Fixing Mom’s old doll brings her closer somehow

My mother loved Jesus. And as did he, she also loved children and babies. Some she birthed, others she welcomed as part of the family. She also had a small collection of mostly baby dolls. “This one looks just like….” she said sometimes, stroking a cheek.

When Mom died at age 95, I inherited three of her dolls, a life-sized baby doll and two antiques, both around seven inches tall. One needed only a careful cleaning and fresh hairdo. The other, I considered tossing.

That doll wore a limp dress with matching undergarment, finely crocheted in yellow and green. Her painted composition body had cracked in spots and her limbs barely held together. Her blue glass eyes had sunk into their sockets and her short brown wig had popped off altogether. Cotton stuffing rose like swollen brains from the top of her china head and poked from her eye sockets. The sorry little character resembled something from a horror movie.

By researching the stamp on the back of her neck, I learned the doll was manufactured in Germany between the years of 1919 – Mom’s birth year – and 1923. She’d likely had that doll since her childhood. No wonder she’d hung on to her so long.

I have an early memory of Mom handing the doll to a woman who promised to fix it. But years later, it returned, untouched. Mom held the tired little body carefully, tsked, tsked, then tucked it and the other doll away for the rest of her life.

“Kath, do you want these dolls?” my sister asked after Mom’s death. Sure, I said, and toted them home, wondering why. Three years or so later, surrounded by glues, grandbeans and small tools, I sat at our kitchen table and removed them from the box my mother had placed them in decades earlier.

The children seemed eager to help, or at least to watch Nana repair their great-grandmother’s old friend. But disassembling the doll in order to reassemble her, I worried she would break. Sure enough, as I removed the tiny eye assembly from the head, it fell to the floor. One eye, smaller than a baby pea, broke in two, though not irreparably.

Intact again, the pair of eyes reminded us all of Sid, a funny little bug-eyed character from the Ice Age movies. “Let’s call the doll Sydney,” I said. Mom didn’t know that movie, but she would have loved her great-granddaughters’ laughter.

Sydney and the other doll decorate the top of Mom’s old rolltop desk in my office. I feel her smile, almost hear her voice. “Oh, Kathleen, you fixed them! They’re beautiful.”

She died in 2014. I miss her more than ever. But Mom loved and followed Jesus, and so do I. We’ll meet again at his place; this I know. We’ll laugh often as we pray the rest home. The dolls will stay behind. We won’t miss them. But until then, they’re good reminders of her. Because some days, even old girls like me need their mothers.