“Walkin’ through the world
Right before your eyes
Soon enough you’re lost
When I’m gonna go back home”
–John Kander and Fred Ebb, “Go Back Home,”
The Scottsboro Boys
I was in my car today listening to Radio Times, as poet Lynn Levin described the doll on the cover of her new book Miss Plastique. The brief discussion brought back vivid memories of my daughters playing with their dolls. They loved playing with “the Barbs,” and gave each one a name. I remember Mary, Colonial, Tracy (aka Tracy-Hopping-on-One-Foot after she lost a leg). The Barbies had so many adventures—some of which, I recently discovered, I knew nothing about. It’s probably better that way. I did witness though, and participated in, many of the dolls’ escapades. Little Women Barbies was a favorite game of my younger daughter that we played together when her older sister was at school. She selected particular Barbie Dolls to be the main characters of Louisa May Alcott’s story. In my daughter’s Barbie version, Amy had superhuman gymnastic abilities and drove a car. And I’m pretty sure I remember Aunt March sang “Bare Necessities.” I’m not certain why.
Dolls have existed since ancient times and in cultures throughout the world. (See an example here.)
They can be made from all sorts of material. My daughters made paper doll families, seashell families, and on one family vacation, they made a family from the chopsticks they took home from a restaurant. I was never worried about them being unduly influenced by Barbie’s freakish body. Clearly, the dolls were merely props for the worlds their imaginations created.
These reflections about dolls and childhood came after my checkup with my oncologist. He said everything looks great. I was relieved, of course. I know how easily I could have been told something else. Yesterday I had attended the funeral of a young man who died much too soon. He was only 23, barely out of boyhood. I am happy that I am well, but it makes me feel almost guilty. I cherish the memories of my daughters’ childhoods, but they are alive, and this wonderful young man is not. His family has the memories of his childhood to cherish, but he is no longer with them, and memories are all they have.
Like many people here in the US, I’ve been feeling that “Right before your eyes things happen.” In the case of the “Scottsboro Boys,” it was being on a freight train at the wrong time and place. Last week it was watching a marathon in Boston. Why is one person injured, while someone else moments before just happened to move away? Sometimes randomness is reassuring, but at other times it’s frightening. Since prehistoric times, humans have tried to understand fate, but it is impossible, of course. “Giddy Fortune’s furious fickle wheel”
spins and we don’t know what it will bring. Perhaps that is one reason why children are so drawn to dolls. They can be held, loved, and cherished. They can be used to create a new universe where characters in a novel take on new lives, or where a family member still exists. They can help to bring shape and order to a random world.