This post was inspired by Elisabeth, who posted on her blog, As My World Turns, about her favorite childhood toys and asked her readers what theirs were.
A favorite Christmas present was my teddy bear, given to me by my maternal grandmother when I was three. Teddy slept with me every night until I was around 10 years old, during which time, I loved all the hair off his chest, so my mother made him a very smart tailored suit and knitted him a primrose yellow pullover.
Another favorite was my first bicycle. I was six. My father went through the usual process of trying to teach me to ride a two-wheeler (no training wheels in those days) by holding onto the saddle and letting go when he thought I was doing okay. I always, somehow, realized he’d let go and wobbled precariously then capsized. One morning, five or six days into the learning experience, no one was watching and I took my bicycle into the back garden, which had what was, to me, a very long path to the back gate. “I can do this,” I said to myself firmly (I clearly remember that). I got on and rode down the path.
For many years of my adult life, one of my most-loved possessions has been Gretchen, the doll my mother made for me when I was very small. She was my first doll. My mother named her because I was still too young to name toys, and she is dressed in Dutch national dress, or my mother’s best guess at it based on pictures. My mother made both the doll and her clothes, down to embroidered cuffs and an embroidered apron. Gretchen’s face was starched to give a base on which my father could paint the features with watercolors.
I was a careful child and kept (and still have) many of my most loved toys and books. Years later, when I was already an adult and, little by little, was bringing those special things from England over to the U.S., it was Gretchen’s turn to be put in my suitcase. My mother, by then in very comfortable circumstances, said—and I feel my throat tighten and tears behind my eyes as I write this—”It makes me sad that I had to make you a doll because we couldn’t afford to buy you a real one.”
“But that’s why I love her so much,” I said. “Because you made her for me.”