Today is my birthday . . . well, not really. It’s my birthday week, but I am a big believer in prolonging everything that is good in life. I like to linger over dinner for hours; read a good book, and then read it again; see a thought-provoking movie and then share it with friends. I like to extend the things that I enjoy, and so that’s why I love my birthday week (and, in some cases, my birthday month).
For this annual celebration, I started it with a trip to Philadelphia—one of my favorite nearby destinations. We went to the zoo—where we have membership—and then toured the old historic district. We ended the night with a walking ghost story tour, and my kids were delightfully frightened. (Jane uttered, “I like to be scared in the daytime. At night, I’m scared of being scared. But, still, it would be cool to meet a ghost!”)
Since we were strolling all over the “City of Brotherly Love” for the weekend, there were lots of sights and sounds to catch my eyes and ears. (Plus, it makes me feel like a spring chicken when all the lecturers and guidebooks refer to our 200+-year-old country as “still young” and “brand-new.”) One of the things that I noted was a parade of young girls with their American Girl dolls either lashed to their backs in carry sacks or cradled in their arms. I saw lots of the colonial AG dolls, a couple of the WWII characters, and a few of the more modern-day variety. It was heartwarming to see these little girls on a family excursion, with their beloved dolls in tow. (My little Jane didn’t bring a doll with her. She was campaigning to have her stuffed tiger “Timmy” come along with us, but I told her that his realism could cause a panic in the town square.)
It was interesting to see how amid these bygone buildings, these structures that supported our nation’s earliest days, the future of America was sauntering by, holding hands with their parents and cuddling their favorite toys. In a country that has been roiling in bad news of late—domestically and internationally—it was comforting to see how personal, little, private moments of bliss and security still do exist.
The trip to Philadelphia got me to thinking about my own doll collection. I am sure I would have turned heads, too, if I were seen clomping around the Liberty Bell with my sailor-suited or WAC-uniformed “Gene” sitting on my shoulder or my Robert Tonner “American Model” doll peeking out of my pocketbook. Being able to cavort in public with an embraceable doll is one of the perks of childhood. As we grow older—and each birthday takes us farther down the highway—we become less able to carry off being “childlike” or “fanciful” or “silly” in public. (Unless, of course, we want to opt for being called “addled” or “pathetically immersed in one’s second childhood.”)
As a mature collector of dolls—and that’s NOT an oxymoron—I know that my collectibles are housebound. They don’t go out with me. I don’t carry them around or chat to them. They are part of my home’s décor; they are more ornamental than temperamental. While my daughter’s stuffed animals—whom she views as her kids—and my son’s superheroes—whom he sees as his role models—reflect how they behave and interact with one another on any given day, my dolls mirror how I felt when I selected them. They are testaments to how I was viewing my life when I purchased or requested them for gifts.
That’s why birthdays are such a fascinating time for me as a doll collector. I can see the creations in my cabinets and on my bookshelves and know what I was doing and experiencing when these dolls came into my life.
Before I had children, there was a spate of Julie Good-Krüger dolls: renderings of adorable, crinkly-eyed, wholesome-faced children and heroines from literary children’s classics. Once I had children—I guess the real deal supplanted the surrogates—I amassed more fashion dolls and grown-up themes.
Later, I began to dabble with “dolls from the dark side”: edgy BJDs that seemed to have a bit of the supernatural or the paranormal in their appearances and costumes. (These dolls would have fit into the ghost story tours, which were equal parts hokey and chilling. We all were wishing for some kind of apparition to make the 1-mile walk worthwhile.)
The dolls that lounge in my office or are stowed away, abandoned, in trunks and Tupperware chests in my attic are all time capsules of who I was, who I am, and who I will be.
They are more than collectibles. They are three-dimensional diaries of my life. And with my birthday week kicking into high gear, I wonder what doll I’ll be selecting and what page I’ll be turning.
What about you? What do your dolls say about you? And what time capsules do you currently have lining the shelves of your life?