The Last Doll

I stood in the mall in the tiny store crowded with books and toys and trinkets of all shapes and sizes, and I stared at the wall of stuffed animals as I tried desperately to narrow down my choice.

I was 8 years old, and my fourth facial surgery was just a few days away. The stuffed friend I was about to pick would be my hospital companion, tasked to stay with me after visitor hours ended when my parents would be required to leave.

That’s the way hospitals worked in the early 80’s, without fluffy modern-day nonsense where parents remain with their kids in the hospital around the clock. And, of course, by “fluffy modern-day nonsense” I mean nothing of the kind; parents of the 80’s were made of stronger stuff than me, no doubt, because it would take an elephant tranquilizer, a team of Navy SEALs, and a reinforced cage to get me out of my kid’s hospital room.

Still, I was never afraid in the hospital as a child due to equal parts Unflappable Parents, Unlimited Popsicle and the kind of Unshakable Companionship only a teddy bear can provide.

Choosing that bear was tough, though. A whole wall of bears and lambs, and I had to hurt all their feelings except one. I was that kid. The one who truly, deeply believed my animals and dolls were alive. The one who hid outside my bedroom and then JUMPED through the doorway to try to catch them moving. The one who whispered that I was trustworthy and if they’d just let me in on their secret, I’d keep it. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. So when I picked my bear in the mall that day, I cried because I couldn’t take them all, and I told them quietly not to worry; their turn for a family would come soon.

When Abby, my oldest, was 10, she campaigned for an American Girl Just-Like-Me Doll. I resisted because Oh my word! EXPENSIVE. We’re not the $100 doll kind of people. We’re more like the Look It’s On Sale or We Can Get It at a Thrift Store or Hooray for Hand-Me-Downs kind of people. Plus, American Girl Dolls need clothes and a hairbrush and stuff, stuff, stuff. And Abby was a fairly grown-up 10 who was already more interested in make-up than make-believe. How long would she play with a doll, anyway?

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But then I remembered my hospital bear and my favorite childhood book, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Have you read it? It’s still good. Much better than her more well-known The Secret Garden which is kind of spooky and sad and yellow.

A Little Princess chronicles the story of Sara Crewe after her father reluctantly leaves her at a boarding school. Before he goes, father and daughter search London for Sara’s Last Doll. “Dolls ought to be intimate friends,” Sara says. And finally, they find Emily, with her attentive gray-blue eyes that read as though she knew Sara all along. That’s because she does, I thought when I read it for the first time. She really does know you, Sara.

IMG_0688-EditAnd with that memory, I was done in. It was time for Abby’s Last Doll.

She picked Tiffany, who was everything you hope for a Last Doll to be.

But time went by, as it usually does, and eventually Tiffany was boxed up and put on a shelf and forgotten.

Until 6-year-old Cai found her yesterday. A beautiful box that revealed a beautiful doll. He pulled Tiffany from storage, and he held her reverently because he knew somehow that’s what you do with a doll like her.

I sat quietly in the living room yesterday, watching as Cai, with Tiffany in his arms, pushed Abby’s creaky door open. “Abby?” he said, “Is this your doll?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Can I play with her?” he asked.

And Abby was quiet for a long moment before she said, “Yes, Cai. Her name is Tiffany, and she’s very special. You’ll have to be careful with her and treat her kindly.”

“I will,” Cai said, and he withdrew from her room and closed the door.

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And I swear I saw Tiffany smile.

……….

P.S. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is currently free on Amazon for Kindle.

……….

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
29 comments
  1. What a sweet story! I love it! It reminds me that boys have sweetness and tenderness within them too.

  2. I especially love the pictures on this post. I have my dinosaur Littlefoot (yes, from the Land Before Time series) and his poor neck has been squeezed and squeezed and is about half it’s original size. I can’t imagine having shared him with a sibling. That is quite a testament to your parenting…well done!

    On another note, I had my first shots without him when I was pregnant. My husband looked at me and could see the fear in my eyes and asked what was wrong. I told him I didn’t know what to do without Littlefoot. He said I could hold him like I would my sweet dinosaur. I looked up and said ” I can wrap my arm around your neck and stick my finger in your butt??” (Littlefoot has a hole that I would play with. Strange kid, I know.)

    Needless to say my husband said no! But I still cuddle with Littlefoot when I have a migraine…he makes the PERFECT pillow!

    1. “I can wrap my arm around your neck and stick my finger in your butt??” <--- bahaha!

  3. I’m 34 and my husband is 38. We each have a nightstand next to our side of the bed. Mine contains my beloved Cabbage Patch Kid Trudy and his has his beloved Teddy.
    They both still have magical powers. 🙂

  4. I loved my Samantha doll. So many memories. Great post.

  5. When my sister and I would play our version of “house”, our stuffed animals, (mostly bears–we didn’t really play with dolls) were always our children and went everywhere with us (even Europe, with their own passports!). My favorite, Snuffy (a vintage Gund Snuffles) is still with me and my boys are only allowed to play with him for a few minutes under VERY close supervision!
    @ Carmen, I can’t even read the book version of TS3 to my boys because it makes me cry!
    Beautiful post, and thanks for the Little Princess tip 🙂

  6. Tears streaming! How sentimental and sweet…thanks for sharing.

  7. Hi Beth,

    I just wanted to tell you that I recently discovered your blog and I love it! I have been going back and reading all your previous posts and I have come to the conclusion that your blog is equal parts heartwarming and hilarious (this particular post is on the heartwarming side)!

    I don’t have kids of my own (I’m only 23), but I love kids and love reading your stories of adventures in parenting! I just wanted to say thank you for sharing!

    1. Hey, thanks, Abbey! And welcome here. So glad to have you.

  8. Crying too. Love your story. Loved A Little Princess. Was so cool to discover all the free classics you can get in ebook form. First read The Secret Garden, and then went looking for more. A Little Princess is such a great lesson in optimism. Also loved Little Lord Fauntleroy, wonderful lesson in finding the best in people.

  9. I love that story, and I love that you love it too. Sometimes, if I need a quick cry, I skip to the part where she wakes up to The Magic.

  10. Growing up I had a plush panda named Pandy (after Ramona the Pest’s panda). I loved him, and took him on every family trip or sleep over, up until I was twelve years old and decided it was time for my four year old sister to stop sleeping with me every night, because I was tired of her spread-eagling in the center of my twin bed and pushing me up against the wall. So I told her she had to stop climbing up to my top bunk every night, because she was making it hard for me to sleep, and being sweet and loving she said okay. But that night she whispered up to me “Aiden, are you still awake?” and I said “Yes.” and she said “I’m really, really scared.” So I grabbed my Pandy, climbed down the ladder, tucked him under the blankeys with her, and said “This is Pandy. He has magical powers and will protect you all night long from now on, because I’m big enough to protect myself.” And her eyes got real big and solemn, and she hugged him tight, and said “Okay. I’ll take REALLY good care of him.” From then on he was her bear, and he still went on every single family trip, (except for the one time he got left behind in Oregon and we didn’t realize until we were already in Tennessee….). But she always lent him back to me when I was sick and needed him. 🙂

  11. In a similar way to your stories about you as a kid, when I was five, I once took a laundry basket full of my small stuffed animals (all named, of course), put them in the bathroom, and locked the door before I left. I wanted to make sure they could get out on their own- it was a question I already knew the answer to- of course they could. I just wanted to test it. My mom was confused about why I thought it, but I just KNEW they could. I was confused when they didn’t unlock the door by themselves, why my uncle had to help.

    Also, I still have a bear that I sleep with when I go home to my parents’ house, when my significant other doesn’t come with. I’m 31.

  12. Loved this post! It made me feel all sentimental and remember how my parents didn’t buy an American doll for me, but made me save up for one on my own…took me over a year, and that made it all the more special!! She’s currently tucked away waiting for my own daughter to be old enough to play with her…:)

  13. PS. I read that post about your nose too and honestly I never even noticed your scars, I had to go read it again to see what you were even talking about!

  14. So sweet of Cai! I always wanted an American Girl doll too (my mother didn’t cave! ;)) but I really wasn’t that much into dolls. I preferred books and I didn’t know The Little Princess wasn’t that well known, it’s one of my favorites! Maybe that explains why I always see The Secret Garden in bookstores and not that one.

  15. I am so with you on the crying because you had to break all the left-behind animals’ little stuffed hearts! It was torturous trying to choose just one snuggle-buddy to take on trips or visits to my grandparents. Also, and I’ve only said this out loud once, because it’s pretty far on the weirdo-eagle-girl-on-the-top-of-the-jungle-gym side, I used to do this thing to comfort the animals who got left behind by deep-breathing in over a comforting object like a blanket, or a warm- or cool-colored object, and then breathing out over my forlorn stuffed animals and dolls so they wouldn’t get sad or too cold or too hot while I was gone.

    And I loved The Little Princess too, though I didn’t like the movie adaptation nearly as well as I liked the one of The Secret Garden.

  16. You had me there for a moment at “fluffy modern day nonsense”. I thought I was gonna have to come through the screen….. lol I have spent many a night in one of my childrens hospital rooms. (and caught more than one medical error in the making too). I think it was parents like us, of the “an elephant tranquilizer, a team of Navy SEALs, and a reinforced cage” sort to change that ridiculousness.

    However. That said … I too was the kind who felt bad for all the dolls and stuffed critters left behind and assured them they too would find forever homes soon. I admit, there is still a part of me that feels that way……. But i didn’t say that out loud!!! 🙂

    1. Sorry, Glenda! I didn’t mean to fool you. But I’m sure glad you read to the next sentence!

  17. And I still have Ella, my elephant. She’s always been more important than my dolls. Yes, I thought of Corduroy, too.

  18. Tearing up! I was that kid too. The end of Toy Story 3 almost landed me in the hospital. And I also loved The Little Princess. I immediately thought of it when I saw the title of this post.

    I know toys are just things but there’s always one or two with which you share a bond. I drenched Mr. Bear when we put our first dog to sleep even though I was too old for him. Good for your daughter to choose to share her special friend.

    1. I did the ugly cry at the end of Toy Story 3.

  19. Reading your posts makes me sigh – with pleasure for the joy of reading your words, and with envy at how you seem to write them so easily. Partly because I love your blog so much, and partly because friends have told me they love reading my Facebook posts, I’ve started my own blog. I try and try to find just the right tone, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. You are an inspiration. Keep on writing these awesome posts and I’ll keep on learning from them!

    1. Aw. Nancy, thank you. But I will tell you readily that I don’t write so easily. Every once in a blue moon, a post emerges in almost its final form and takes little effort. All the rest of the time (nearly all of the time), writing is a labor of love and requires a ridiculous amount of time, effort and edits. “Chatty” style blog writing appears effortless, I know, but it’s not. And it’s definitely taken me years to understand my own writing voice and faithfully write as myself (which you can totally see if you look back on the first 2 years of this blog).

      All that to say, it’s OK that writing and finding the right tone is hard work. Keep sitting down in the chair and doing it. It’s SO worth it. (Except the pay. The pay sucks.) And always feel free to link to your blog here! I’d love to see your work.

      B

  20. Oh, that touches my heart! I LOVE the little princess. I was the same way with my toys. I had a stuffed bear when I was little that I told all my secrets to and I saved her to give to my kids. My oldest boy has her now and I love watching him play with it. (And it is better that the Secret Garden, I just bought the book to read to my kids in the very near future, I also named one of my childhood cats after her, I think that is the one book that I have reread the most in my life!)

  21. awww. (sniffle) I had visions of Corduroy all through that first part. And Abby was SO wonderful to let him play with her. I always wanted to get my girls those dolls, but never could quite feel good about spending the money. What precious pictures of both of them!

  22. Great. Now I’m crying. <3.

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