked her what the draw is to American Girl and she looked at me as though I had just landed on her front lawn in a disk and spoke the wrong language. We chatted for awhile. I asked her if American Girl dolls were the equivalent of the Madam Alexander Doll. “Madam Alexander doesn’t even hold a candle.” She said. I felt a little shocked by that since I had one when I was girl. And suddenly as I was standing at the register and the woman asked how old my daughter was and looked completely perplexed that at the ripe old age of 6 and half this would be my daughter’s first American Girl Doll, I started to cry.

Yes, I did. The poor woman really had no idea what was happenin But that is how my memory works. Sometimes it only takes a second for something to come back to me and flood my senses sillly and it usually results in tears. Not always tears of sadness. I like to think of them as sentimental tears. This makes me feel less fragile so let’s just go with it, shall we? Of course trying to explain my complicated emotional state would have taken much too long. So I tried explaining how I fell in love with a blond haired, blue eyed Madam Alexander doll at G.Fox&CO on a trip to see Santa in 1979. How I was pretty sure I begged for her the way my daughter begged for Grace and that the memory just came back. “But really, this is a lot of money for a doll,” I said by way of explaining nothing in particular after the absolute projectile of my emotions onto her personal space. The woman stopped what she was doing and put her hand over mine. “Would you like me to give you an outfit?” She asked. It took just a couple seconds for me to realize, to my embarrassment, that she thought I was crying because I couldn’t afford the doll and she was offering an outfit out of kindness and well…charity.

“No, no what I mean is when I asked for that Madam Alexander doll I am sure what she cost in 1979 is equal to what Grace costs today and that doll was under my tree on Christmas morning. How can I not get my daughter Grace? ”

She smiled and packed up Grace and an outfit, which for the record I did pay for, and sent me on my way. Probably relieved to have the crazy woman out of her shop.

Up until that moment Christmas was a chore. It has been a chore for a few years now. I feel strained and exhausted with so much to do and so many places to be. Christmas has not been the same since my mother passed away ten years ago but for a few moments surrounded by those dolls I remembered what it felt like to have that excitement of getting something very special. Of believing in Santa and having so many more Christmases stretching before you. It brought back some of that childhood joy and gave me a sense of calm. It reminded me that it isn’t about the gifts exactly; it is what the gifts represent. The possibility of Santa, the possibility of a larger than life moment that becomes a memory. A memory to be retrieved, remembered and relished.

My daughter loves Grace. Her look of excitement was certainly worth ten Graces and that was probably how my mother felt when I opened up that box that held the Madam Alexander Doll. A memory was formed, a moment imbedded in the gray matter of her brain, just as it had in mine. Hopefully it won’t come flooding back to my daughter in a torrent of tears in front of a perfect stranger but if it does I hope it is someone as kind and generous as the doll lady.

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