Grandmother Doll

Nearly ten years ago I participated in a continuing ed class presented by therapist/artist friends Joyce Lombard and Patty Van Dyke entitled Grandmother as Archetype. Using our own bodies as outlines, we created life-size dolls embellished with meaning, metaphor and stories. My Grandmother Doll holds court in an oak Windsor chair in our family room wearing my wedding dress and a colorful stole made for scraps of moire used for banner backgrounds. Her face is created with a composite of my favorite childhood photo of myself and another taken nearly fifty years later.

Grandmother wears the cross my maternal grandmother wore for her wedding in 1907 that bears marks from my mother teething on it. She also wears the bracelet my grandfather gave to her as a wedding present, my father’s class ring from USC’s dental school, my mother’s baby ring, and my first watch with heart-shaped links on the wristband. With a double needle, I stitched vines and leaves on her lower legs as a redemptive image for my mother who was embarrassed by the severe varicose veins she suffered from.  Another bracelet, a graduation gift from one of my bridesmaids, adorns an ankle. Carolyn, a wonderful wife, mother, school teacher and friend, was shot in the back by her stepfather as she left his house one morning for work. The bracelet, as memorial, seemed more appropriate as a shackle. Grandmother’s backbone, a wrapping paper cardboard tube, is covered with decorative paper on which are written the names of all the women who have been influential in my life, in both positive and negative ways.  As you can tell, Grandmother is a doll full of stories.

Grandmothers, by nature, are generally full of stories. As poet Mary Oliver says also about sunflowers, grandmothers “want to be friends, they have wonderful stories of when they were young, the important weather, the wandering crows.” And grandchildren. When our only granddaughter was between two and three, she and her father did not see eye to eye about her behavior one evening. She found herself in timeout at the bottom of the stairs. She escalated her outburst whereupon her father whisked her upstairs to her bedroom. She calmed down and within about three minutes she was retrieved and invited to rejoin the family. Still fuming, Judy made a beeline to her mother who was sitting at the dining room table visiting with us. She gave her dad the evil eye with the full intent of getting him in trouble.  Turning to her mother she said, “He spanked my bottom!”  Patiently, her dad responded, “I don’t think sooo.” Not to be dissuaded, she glowered at him and upped the ante. “He broke my leg!” to which her father again calmly replied, “I don’t think soooooo.” Still bent on sending him to timeout, she shot him a final evil eye and pursued her grievance saying, “He made me dead!”

That tenacious little lady is heading off to West Point in a couple of months. I can’t quite wrap my mind’s eye around her in full military uniform. I will always see her dressed in an ivory damask gown with burgundy rose buds talking on a Fisher-Price toy phone just before she walked confidently down the aisle strewing rose petals at her Aunt Karen’s wedding. But my stories of her (and there are many) will be stuffed into the heart decorated pillow that fills the torso of my Grandmother Doll – along with those that still overflow my heart.

If you were to create a Grandmother, or Grandfather, doll, how would you embellish it with meaning, metaphor and stories?  What bits of history would it wear? How many generations of stories would be included in your doll? What names would be written on your “backbone” of those who influenced you? What is a sad story that overflows your heart? A happy story, though not necessarily about a grandchild?

I’m looking forward to your stories.

4 comments to Grandmother Doll

  • Lynne, this is moving particularly in that you have so many historical pieces to adorn the doll.I don’t think I have any historical pieces of my parents or grandparents.

    Both my grandmothers died at 34 and I never met either of them, or have stories of them. This made me wistful, and wondering … what stories might I be telling future generations had I heard them?

  • cynthia thomas

    making a grandmother doll is something i’ve wanted to do for about 5 yrs. i see it as an opportunity to strengthen my self-acceptance. something i resist at every turn. and i’m reminded reading this that this is something i still want to do. now is not possible. there’s so much going on in my life. will it ever slow down? probably not! i guess when the time is right, i’ll do this project. but not today. cynthia

  • Deanna J Bowling

    (Metaphorically for today’s piece) – When I talk to people who have left the church at sometime, I ask them to try to get back to the moment before what ever happened that caused them to leave the church.

    My Granny died. I was 10, my great grandmother was the glue of the family, and she died. Then everything fell apart. Now it was falling apart already from what I was told, but Granny’s leaving us was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

    This is one of these times when I need to listen to what I tell others. It’s time for me to give up all the yeah, but’s, and go forward. To remember the joy of having my Granny in my life, and live into it.

  • Barbara McNutt

    Lynne, you are so creative and thoughtful – a wonderful inspiration. Looking back on my grandmother, being one myself, I am much more sympathetic of her woes. I have learned valuable lessons from her – to do and not to do. I pray, maybe partly because of her, that I will leave a legacy of faith, hope, love and courage. Thank you.

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