Sunday, July 19, 2020

Vintage Heart Rabbit: A Doll Story

When my sister and I were small, our grandmother gave "us" a doll. The doll's story went that my aunt had traded a little girl a handful of candy for it. We figure that this took place some time during the Fifties. This aunt was the youngest of my dad's sisters.

Many people talk about being privileged, but my family was not. Both of my grandfathers worked at a lumber mill and earned 50 cents per day. Even my own mother dragged a bag of cotton behind herself until it was full for 25 cents. Not every family had a car, and I have a framed photo of my mom as a toddler standing in front of the wagon that was being pulled by a mule. It's staggering to think how much has changed in less than a hundred years. I highly doubt that any other single generation has witnessed, or been affected by, as much change as that of my parents.

Anyway, my point is that candy was a real treat, and Mom told me a story about some of her family walking to the store to get candy. Her great-grandmother opened up the candy bar, looked at it and saw that it was brown, said that it had gone bad, and tossed it into the creek. They'd never had chocolate before. True story.

According to Google Maps, the creek is called Funny Yockana Creek. Wikipedia says that means "Squirrel Country" Creek in Choctaw language. (The town of Choctaw and reservation is only a short distance away.) Below is a photo of said creek, courtesy of Google Maps. Wikipedia calls it a "stream." IDK.

But I digress. Apparently, my aunt's friend decided candy was more valuable than her doll and traded it. The doll was a prized possession, and the last time I saw it in my sister's home, it was on its own shelf in one of the corner cabinets in the hallway. Below is the original doll in a photo that my sister sent me as a reference.

Out of curiosity, recently, I set out to find one like it online. I don't know why I didn't think to look sooner.

I think it may be because I had found a tiny doll at a flea market. I asked the woman how much the small dolls were in the basket. She said four dollars. I went through and pulled out this one. The price went up to $5. The little doll is around 7 or so inches. I was trying to figure out what happened to her arm and realized that one had been replaced with a plastic arm. The other arm was made of composite, like the rest of her body. (Composite is like MDF. It's a composite of sawdust and a binder. Composition dolls were the new "indestructible" doll, after the porcelain dolls. However, like MDF, over time, the material breaks down and cracks. There are cracks on her feet and legs. Composite dolls were replaced with hard plastic in the late 1940s.) Before I researched it, I had no idea what composition dolls were and thought that meant they had a theme or something, but moving right along....

The arm was literally glued to the dress. I pulled her dress away and made a hook with some wire and threaded a rubber band through to reattach her arms to her body. Learning what composite meant made me wonder about the old doll my sister had and what it was made out of.

Suddenly, I felt compelled to learn more about it and see if  I could find another one.

After getting photos and comparing with oodles of old dolls on eBay, I finally decided to buy this one (the one in the photo at the top). We think it's about the same age, either from the late 40s or 50s. The last time we met up at Mom's house, we compared them side by side. Hers has a slightly different face, but it's hard to tell. I think mine is a 17" Sweet Sue made by the American Doll Company.  It is not marked, but there are many types of Sweet Sues online, and the face matches. I am not sure which company made hers. I haven't been able to find one exactly like it, but I'm thinking it may be an Arranbee Nanette Walker Doll. Although they are not the same doll, I felt satisfied with my purchase. (Looking at the photos, they seem to have our personalities. I can see her doll in the background, the one who drags the other one out of water that's too deep and keeps her thoughts to herself when we're confronted with a show off.) I even tried on her doll's dresses. My grandmother had made several.

In the top photo, my doll is wearing a petticoat that my grandmother made for the doll my sister has. For years, I had it on a black rabbit that my eldest aunt had made (Sadly, all of my aunts have passed.) My grandmother loved sewing. (It's a little wonky, but it works.) Everyone in the family is creative and expresses themselves in different ways. The particular aunt who traded the candy for the doll embroidered and made a little dress for my daughter. My eldest aunt made quilts (as did my grandmother) and sewed everything from quilted teddy bears to ruffled chair cushions. The third aunt did all sorts of things, including embroidery and making christening gowns for many of the women in her church. They all loved gardening and were pretty much experts at making something out of nothing.

I went on to buy a couple of more dolls, including what I believe is an Effanbee Honey Walker Doll and  another that is either a Valentine Doll Company LuAnn Simms or a Roberta Ann (According to, the Roberta Doll Company used the Made in USA mark like lots of other companies, and this one does have Made in USA marked on her back.), before being satisfied and deciding I didn't need any more.

Our fascination with dolls started early. After receiving baby dolls for years, for the Christmas of 1975, we received our first non-baby doll.

This is a page from the Sears catalog in 1975. My doll is the first one, Antoinette, and I think she was the smallest. My sister has Number Three, Rita, the one with the red hat. I still have Antoinette, although we are missing socks and shoes. I remember having nightmares about the doll. She was walking toward me across my bed and her eyes were fluttering open and closed repeatedly. I don't know what brought that on, but it's interesting that, originally, dolls weren't considered to be toys.
There was an unfortunate moment that occurred during a visit from a cousin who lived in the Bahamas. She brought along a guest and a young girl, possibly her daughter or granddaughter or niece. So, I'm not exactly sure whether or not she was a Bahama Mama. *Bass drum beat, cymbal crash* 😹 Sorry. Couldn't resist.

During their visit, I had to sleep with my sister so they could have my room. (My room was almost always the "guest room" after the extra room off the porch was taken.) The woman told me that the little girl used markers and wrote all over my doll's face. I don't think I was ever able to get all of it off. The woman was very kind and had a lovely accent. I don't know if it was more German because of the German settlements in the Bahamas or if it was more like the Caribbean accents in Jamaica and Haiti. Yes, there is probably a whole lot of difference, but this was a very long time ago, and I simply don't remember. She felt very bad about what the little girl had done and, when they went home, she left some money behind for me, and I still have it to this day.

For now, while Antoinette and the other dolls are still packed away in boxes, Honey is on the piano, Roberta Ann is sitting on a book shelf next to the black rabbit that my aunt made, and Sweet Sue sits atop the jewelry box on the dresser. She looks really good for her age, being around 70. Sometimes, it looks like her eyes slid ever so slightly to one side to see what I'm up to because it's like she's looking at me, but maybe that's just a trick of the light, right? Sometimes her head is slightly turned, and I think it's just because I bumped her, and, being a walker, her head turns when you move her arms or legs. That's what I keep saying, anyway.

Although there were many dolls and many more stories around them, that's where I'll end this doll story.

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