My very first doll I ever selected for myself, was … in today’s perspective … very un-PC. I was five or younger when I chose it. From our dairy farm in Whangarata, in the Waikato, the family went on a day trip to Auckland. It may have coincided with a visit to my mother aunt, Aunty Raynee – I’m not sure. But it coincided with a visit to Farmers, then known as Farmers Trading Store, in the main street of the big city. Farmers was known for its size (multi-storey) and the vast range of products. More importantly to us children, it was known for its extravagant children’s department, which had an entire floor for kids, including a playground.
More significant to us that day was the toy department. So many aisles of toy shelves! And…dolls! They were not the adult reach height of modern stores. All were only the height of a child’s eyes, and the top shelf sloped in layers stepping up higher towards the rear, allowing the dolls to sit each one behind the other, clearly visible to any child. Each different model of doll had its own section, clearly demarked from its neighbours, and overhead was the sign naming the type of doll. We two children strolled back and forth along the aisle in front of the dolls, until we’d chosen the dill we wanted.
My choice was a little baby doll, dressed in a
blue-and-white domed fastened shirt, and a pair of blue overalls. His head was black and tightly curled, his skin was brown, and his lips were pink. On arriving home with my new doll, Mum (Dad?) asked me what I was going to name him. A redundant question to me – the store had his name well displayed, and no new name was needed, I thought. “He’s got a name. Nigger.” I remember saying it in a very determined voice.
No one suggested that was not appropriate, so Nigger he remained – for thirty years. I knitted him (garter stitch) a pink tee-shaped pullover, a pair of knickers, and a cap. I kept him with me when at age eighteen I left home to attend teachers’ college. He came with me when I married, and when my new family moved to Huntly (NZ’s then new power station town) he came too. He’d aged in colour, but still sat on the top shelf of my wardrobe. Between 1980 and 1986 he had to go for repairs – his rubber bands in the joints had given up. Sadly, the woman who replaced the rubber bands used too tight a band, and the tension was too much. The body part cracked at the neck joint. When it came back from that repair she’d not been able match the colour of his skin, and eventually he broke again, this time beyond repair. Putting Nigger into the garbage was heart-breaking!
Many years later, Mum took up doll making. Hers were china dolls, for which she sewed and stuffed the body, affixing the head, arms and legs. Being one who’d sewed, knitted, stitched smocking and tatted lace for baby clothes, she clothed each doll herself. No store-bought ready-made clothes for these babies. Each was displayed in her lounge, and on the guest beds or dressing tables.
One we had was her very first china doll, which she had over-glazed. Another was one she made for our daughter, and dressed in a beautiful long frock to match a dress-up frock one she’d made for my daughter from a bridesmaid’s dress we’d found in the gutter outside our house while on a walk together. I so wish I had a photograph of the two girls together!
Composed for the self-imposed ABC for 2018 challenge, the ‘D’ prompt