The Doll I Never Played With

My mother had a collection of Storybook dolls when she was a girl. Several of them lasted until I was a child. They were all about four to five inches tall, porcelain with painted faces and painted shoes, “real” hair stitched and glued to their heads, and dressed in beautiful costumes.

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Little Boy Blue, in the remnants of his clothing

I remember playing with Little Bo Peep, Little Boy Blue, and two or three others. They all had names, but I’ve forgotten most of them. One had a white dress with red polka dots. One wore a broad-brimmed hat. A couple of them wore bloomers, which I thought were very silly.

As I played with the Storybook dolls, changing their clothes and making new clothes with my grandmother, the dolls grew a little dingy. Their hair was no longer carefully coiffed and curled, but flew about like mine did. Some of the pretty costumes tore, and the bloomers got lost.

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The leftover doll dress

At some point, the dolls disappeared—all except Little Boy Blue in some of his clothes and one other costume that survived in the box my grandmother and I used when we sewed. I don’t know what happened to the rest of them, but they probably were tossed out during one of my grandmother’s moves.

When I was a child, there was one Storybook doll my mother never let me play with. The Bride doll.

How I wanted to play with the little doll with dark hair and beautiful white dress! My mother told me the doll wasn’t a toy. The Bride doll was special, because she carried a bouquet of lily-of-the-valley, just like my mother had on her wedding day.

I hadn’t thought about the Bride doll in years. I assumed she disappeared along with the others.

Then, when cleaning out my parents’ house, I found her with some of my mother’s memorabilia. Unlike the dolls I remember playing with, the Bride doll’s eyes aren’t painted on. Instead, they are plastic and close when she is lying down. Maybe she was a later model, given to my mother when she was a bit older—maybe when she was old enough to think about her own marriage.

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The Bride doll, still in good shape

When I found the Bride doll, I packed her in a plastic bag and shipped her to my house. I probably still will never play with her, but I will keep her safe.

Because she was my mother’s.

And because someday I might have a granddaughter. I will tell the granddaughter about my mother—the great-grandmother this granddaughter of mine will never know, the one who carried a lily-of-the-valley bouquet on her wedding day, the one who never let me play with her Bride doll.

Will I let my granddaughter play with the Bride doll? I haven’t decided yet. Part of me says I should keep the Bride doll safe. Part of me says I’ll probably let my granddaughter do whatever she wants.

What items were off limits for you when you were a child?

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