by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
March 21, 2009
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- From the outside looking in, you would probably say I had a hardscrabble life growing up, but the world of make-believe existed on the inside as I played with my paper dolls. They were something affordable and especially nice to find under the Christmas tree.
Today's families are struggling, and even little children are hearing "we can't afford it" as they wander the aisles of toys in every store, not just toy stores. These are words the children have heard often lately without understanding why. During these times many struggling families with little children are turning to Dollar Stores for the knock-off Barbies. The dolls are fully dressed and have different names but the children are none the wiser.
The paper dolls I had were designed as Shirley Temple, Gloria Jean, Carmen Miranda - and later when I was older, Marilyn Monroe. They were used and reused and sometimes my mother would use a doll's dress as a pattern and cut out new ones from brown paper bags - not quite the same, but it did extend the life of playtime. I discovered just today that all those cut-out doll books are available on eBay but I'm not nostalgic enough to pay a fortune to relive an hour in the life of a child in 1939.
Time passed, I grew up, I got married and became a stay-at-home wife and mother. Our first two were boys and the only dolls in the house were toy soldiers. By the time the family grew to seven children - four of them girls - I became acquainted with Barbie - an adult doll with the pulchritude of all the pin-up girls of stage and screen.
As I wondered about the blonde/blue-eyed connection, I discovered that during this 50th anniversary sale, "China will be the biggest market for the blonde, blue-eyed, full-breasted clotheshorse."
Before I had daughters, I was folding towels and diapers (yes, cloth diapers!) while I watched Arthur Godfrey's morning television show or The Today Show, still in its infancy. A guest I loved was Carmel Quinn, a young mother and entertainer who lived in nearby New Jersey and could answer a last-minute call to appear in the absence of the scheduled guest - for whatever reason. The hosts always loved her; she had such ease under pressure.
She sang like the proverbial angel - all the more charming with her Irish brogue - and had a quick wit that would have the audience roaring. She tossed off one quip after another about experiences the daytime audience understood too well. I laughed with them from my quiet home in Cleveland, Ohio.
Although I hadn't yet reached the stage of children always being underfoot, I wasn't too happy with her when she spoke of the studio calling to ask her to "hop in the car." She had one child in the high chair smearing Pablum all over the tray and the other one on the floor playing with naked Barbie dolls.
Oh, I didn't like that. I didn't think I could be considered puritanical, but naked dolls that were not baby dolls - bad enough if they were. Oh, my, she should have skipped the call to the show and stayed home to dress the dolls. That was my thinking at the time.
But then one day I had seven children under 12 with dolls, blocks, Lincoln Logs, jacks, Tinker Toys, checkers - all scattered underfoot. Not only Barbie, naked and otherwise, was underfoot, but Chrissy, the doll who had hair that could grow. Her hair was so long it matted easily and my little girl lost interest in her.
Along with paper dolls, I had a baby doll. These dolls sparked interest in nurturing. We fed them, wrapped them securely and kept them clean and dry. It was all pretend yet we could walk around for hours cuddling our baby doll. It was in our nature.
So, I grew up and had my babies and, believe me, there was many a night I walked around for hours cuddling a crying baby. It was in my nature and I was nurtured to follow my nature and accept the values being passed on to me by what was being taught at home - by example.
Barbie dolls do exactly what they are designed to do: they are fashion dolls. And the little girls who now shop the malls for the right outfit for school, tennis, golf, scuba diving, cycling, and many more - God forbid you should wear a tennis shoe to play golf. "What could Barbie be thinking?"
We can't blame Ruth Handler, Barbie's creator 50 years ago, if the signs of the times show skimpy outfits. Some outfits are suitable for every occasion but we are left to wonder whatever the occasion could be.
Last week, I was picking up my granddaughter from preschool and as I unhooked her car seat I saw a naked Barbie, legs twisted, hair a mess. I recalled Carmel Quinn, who made me feel so delighted in the early days of marriage and motherhood. I had one of those moments: Whatever happened to Carmel Quinn? I discovered she's still as lovely and talented as ever.
I could laugh with Carmel Quinn now through our shared experiences. I'm still somewhat puritanical but I'm pretty good at reading the handwriting on the wall. It says, "Times change and we change with them."
Now, if that had been my first line, you wouldn't have to have read any further.