Raggedy dolls with living hearts

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange’s wife recently came across a pair of long-ago Christmas gifts that awakened a flood of memories before they were mailed to their original owners.

(Lange) Last week Mother, in her annual exhumation of ribbons, wreaths, and lights, dug a little deeper and came up with a couple of dolls I hadn’t seen for about 30 years. They were a homemade Raggedy Ann and Andy. Mother held them with a look on her face normally reserved for babies and puppies. She headed straight for the phone to call the kids. I hoped they’d want them: that Raggedy Ann would emerge on Christmas Day in misty Olympia, Washington, and Andy in sunny Tyler, Texas. If the kids didn’t want them and Mother kept them (which she surely would), we’d never be able to get rid of them in our old age.

With their clothes off for washing, you can see the hearts on their left breasts that all authentic Raggedy dolls have. I’d forgotten that story, but Mother reminded me. It was Christmas of 1965. We were living over on the New York shore, where we could see Camels Hump by day and Burlington by night. The kids were five and three. Two summers before, we’d poured everything into building our first house. It was livable, but still far from done: rough board floors, no doors, and foil-faced insulation on our bedroom walls and ceiling. Mother was using her new sewing machine and working from patterns for the first time to make the dolls; she’d done everything exactly by the designs and specifications, right down to the material.

Christmas Eve arrived too soon. Mother was sequestered in our bedroom, to which the kids had been forbidden entrance, stuffing and stitching the cloth carcasses and finishing the little dress and overalls. It was going to be close.

Putting kids to bed on Christmas Eve is difficult; doubly so when they can peek down the hall without opening any doors. But finally we got them settled and swung into action. The dolls were almost done; they had no hair. The yarn for it was still in the skeins. Mother was in a hurry. “We’ll just unroll the skeins and make the hair as we go,” she said. So I held the skeins as she pulled. If you’ve ever tried that, you know what happened. Many hours later, we finally had the yarn under control and sewed to the Raggedy heads. Just in time, the dolls were tucked into their little beds: Ann for Virginia, Andy for Brother. We collapsed for an hour.

The dolls were an instant hit. But Virginia knew her stuff. First thing, she flipped up Raggedy Ann’s dress and looked at her chest. “Hey!” she said. “She doesn’t have any heart!” Her brother, just like one of the Three Bears, flipped up Andy’s shirt and said, “Hey! Mine doesn’t have any heart, either!”

It was the one detail Mother had forgotten. But inspiration struck. “Don’t you know,” she asked, “that until you’re loved by someone, you don’t grow a heart?” It was a desperate gambit. And it worked. There can’t ever have been homemade dolls more cherished than those. And a few nights later, while the kids were sleeping, Raggedy Ann and Andy got their hearts.

In a few days they’re going into a couple of cardboard boxes for their long journeys across the country. No one who handles those cartons will know what’s inside – dolls with living hearts because somebody loved them.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.

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