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SAVING DEBBIE

I just couldn’t do it. I said my goodbyes to Suzy Smart and easily removed her from the closet to be placed in the trash container. She was too damaged to donate, and the hard plastic creates a problem for recycling. But I couldn’t bring myself to dispose of Debbie, my life-sized doll. At least she was my size when she appeared under the Christmas tree in 1958.


My daughters have seen or heard about enough dolls associated with horror films, so they have no desire to take Debbie off my hands. In fact, I believe their descriptions for Debbie included the words,”creepy” and “freaky.”  I guess it didn’t help that one of her arms broke off at some point, and my Dad devised a way to add a large screw to anchor it to her side. This was a temporary fix, however, and her last days before becoming one-armed were spent with it partially dangling from her side. Yes, I know, that does sound pretty terrifying - especially for children. 


Debbie had a brief recurrence of imaginative playtime when my oldest daughter was very young and Debbie was still residing at my parents’ home. Our daughter would spend a few days each summer visiting with them, and my mother would often bring out my old dolls and they would play “doll hospital.” This was during the innocent years before discovering dolls could be scary or possessed by evil spirits. I believe it was during one of Debbie’s visits to the doll hospital that my Dad was brought in for further consultation and a kit of tools to reattach Debbie’s arm. It was a valiant effort and it did last for a while. Ultimately, though, it’s difficult to lift a heavy doll without pulling on the arms - especially when this doll is about your height. Mother went ahead and dressed her up in her pretty white blouse and plaid jumper and attempted to cover the parts that were keeping her arm from falling off entirely. And somehow she ended up at my house.


As an adult, I still would smile every time I saw Debbie. But as I said earlier, my grown daughters and even my grandchildren did not appreciate similar encounters, and Debbie ended up in the back corner of the closet facing the wall (to hide any possible evil-looking expressions that may come upon her face). And there she has remained, even through the closet cleanouts which occurred during the pandemic. Until a few days ago when EVERYTHING on the floor and surfaces had to be moved or removed for the new carpet installation. 


Over time, out of sheer necessity, I have stifled my sentimentality over “things,” and short of taking a few seconds to recall pleasant memories over an item, I’ve become comfortable parting with items from the past. I prefer organized space, and too many things in too many places brings more chaos and angst than comfort as I’m aging - especially considering all that our girls will have to face sorting through and finding homes for when we are gone. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to take some time to decide what stays, what gets donated or recycled, and what just needs to be thrown away. No more just boxing things up to be moved over and over again and never even checking to see the status of or need for those things. So, we have made and are making several trips to donation centers, only keeping the most special or useful items. It is surprising how small that amount can be! Hey, except for most of the furniture which I plan to keep for now, I could become one of those minimalists. Okay, probably not, but it can be a goal. 


Near the end of this massive removal of items, I decided it was finally time to part with Debbie. I decided to spend a few minutes remembering how she became a part of my childhood, and all of our make-believe adventures. After receiving her as a Christmas gift that year, she became my new childhood friend. I didn’t make friends easily and she never talked back or made faces at me; and even though she was heavy and awkward to carry, I dragged her along (probably the beginnings of her arm issues) on family vacations and to picnics and playtime in the backyard. She had a sweet expression on her face and beautiful, bright blue eyes. I had pretty blue eyes, too, and my hair was about the same color as hers (at least until I “overstyled” hers). But it wasn’t often that I shared that sweet expression she kept on her face, and I didn’t hold my fingers in the delicate way Debbie did. My mother wanted my hands in this nice position for photos. Debbie and I parted ways over some things. Because we were about the same size, Debbie could wear some of my clothes - usually dresses since that is what I wore most of the time. I drew the line on Debbie sharing my bed. She was hard as a rock from head to toe and I received a bruise or two just from bumping into her. Over the years, my taste and interest in dolls and toys changed and Barbie came on the scene. But Debbie was always special.


After this trip down memory lane, I thanked her for the fun times, apologized for the terrorized looks from my kids, wrapped her up, and made plans for her final departure. But I couldn’t go through with it and, for now, Debbie remains in our home. I wish I could have chosen a smaller item to save that was precious to me, but this doll represents so much and brings back the sweeter moments of change and growing up. Debbie, best of luck to you when it’s time for the younger generations to go through our stuff. The odds are not in your favor.  



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