A Girl and Her Doll
Bessie had called silently (as toys are wont to do) through the store window to my mother. Passing by on a winter’s eve, she stopped outside the plate glass window of some downtown shop, captured by Bessie’s soft, smiling face and shy demeanor – she didn’t at first notice Bessie’s green hair and bridal clothes.
Bessie was an anomaly. A cuddling doll with green hair dressed in a bridal gown? She was a misfit no doubt. Who on earth would buy such a doll for their daughter? But she was perfect for me, a shy, withdrawn 8-year-old who didn’t quite fit in any where.
My mother went into the shop and had the clerk fetch Bessie from the window display. She held Bessie in her arms – and Bessie fit perfectly, her rather ample doll-butt nestling in the crook of my mother’s arm. Bessie was the doll for her daughter to hold and cuddle and cherish.
Christmases in my home were modest. Every year, one of three children received a “big” gift, while everyone else received small trinkets. One year, my sister and I received a joint big gift – a child’s record player. Another year, my sister received a bike and the very next year, it was my turn for a shiny, blue coaster bike with a basket hanging from the handles. But this particular year was not my turn for a big gift, and I don’t recall whose turn it was, for once I opened up the Bessie box, it felt like my big year. I fell in love with Bessie at first sight.
Her gorgeous bridal outfit seemingly had nothing to do with her true attraction. It was Bessie’s smile, Bessie’s soft and cuddly body that endeared her to my mother and to me. The bridal dress was beautiful – Bessie even had a veil, but the wedding garb was short-lived, and soon replaced with every day doll clothes. Though I had a wonderfully rich fantasy life (which included a few imaginary friends), I had no little girl daydreams about marriage or weddings. And I was very practical when it came to clothes. The least fuss and bother the better. A doll in a fancy bridal dress didn’t work well with climbing trees – and climb trees I did, with Bessie, a book, and apples in tow. Perched in a tree, I often read aloud to Bessie. She would smile her bashful smile. I would offer her bites of my apple in between pages, but she was a selfless doll and preferred to leave the entire apple to me. I am sure, however, that she appreciated being read aloud to. She liked every book I read to her and never had a complaint.
Bessie was well-loved yet often ill-used. She lost most of her hair the day I played beauty parlor with her. I shampooed her hair, tried to perm and style it. Bessie became the half- bald, bashful bride. She wore caps for a while to hide her embarrassment, yet she never reproached me. Her love was unconditional.
My mother was a cold woman sometimes. Though she did many motherly things, they were often void of that motherly warmth. She taught me my colors, numbers, and alphabet before I started kindergarten. She provided crayon and paper for coloring and books for reading. But she was not a cuddler herself – there weren’t many times I can recall sitting in her lap, and I have no memories of her brushing my hair or helping me get ready for bed. She would come in and say goodnight at the bedroom door –she never sat on the edge of the bed and gently pushed the hair away from my face, or caressed my cheek. That was not her way. But love her children she did. Of this I am certain.
In Bessie, I received all the motherly warmth my mother held tight within her. She knew she couldn’t cuddle her daughter. She knew that if her daughter could not be cuddled, her daughter at least needed to cuddle someone.
Bessie would be the last doll of my childhood and the one I loved the most. I would sleep with her for years before she was relegated to a chair in my bedroom. When I left home at 18 to move to the Bay Area, I left with $100 in my pocket, a box full of record albums, and packed in my small suitcase full of clothes –Bessie.
To this day, Bessie occupies a chair in my bedroom. She is accompanied by