As told at the YGL Storytellers….
One of my earliest memories was of me, likely 3 years old, sitting on someone’s lap – probably Mother’s. I was being held tightly as I reached for a beautiful china doll dressed in a white, embroidered dress. I do not know who is showing it to me, though I think that it may have been my maternal grandmother. And I remember being told that I could look at the doll but could not touch it. If I were told the doll’s name, I cannot recall it.
In a later memory I remember brushing Grandmother’s long, wavy, black hair. She was wearing a white nightgown and was sitting on the edge of her bed. My final memory of Grandmother is of me standing on tiptoe to see her lying in her casket. The latter memory is anchored in time, 1934. I was 4. I was told later that Mother had taken care of Grandmother for more than two years during her final illness.
Much later I remember seeing the same doll minus the dress, but I could not play with it. It had a plain tan, cloth body which had been stuffed with sawdust. After many more years, that doll no longer had a body. The fabric must have deteriorated over time and began leaking its content. What remained was the china head with a dried corncob inserted into its neck. A wet corncob had been forced into the head. When it dried, it was somewhat larger and could not be removed. The body of the doll had been formed around the dried corncob. It was kept out of sight in my Granddad’s bedroom.
Grandmother, Flora Leora Carmony, was born in 1897. She wed Orie Elsworth McDaniel, born a month earlier in the same year. They had 9 children. Granddad was widowed at age 54. Fast forward to February 2, 1974, the date my Granddad died at age 94. Granddad’s will directed that all that he possessed was to be equally shared by his children. He further stipulated that personal effects were to be sold at a private auction attended by only his children. The proceeds of said auction were to be evenly divided among them.
I was told that the auction was quite “spirited” and enjoyed by all. The item which brought in the most money was purchased by his eldest, Emma. It was Grandmother’s perfume bottle. Now empty, after 40 years, it still retained the scent. My Aunt Teedie (Zelda) had purchased Grandmother’s doll head. With such fond memories of that doll head, I told her that if she ever decided to part with it, I would pay her handsomely for it and vowed to keep it in the family.
My Aunt Teedie was a cute and witty little woman – barely 4’10” tall. While I remember that she was twice married, our family genealogy record lists 5 husbands!! She, like most in the family, had naturally curly or wavy hair. She wore it clipped somewhat short, with little curls all over her head. She was musically talented playing both the organ and piano “by ear.” Grandmother played the same way and was able to teach 4 of her 6 daughters, including my mother, to do the same.
Several years later, Aunt Teedie phoned me to ask if I still wanted to buy the doll head. I jumped at the chance and soon thereafter drove to her home in Greenfield, IN. She was widowed again, living alone, and no longer driving. In lieu of attending church services, she watched TV evangelists. One such (do I dare say: “charlatan?”) had asked for sacrificial donations. My aunt interpreted that to mean that she must sacrifice something of value to her and give the money acquired to his church. She had pledged $50. I offered to pay her more. The doll head was probably worth much more not only as an item to sell, but worth more than that to me. She refused, saying she only wanted what she had pledged.
That now touchable, nameless doll head is in my glass-enclosed curio table along with other little “treasures,” each with its own story. It is to go to my only daughter. She has promised that upon her death, it will go to her granddaughter, Emma. And so, it goes….
Contributed by: Jo Lesher, 2021
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