Topic: Heritage Doll by Ruth Plank

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived at Perma Cc in October of 2016

Considering brains - for a start, my own brain - I then considered banks because that’s what a brain is, in a way. Like a bank it’s a place where, among other things, memories are stored. Memories are stored in the human brain until they are required to be taken out of mothballs and aired once again. Some memories are stored for a few hours, days or weeks. Other memories are stored for many years and may never be required to come to the surface.

In a bank safety deposit box items that are stored there rarely see the light of day. They don’t change over time; even when the box is opened the items are the same as when they were placed there. Similarly, memories are stored in a brain deposit box, but the difference is that when the box is opened all manner of memories appear, many of them much changed from when they were first placed there.

The great thing about stored memories is that when they are recalled, not only are the occasions remembered, but also the senses that went with them. With the memory of a wonderful time spent with a friend in a garden comes, not only the beauty of the garden itself, but also the aroma of the herbs, the colours of the flowers, the sound of the breeze rustling through the trees, the way the grass felt beneath the feet and last, but not least, that fresh taste of a ripe tomato or strawberry just picked from the vine.

Some memories may be buried deep in the brain never to be recalled because of, perhaps, the pain associated with them. But they are kept safe in the vault until the brain can no longer hold them there. I read recently that if too many memories are held in the memory bank it may be more difficult to retain newer memories. The theory was that because we can regularly access so much information from the Internet we no longer have to retain it in our memory bank, which means that our brains won’t be so cluttered with information.

The writing group to which I belong has produced many stories. We’ve written stories from way back when we were small children to ‘just the other day’ when we might have experienced something new. Which brings me to the point of this particular story.

My personal brain vault seemed to be empty of memories until I spied my china baby doll lying in her cane basket. All my senses rose to the fore as I looked at her properly for the first time in a long time. As I picked her up my memory bank started buzzing.

This beautiful heirloom doll was created by me at a time when my stress level was high. I’ve always believed there is a way to relieve stress somehow, either by walking, exercising, joining a club and so forth, but none of those things were suitable at the time. Seeing the advertisement for a doll-making class beginning the next week I decided that is what I would do.

The class was held in the early evenings and was expected to run for about six weeks. It was one of the best decisions I could have made because it certainly lowered my stress level.

The tutor owned a fabric and haberdashery shop in Whakatane and the class was held in a small room at the back of the shop. Arriving at the venue I was pleased to see that I knew three of the six people ready to learn this new skill. Never being very creative with my hands it wasn’t long before I realized there was a real challenge ahead for me. There were different doll moulds so I chose the baby doll with closed eyes because I knew she would be a good sleeper!

Our tutor placed the baby doll head in my hands together with some very fine sandpaper and instructed me to ‘take out all those tiny bubbles and imperfections in the china.’ In no time at all the six of us were busy, the only sound being the soft scraping of the sandpaper and the occasional tut-tutting from someone (me) having a bit of trouble. The hour and a half passed quickly and it was time to go home. We all wanted to stay longer and finish the project but, no, that was the session for this week. Driving home I realized that I felt calm and was already looking forward to the following week.

The next session turned out to be the most difficult for me – painting the face of the doll. I tried so hard to get the baby-pink blush on the cheeks and the softest, lightest colour on the baby lips. The mould was so realistic, right down to the tiny blister on the upper lip that newborns often develop due to all the sucking they do.

After a while it was obvious that I was hopeless at painting so the tutor kindly took over the task for me and finished making the doll’s face look absolutely right. After the face was completed to the tutor’s satisfaction we had to sand down the tiny china feet and hands before giving them the colour. This task I managed reasonably well and went home that evening pleased with myself and with a stress level much reduced.

During the next session I made the doll’s body using the patterns and fabric that were supplied. Sewing machines were set up for us to use and here was another challenge for me. It had been ten years since I’d touched a sewing machine, but I found it easy to pick up the reins again and was satisfied with the result. The fabric body was filled with heavy stuff, a bit like crystallized sand; I was amazed at just how much was required to fill such a small space.

Once the body was completed the head, hands and feet were attached to it, but I can’t for the life of me recall how this was done. I do remember putting my name and the date on the back of the neck because these dolls were Heritage Dolls which meant that in the future they could be identified by the moulds. All fascinating stuff.

So, doll body completed, the only thing left to do was make the clothes. Because I had a baby doll of, perhaps, two months old, I decided to make her (yes, it was a ‘her named Rosie’) a christening gown. I bought some fine white material for most of the gown, but for the front panel my daughter-in-law gave me some of the left-over lace from her wedding dress.

It took much patience and unpicking of stitches before the gown was completed to our satisfaction, so much so that one would have thought it was made for a real baby, not just a doll.

At the final session all the dolls were passed round for inspection by the other participants when much oohing and aahing was heard. All the dolls were beautiful and each one was different. My baby doll felt exactly like a real baby because of the clever design of the fabric body. It became increasingly clear why dolls of this nature were, and still are, expensive to buy. When I reckoned up how much my doll had cost it was about $150 and that was back in 1990.

But it was worth every cent because now, when I see Rosie fast asleep in her basket I remember how stressed I was in my life at the time and how making this doll helped me get through that tough time.

A couple of days ago Amber, aged 7, came to visit. Amber is our surrogate grand-daughter who lived next door to us for all her life until we moved to another house. As she was growing up she looked longingly at Rosie, but I would never allow her to take the doll out of the basket. On this visit I decided to let her hold the doll for a little while. Amber was totally enraptured by Rosie and was certain that, one day, Rosie would become a real live baby so, together, we made up a story about that possibility. 

If Rosie ever does come to life I will need to get out a sewing machine and make her some new clothes or maybe I will take the easy way out and buy them from a shop, probably an Op Shop.

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