WEST POINT — Marguerite Breland’s apartment is full of dolls. She does not know how many.
Not too long ago her great-granddaughter counted and put the tally at around 100.
Breland has so many dolls she has arranged 25 or so in the hallway leading to her door at the Henry Clay Retirement Community. She pointed her cane at one last week and said, “That one is from 1912.”
There was awe in her voice and her eyes lit up.
The kind of passion Breland has for dolls is something we should all be lucky enough to one day feel.
Breland is 96. She is cheerful, active, and wears suits. When young people visit she is sometimes moved to give them a doll. Which ones are given away?
“Oh, not the expensive ones,” she said with a laugh.
She fell in with dolls as a young child. It is a natural thing for girls, she said.
“They’ll be a mother and have children one day,” Breland said. “They like pretending that day has come. At least that’s what it was with me.”
Through nearly a century her interest in dolls has never wavered. Her collection has grown and grown.
Originally from Alabama, she moved to the Macon area after marrying and had three children. She gave her daughters dolls. Her son, too.
At the Noxubee County library, where she worked, she read doll restoration books. In 1990, she joined the International Doll Restoration Society. People often brought troubled dolls to her to be restored and fixed.
“I did everybody’s in Noxubee County, I think,” she said while sitting in her sunlit living room recently.
Her husband died in 1996 and Breland did not want to stay in the big home in Macon all alone. Her children had gone off into the world. So she moved into room 306 at the Henry Clay Retirement Community in downtown West Point and for the last 18 years that’s where she and her dolls have been.
“I didn’t want to leave them behind,” she said.
She has them from nearly every decade of the 20th century. She has Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara dolls. Dolls of four U.S. presidents. Dolls of three First Ladies. A Shirley Temple doll. Dolls from Japan. Dolls from Mexico. A tiny Barbie. A very big Barbie. A doll depicting Queen Elizabeth II as a child. A flapper doll from the ’20s. A John Wayne doll. Homemade and rustic dolls from the backwoods of Tennessee and many others that she gave time to and restored.
Breland has stories for each and telling them fills her with energy.
Her favorite was a gift from her daughter: a Bye-Lo doll from 1924. She keeps it in a baby stroller in her spare bedroom. Why is it her favorite?
She looked at it for a moment and said, “I guess because I like babies.” She explained that as a child she wanted a Bye-Lo doll but her mother thought they were too expensive.
“They cost $10,” she said, “and I had a $5 doll.”
Then the thought ran away and she was off talking about another doll, and another, and another. She’s unapologetic about her passion.
Later, she cleared her throat, and said, “Don’t ever just sit and not be interested in something. That’s when you go downhill. You have to be interested in something.”
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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