Dolls have always been an object of my affection. You can imagine how challenging that was for the youngest of four boys raised on a dirt road seven miles from the dollar store toy aisle and much farther still from the Sears department store. My brothers loved Tonka trucks, model airplane sets and race car tracks, but I simply couldn’t be bothered by the distractions of noisy “boy things” when all my girlfriends had the goods: Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite Barbie.
I remember the excitement and animation one Saturday morning as Daddy cleaned the Oldsmobile and Mama powdered her face, for I knew it was the day I had waited for, the day I would travel the bumpy country roads wedged between them, my brother Tony in the backseat, on our way to the big city of Laurel. Mama smelled like Juicy Fruit gum, cigarettes and perfume as I followed close on the heels of her black pumps, passed the singing angels, never minding the silver Christmas trees, toward the toy department.
Every night for months I had fallen asleep with the big Sears wish book catalog in my bed, and that morning I ran fast to find my prize. I had flipped open to the page, circled it dozens of times with my crayons, and as my brother vanished into the dark aisles of toy soldiers, Hot Wheels and such, I found her. Betsy Wetsy was indeed real, and much to my daddy’s protest, she came home with me, doing the unspeakable in her own diapers just like I had dreamed about. I was so happy that Christmas.
Through the years, Daddy tried to interest me in other things, but I not-so-secretly nurtured my fondness for dolls. When he went away to Alaska to work for months at a time, I loved our long distance telephone calls. He sent home presents for his boys: planes, trains, skidders (I still don’t know exactly what a skidder does), but never anything joyous like paper dolls or Barbie heads with real hair. Today, I’m all grown up and have a huge collection of Barbies, enviable even to most little girls and some little boys, and I display them with pride. I think children should be encouraged to fall in love with what’s in their hearts, regardless of age or gender.
Daddy came around. Mama and I raced to the post office one morning when I was about 4 or 5. The box he had promised on a collect telephone call had made it all the way from the slopes of Anchorage. It was my very own Eskimo doll with head-to-toe fur and eyes that blinked, and it went with me everywhere. And only now do I fully realize what it meant that my daddy sent his son that doll.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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