Dolls, Ghosts, and Memories

Monday Morning Musings:

 “Remember thee!

Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat

In this distracted globe.”

–William Shakespeare, Hamlet


“but with ribbons

it was spinning Fates conjured,

bewitched by the doll mistress

who knew her dreams.

Whose intention they must spin.”

–Luanne Castle, “For the Doll Mistress”

from Doll God (Aldrich Press, 2015)


The play began,

the first floor of a bed and breakfast,

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, late November,

every surface is covered with knickknacks,

including American Girl doll Samantha,

and it turns out that Jenny, a guest there,

had a Samantha doll,

who she believed was always angry at her,

maybe is still angry at her,

now that she’s packed away in the basement of Jenny’s parents’ home,

(though Jenny cut out pieces of the cardboard box so the doll could see)

And the innkeeper asks Jenny and her boyfriend,

who are facing problems in their relationship,

she asks them each separately,

if they’ve ever felt that they were watched

as though something watched over them.

(I think of how I don’t like people to watch me

when I sleep. How I’ve been awakened by a gaze.)

The bed and breakfast might be haunted,

(this is Gettysburg, after all)

the Jackson room is sometimes “unreliable,”

(perhaps, so are we all)

Mertis, the innkeeper, mentions

the building was a hospital for Union soldiers,

amputated limbs were tossed out of the windows.

Jenny later meets Genevieve, Mertis’s, blind friend,

Genevieve might be crazy,

she thought she was possessed by the spirit of her ex-husband John,

and John, is also the name of Jenny’s former lover,

(we all know someone named John)

who also has a hold on her,

Genevieve hears rustling sounds that no one else hears—

is it us, the audience?

Mertis admits she’s a bit of a mind reader.

Is she also a witch,

a doll mistress, arranging the scenes for Jenny and Elias?

Mertis winds the clock at the end of each scene,

she closes the curtains at the end of each act, and opens them again.

She lights her “angel chimes,” near the end of the play,

flames cause the angel figures to fly,

there is a final sort of “ah-ha” moment,

did Mertis help bring it about?

Did she know their dreams,

the intentions they must spin?


There is much to ponder in this play,

filled with as many details as the B&B’s room,

It is long, punctuated with silences,

but it does not seem long to me.

We sit, drinking coffee,

and discuss it.




Customs House Coffee is–of course– across the street from the Customs House Building


The next day, I look for my daughters’ American Girls dolls,

I see Molly and Felicity high up on a shelf

(one of each daughter’s dolls)


Molly and Felicity with Frieda


but no Samantha or Josefina,

I wonder if they are in the attic

then I  wonder if they are angry.

Should I find them a new home,

foster parents to take them in?

I think of my son-in-law

who was saved by a couple who took him in,

who became his new parents,

moving behind the scenes,

directing them, providing props,

to make certain he was cared for

before he knew his dreams.

Was it fated,

fated he’d meet his love in a play?


We talk about dolls at my younger daughter’s house.

(ghosts and memories)

She remembers–

she didn’t want to send her Molly doll off to be repaired

fearing her doll might be replaced,

another Molly,

so she kept her Molly,

and cared gently for her fractured arm,

holding it on with a rubber band,

battlefield medicine.


My son-in-law enters the room,

makes an innocent remark,

daughter and I burst into laughter,

laughter that bring tears,

and simultaneously,

sitting across from one another,

we wipe our eyes,

mirror figures,

mother and daughter.


My mother tells us,

when she was a little girl,

sick with diphtheria,

(a ghost disease),

she dropped her doll,

“they” took it away,

wouldn’t let her have it in the hospital,

and she cried for her doll,

and she cried for her parents,

who also were not allowed in her sick room,

when she was finally  home,

there was another doll for her,

It wasn’t the same doll,

but. . .she shrugs.

Did your mother make clothes for your dolls?

(She sewed beautifully, I tell my daughter.)

Yes, until my brother was born when I was six.

He was a handful.

He baby brother, now gone,

gone before her.

Ghosts and memories.



I have not been good about reviewing the books my friends have written. But with a play in which a doll was a key plot point, and a discussion of dolls, I thought of my doll-loving blogger friend. Poet Luanne Castle’s writes about many different topics on her blog— including family, history, travel, and cats.

Her book of poetry, Doll God   is the 2015 winner of the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. The poems are thoughtful, thought-provoking, lyrical, and sometimes enigmatic. Do check it out!

We saw John by Annie Baker at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia.


32 thoughts on “Dolls, Ghosts, and Memories

  1. What a treasure trove of memories there! Dolls seem to have a special place though strangely enough neither I nor any of my sisters (there are four of us) had a special doll. Only one of us had any dolls at all. None of my girls have cared about dolls and the few that they did have have been mutilated to make characters in a home made horror movie. We have to cart around with us my mother-in-law’s favourite doll. She never had any daughters to give it to and none of mine could ever be trusted with it (given what they did to their own dolls) so it lies in its cardboard box. I’d put it in the dustbin if I was allowed. Gives me the creeps.

    • That’s so funny, Jane. I had dolls, but none were special. My daughters had dolls, but what really mattered were their special stuffed animals–Humpty and Ahh Bear. Older Daughter still has Humpty and Younger Daughter’s Ahh Bear is living with us till she finds a place to keep him where he’ll be safe from her dog. I might have given him a hug for her last night. 😉

      • I’ve been more attached to their soft toys than they have. Two of them had favourite bears, one of which was forgotten on the bus to the hospital and never seen again. The other one, Minicoocoo (they all had strange names) is still around.

  2. You see such interesting plays, and I love how you share them with us so poetically. 🙂

    Perhaps it is a result of too much Twilight Zone (or Serling’s other program, Night Gallery) but I find the thought of angry dolls rather frightening. I didn’t play with dolls as a child. Too much of a tomboy for that. It’s made it a challenge getting to know my granddaughters because they are such girly-girls. Thankfully, we have cooking and art in common. I was so awkward trying to play dolls with them.

    • Thanks, Robin. (For some reason, your comment didn’t show up under comments, though I did get an email notification.)
      It’s funny you mention the Twilight Zone and Night Gallery–because there are a couple of episodes that I refuse to watch because of the dolls. They terrify me!
      Everything my girls played with was alive and had personalities–dolls, little people figures, seashells. . .:) I remember spending time playing “Little Women” Barbies with my younger daughter while her sister was at school. Amy was always amazing and did things like invent cars.

  3. How lovely to discuss dolls and other topics with an intelligent being like your husband though I must say he looks a bit freaked out in the photo.

    About dolls: We are 99 % unpacked from the Big Move, but just before Christmas Cliff found a box of antique dolls with bisque (?) faces all quietly resting in bubble wrap. Our daughter Crista loved to play with them. We thought our grand-daughter would like them too, but – alas – she found them haunting and scary-looking. So we found a home for them with daughters of single mothers at church. I hope they”ll invent stories like your girls did.

    • Thank you, Marian.
      My husband was being silly. He said it was his “after coffee” look.
      Dolls can be scary. My mom was telling us about dolls that she (and her cousins?) played with that were breakable. She said they made beds in cigar boxes for them. I’m glad you found a home for yours, and hopefully they will be well loved.

  4. Merril, thanks so much for the shout out! Dolls. The subject is inexhaustible. They are so close to us–and yet not. Mirror images–and yet not. I noticed your nod (intentional or not) to the doll mistress in my poem here! Did you write about your mom losing her doll this way before? It seems familiar to me. How sad for her because it’s a double loss–her health (and all that comes with it) and her doll. As for the brother that was a handful: was that the same boy in the photograph? If so, he does look like a handful. Something about his expression . . . ;).

    • Thank you, Luanne, and you are quite welcome. Yes, doll mistress was intentional. 🙂 And you have a good memory. Yes, I did write about my mom losing her doll before. She had told me about it once, but my daughter never heard her tell the story. Yes, the boy in the photo was my uncle. He was the kindest man, but he was very inquisitive and had a great sense of humor. My cousin (his son) posted a photo of my uncle when he was the psychologist in a MASH unit in Korea. He’s holding a gun and a white paper that’s actually a Rorschach test.

  5. I have always liked dolls of all kinds. My Mom had a composition doll (with paper mache type hands that she sucked until they had no fingers! There’s my Mom’s doll story! 🙂 )
    My Mom collected hundreds of dolls from companies like Ashton Drake, thinking my girls could “cash in” once their value increased. We sold them all for a mere $250 (except I saved two Kate Middleton dolls for those who may someday like to see what she wore.) Princess Diana dolls went to a friend.
    My daughter Felicia liked Felicity and my daughter Carrie liked Samantha. Neither were given one but I have their American Girll books. 🙂
    This play sounds really interesting and entertaining. I would have enjoyed hearing your conversation, especially if I had seen it. It is always nice that you include so many people in your outings.
    My Mom won’t go to plays anymore but my brother took her to see “Hidden Figures,” the same weekend I went with a friend. Your Mom seems like a wonderful, thoughtful and strong woman! ❤

    • Thanks, Robin. It sounds like your mom had quite a doll collection. Hundreds? Wow!
      Our girls read some of the American Girl books, too.
      It was just my husband and me at the play. The discussion with my daughter and mom was the next day. We took my mom to see our daughter’s new house. My mom doesn’t see well enough now to go to plays or movies. Probably, the last play she saw was the last big play our younger daughter was in at college, Ordinary Days.

  6. Haha! I love how you and your husband have so much fun traveling, dining and watching plays.

    I, too, hate being watched as I sleep, but I suppose ghosts may never let you know if they stare. Lol. 👻

  7. My older daughter wasn’t a doll girl (someone gave her a Barbie and she and her best friend Sam took it apart), but she did have Big Dolly, passed on to her younger sister who acquired 2 more from ToysRus to make triplets. They still reside here (and occasionally talk). Imaginary worlds are amazing things, whether inhabited by dolls, animals, or words! (K)

  8. I had one doll when I was growing up. Her name was Nancy, and I didn’t play with her much except to sit her down so that I had an audience either as a teacher or preacher. Then there was the huge doll almost three feet high, wearing a fancy pink ball gown, that my parents got me for Christmas when I was 12. Likely the doll was purchased on Dec. 24 at half-price. That was the modus operandi of our parents’ gift giving.

    I have that latter doll down in the basement. She has survived all these years. I never played with her much, but I don’t have the heart to give her away, either. The grandchildren like to discover her in the banana leaf basket she lives in now.

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