A doll is a symbol, a proxy for something else. For play or comfort, girl dolls or boy dolls, Barbie or Superman, they serve a purpose, benign or sublime.
For me dolls represent a personal attachment with my family and my childhood. I come from a house of makers, what we used to call crafty types. I got my penchant for dismantling and building things from my father, and my artistic bent from my mother, who made several of my childhood dolls.
Among others, my mother made me a turtle and a Raggedy Andy, both of whom I still have. She’s made Anne and Andy dolls for every kid in the family. She still makes them to this day, at 84 years old, for her great grandchildren. My Andy is going on 40-something, somewhat worse for wear, though he does still have all his limbs. In typical boy fashion, I beat the daylights out of that doll. He was my punching bag, my stuntman, my Evil Knievel, my nighttime bodyguard against whatever was under the bed. That poor sap took more punishment, got dirty and dismembered on a regular basis, and suffered the indignity of multiple poorly-administered surgeries (It was how I learned to sew. Like I said, crafty types).
We didn’t have a lot of toys growing up. We made do with what we got for Christmas, and made by hand what we didn’t. I did have a few action figures, and one particularly spectacular year, I had a real Evil Knievel action figure with a wind-up motorcycle that could jump for what seemed like miles. He was so cool, but Andy is the one who is still with me, because he is special. He is from my mom.
Recently I made a new acquisition. Someone to hang with Andy, hopefully for the next 40 years. I was not thinking about getting any more dolls—to be honest it was the last thing on my mind. Planning a funeral is not when you get the urge to go doll shopping. But it so happens I have a college friend, an artist who is an awesome painter and illustrator, who makes these amazing felt dolls. I have seen them pass by my Facebook feed countless times, smiling at their whimsy, craft and personality. They are very cool. Gave them a Like every time.
I was casually looking at a recent post of her work, on display in a gallery in Los Angeles, when I saw one of her dolls that spoke to me. He is a charming fellow, all dapper in his Day of the Dead-like finery, replete with top hat, boutonnière ribbon, fancy boots and a ceegar. She named him Baron Samedi. (After a raunchy and raucous Haitian voodoo spirit, which is so freaking cool, and who may be my new alter-ego)
As a fancier of skeleton finery, fine art, and Dia de Los Muertos, it was by chance or providence that the Baron crossed my path when he did, just days after losing my father. Fate being what it is, I did not hesitate to adopt him, and support the arts at the same time, because artists are where it’s at. One thing I have learned—follow instinct when it strikes.
My father happened to pass away shortly before Day of the Dead, and a few days shy of his 84th birthday, which is today. He could be a little raucous himself, never apart from his cigarettes or a corny joke. The Baron appeared just in time, and will preside over his services, seeing my father through the crossroads between the worlds of the living and the dead. After that, he will take his place next to Andy, on my shelf and in my heart. He is for my dad.
Yea, I like dolls.