A few months ago, my sweet cousin Dodie posted the above photo of her doll with a note to me: "Kitti, this is the outfit you made for my Bonnie doll when you were about 12, I think. The summer that I spent 2 weeks at your house, I think I was 10."
All I could say was, "Wow -- I did that? Precision detailing! I'm impressed with my former handiwork! And you've kept it all these years -- that is too sweet!"
Dodie elaborated, "I was impressed back then and even more impressed now. This doll is a special doll for many reasons and the outfit that you made is one of them. Aunt Judy gave me the doll; she is an 18" doll named Bonnie. I have two mentors / guardian angels in my life whose names were Bonnie. So I have always kept her in my sewing area. I guess it is one of those things a person keeps around as a reminder that they are well loved and their life is full of blessings."
In fact, here we are in Summer 1970
when Dodie came to stay for two weeks:
in back, my younger sister Di and me;
in front Dodie, holding our black cat Samantha
and my little brother Aaron, holding our white cat Phhht
A few years ago (2008), I was paging through one of Ben and Sam's high school English anthologies and discovered this gem from Sandra Cisneros, the perfect retrospective for anyone who ever loved a Barbie but was always a little bit behind the trend! The detailed outfits and ensembles took me right back to the Sears Christmas Catalogs of the 1960s.
by Sandra Cisneros
Yours is the one with mean eyes and a ponytail. Striped swimsuit, stilettos, sunglasses, and gold hoop earrings. Mine is the one with bubble hair. Red swimsuit, stilettos, pearl earrings, and a wire stand. But that’s all we can afford, besides one extra outfit apiece. Yours, “Red Flair,” sophisticated A-line coatdress with a Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat, white gloves, handbag, and heels included. Mine, “Solo in the Spotlight,” evening elegance in black glitter strapless gown with a puffy skirt at the bottom like a mermaid tail, formal-length gloves, pink chiffon scarf, and mike included. From so much dressing and undressing, the black glitter wears off where her titties stick out. This and a dress invented from an old sock when we cut holes here and here and here, the cuff rolled over for the glamorous, fancy-free, off-the-shoulder look.
Every time the same story. Your Barbie is roommates with my Barbie, and my Barbie’s boyfriend comes over and your Barbie steals him, okay? Kiss kiss kiss. Then the two Barbies fight. You dumbbell! He’s mine. Oh no he’s not, you stinky! Only Ken’s invisible, right? Because we don’t have money for a stupid-looking boy doll when we’d both rather ask for a new Barbie outfit next Christmas. We have to make do with your mean-eyed Barbie and my bubblehead Barbie and our one outfit apiece not including the sock dress.
Until next Sunday when we are walking through the flea market on Maxwell Street and there! Lying on the street next to some tool bits, and platform shoes with the heels all squashed, and a fluorescent green wicker wastebasket, and aluminum foil, and hubcaps, and a pink shag rug, and windshield wiper blades, and dusty mason jars, and a coffee can full of rusty nails. There! Where? Two Mattel boxes. One with the “Career Gal” ensemble, snappy black-and-white business suit, three-quarter-length sleeve jacket with kick-pleated skirt, red sleeveless shell, gloves, pumps, and matching hat included. The other, “Sweet Dreams,” dreamy pink-and-white plaid nightgown and matching robe, lace-trimmed slippers, hair-brush and hand mirror included.
How much? Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, until they say okay.
On the outside you and me skipping and humming but inside we are doing loopity-loops and pirouetting. Until at the next vendor’s stand, next to boxed pies, and bright orange toilet brushes, and rubber gloves, and wrench sets, and bouquets of feather flowers, and glass towel racks, and steel wool, and Alvin and the Chipmunks records, there! And there! And there! And there! and there! and there! and there! Bendable Legs Barbie with her new page-boy hairdo, Midge, Barbie’s best friend. Ken, Barbie’s boyfriend. Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. Tutti and Todd, Barbie and Skipper’s tiny twin sister and brother. Skipper’s friends, Scooter and Ricky. Alan, Ken’s buddy. And Francie, Barbie’ MOD’ern cousin.
Everybody today selling toys, all of them damaged with water and smelling of smoke. Because a big toy warehouse on Halsted Street burned down yesterday-see there?-the smoke still rising and drifting across the Dan Ryan expressway. And now there is a big fire sale at Maxwell Street, today only.
So what if we didn’t get our new Bendable Legs Barbie and Midge and Ken and Skipper and Tutti and Todd and Scooter and Ricky and Alan and Francie in nice clean boxes and had to buy them on Maxwell Street, all water-soaked and sooty. So what if our Barbies smell like smoke when you hold them up to your nose even after you wash and wash and wash them. And if the prettiest doll, Barbie’s MOD’ern cousin Francie with real eyelashes, eyelash brush included, has a left foot that’s melted a little-so? If you dress her in her new “Prom Pinks” outfit, satin splendor with matching coat, gold belt, clutch, and hair bow included, so long as you don’t lift her dress, right?--who’s to know. ~Sandra Cisneros
Naturally, I had to share this essay with my cousin Dodie, and she wrote back to share the most astonishing coincidence -- she really did have a burned Barbie! -- and so many other insights as well:
"Thanks for sharing the Cisneros essay! You know Barbie and I are the same age -- she came out in 1959. The first time I ever saw a Barbie doll was when I was 4 or 5 and visited Aunt Judy. Our cousins Glenda and Carrie had them and I was enthralled! I loved them so, that they sent me one for Christmas. I got so few new "cool" toys that I was thrilled. I swear I would still have that Barbie if she had not burned up when our house burned when I was 10. She had dark "bubble" hair. Barbie's were always my favorite toy.Even without daughters, I knew what Dodie meant about the plethora of Barbies, because I had seen them everywhere at my friends' houses! For Ben and Sam, not so much, but there was the summer (1995 - 96) when we went to the store to pick out pool toys and I suggested Sparkle Beach Barbie and Ken. Whether or not they were waterproof, they were perfect for going to the beach or floating around in the pool or the bathtub:
"These days, girls have tons of Barbies. I had one Barbie and one Ken when they burned. I got one more, maybe two after that. My girls have, and I am NOT exaggerating, at least 15 if not 20 different Barbies. And they really play with them, really love them. Miranda will close her room door and forbid any of us to disturb her, while she plays out elaborate stories or something in there. I would love to set up a video camera so I could see it all!
"I too remember the mean eyes! Thanks for the stroll down memory lane!" ~Dodie
As early as 1st grade I had my first Barbie, but she was a fake version of mean - eyed Barbie. Of course, Barbie never meant to look mean, it's just that her eye makeup was so badly drawn; and, believe me, however mean real Barbie looked, fake Barbie looked even meaner! By 3rd or 4th grade, I had upgraded to a new, improved fake, at which time my sister Di received a fake Midge as well as a real Skipper, both with red hair to match her own. Over the years, Barbies have become so accessible and inexpensive ($3 at the grocery store) that no one really needs a knock - off version, which I'm sure we had only because they cost less.
When we were a little older (5th / 6th grade), I got my first and only real Barbie and Di got a real Stacey (another one of Barbie's cool, modern cousins, I guess). We never did have any Kens; as Cisneros says, that would have been a waste of resources! But sometimes we did borrow a couple of GI Joes from my brothers and squeeze them into some of Barbie's pantsuits (cross - dressing!) and make them get married to Barbie and Stacey. Oh what fun!
Here is my beautiful, kind - eyed 1969 Barbie in her wedding dress, made by my mom, from the same fabric as my sister Peg's highschool graduation dress. You might also notice that my Barbie Case features the same "Red Flair" Ensemble worn by the Barbie of Cisneros' friend:
My friend Diane to me: "That's a great article - it does bring it all back! I think I only had one Barbie (and probably a hand-me-down) that I dressed up in hand - made clothes that my grandmother made for us, and I built her houses out of wooden blocks. I remember building houses WAY too late in my years to be "normally" playing with dolls. And I seem to remember my younger sisters getting many more dolls and accessories than I did. But I'm not bitter. Sure wish I had some of those hand-made outfits now -- bet my grandmother had fun doing that!"
Me to Diane: "I know my Barbie years lasted throughout 6th grade (with my friends Cyndee and Kathy) and probably into 7th & 8th. While I remember very well all the store - bought outfits from seeing them in catalogs, we didn't own any of those things. Instead, like you, we dressed our Barbies in outfits made by my grandmothers. I marvel now over the tiny stitches they made for us. How did they do it? They were way older then than I am now, and already my eyesight is so far gone, I can barely get the mending done!"
For the love of Barbie!
after we saw "Wicked" in 2006.
Some of the subsequent Elphaba Barbies
had mean eyes, but not this one!
Liddle Kiddle Kolognes from Little Brother Aaron
Honeysuckle for Me and Rosebud for Di
Liddle Kiddle Lockets from Grandma Carrie
and Penny Brite Dolls from Grandma Peggy
Disney Watches from Big Brother Dave
Alice in Wonderland for Di & Snow White for Me
Postscript from my sister Di: "I loved that Little Rosebud Kiddle. I remember smelling it constantly. Held it's scent for a long time -- maybe still -- just don't know where it got to."
My response: "Me too Di! I feel sad that I don't know where our originals are -- I copied the pictures for our perfume & locket Kiddles and the Penny Brite and the Disney watches and figurines from the internet. It's almost as good to go to google and have a walk down memory lane, looking at all the old treasures that are no longer with us in person -- but not quite. Heaven knows I've hung on to enough old stuff, but sort of wish that I'd hung on to just a bit more (a topic to be explored in greater depth next time)!
And from another Diane: "I think you may have tagged me in error, but I am glad you did. Here is my Kiddie Cologne - Lily of the Valley. It was always precious to me because it was a gift from my godfather whom I truly loved. I love lily of valley to this day b/c of this gift. As for Barbie Dolls - I had my share and would play with them for hours. I used Dixie cups and other household items as furniture.
SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS FOR MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, May 28th
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