I crocheted doll sweaters for a niece this Christmas. They were not up to the standards of either one of my grandmothers, but the task made me think of them.
It took me hours to make three little sweaters and a matching doll hat - more hours than I care to admit, since crocheting doll clothes is not the kind of work that is generally highly regarded these days. People are too busy. Crochet and whittling, along with dominoes and gardening, were admittedly always the province of the older generation, but, as far as I can tell, now anyone who has time to crochet and whittle is too old to remember how.
Yet there I sat, crocheting and thinking about Christmas, how magical it is for children. Many of us remember a specific Christmas morning when we received a favorite doll or toy - for me, an Effanbee baby I named Tiny.
The more ungrateful among us also remember the coveted toy we didn't receive - for me, the little real oven that baked real doll cakes made from miniature instant cake mixes.
I did, however, have a child-sized ironing board and a real miniature iron that got hot enough to scorch cloth, blister fingers and maybe burn the house down, although I fortunately never got that far with mine. I enjoyed ironing the doll clothes my grandmothers made for Tiny.
A child's attachment to a doll or a stuffed animal can be powerful enough to destroy the peace of an entire household.
A young Keene Valley woman I know - I'll call her Leah - lost a favorite toy, named Mousie (she also had toys named Rabbity, Parroty and Turtley, but Mousie was the dearest), outside in the snow. The town crew scooped Mousie up and trucked him off to a snow removal site. Leah's father - we'll call him Bob - heroically and single-handedly saved Mousie from the mountain of snow in which he lay imprisoned. I've heard piled snow can be as dense as concrete.
Last night I embroidered a new nose on Peanut, a small dog toy once favored above all others by my daughter Molly. It's a wonder that Peanut is with us today. Once when Peanut came up missing I retraced Molly's and my steps to the Target store in Boulder, Colorado, where we had been Easter shopping. He wasn't in the lost and found, but I finally located him in a bin of Easter bunnies.
Another time, when Molly couldn't get to sleep for worrying about Peanut's whereabouts, her dad, Mark, said he'd go check the car. About 45 minutes later, Mark triumphantly returned, Peanut in his hand.
"Where was Peanut?" I asked.
"Wedged behind the front seat," Mark said.
Later Mark confided that he had broken into Alaya, Molly's preschool, by climbing up onto the roof and entering the building through an open window. Mark had served in Vietnam, which probably came in handy, but it goes to show how important some toys can be.
What is so great about Peanut, that Mark was willing to risk burglary charges and that, years later, I am still sitting up after a long night of crocheting, sewing him a new nose for Christmas? Impossible to gauge, really. He looks like an ordinary enough pup to me, out of literally hundreds of dolls and stuffed animals owned by Molly over the years. Peanut just has that certain je ne sais quoi.
Ask anyone. You will hear tales of dolls beloved despite fingers chewed off by family dogs and hair chopped off with blunt kindergarten scissors.
My grandfather Fred served in the U.S. Calvary in Europe during World War I, where he actually rode a horse and probably survived by blessedly contracting pneumonia. Fred lived to be 89, never forgetting the baby doll he had loved as a small boy. To hide the doll from a gang of bigger boys, he buried it and then could never find it again. I wish he hadn't told me that story.
My first husband, Jay Neil, grew up on a ranch in Lubbock, Texas. Jay liked to hang out in his grandfather's trailer and read the funny papers. When Jay was in trouble at home, he'd head on over there and hide under the bed. On his fifth Christmas, instead of asking for a pony or a real gun, Jay, a white boy, said he wanted a black baby doll. His grandfather gave him one.
Merry Christmas! Have a wonderful week.