From the first time I saw her, which was probably on a commercial during The Mickey Mouse Club, which I watched every day when I was 3, (followed by American Bandstand, which I never missed), I knew I’d love her madly. Had to have her. I was an immediate convert.
Barbie, the teenage model, was my ideal – a sultry (but sweet) beauty who had it all: glamour, limitless possibilities and fabulous clothes. I begged, insisted, had to have her. Mother, who says she thought at the time that a baby doll would have been more appropriate, told me I could have her if I bought her with my own money.
Since Christmas of 1958 was my last as an only grandchild on Mother’s side, I just happened to have the $3 a Barbie cost, and buy her I did. Mother says considering Cathy was born January 27, 1959, and I got my Barbie within weeks of her birth, she’s sure I had my blonde beauty before April.
She’s also almost positive I had a No. 1 Barbie, the Holy Grail of collectors, the Barbie with the holes in her feet that held her up on a tiny stand – the only model made that way before the switch to the wire under-the-armpits stands.
The reason we have to speculate is that my first Barbie was wantonly, deliberately beheaded by a girl who was visiting across the street in late summer of 1961, just before I started first grade. For the early Barbies, heads weren’t readily removable. I don’t know what possessed that girl – or who she was; Mother and I tried and tried to figure that out today, but we can’t remember.
Good thing, or I’d name her here. I think she might have been visiting her grandmother, but whoever she was, she asked to hold my buxom beloved, then – crack – snapped her head off. I could hear the sound and my heart broke with Barbie’s neck.
I burst into tears and ran crying across the street, my own blonde ponytail flying behind me. “Mooommmmyyyyy!!” We don’t remember if she took any other action, but Mother did take me to the store to buy me a replacement Barbie. Maybe it was too traumatic to go for another blonde, or maybe at almost 6 my preference had just changed, but I got the silky-haired brunette.
Betty Page-raven her hair is. And, though it had gone dull with age, today it’s shiny and sleek again – that’s because last night about 11:30, I shampooed and conditioned her hair.
Let me explain.
We’re launching a super-fab vintage Barbie exhibit at Esse Purse Museum the end of September, so I’ve had Barbie on the brain, between research, talking to Mattel, and sorting through my friend Marsha’s glorious collection of Barbie and friends. That made me decide to face the attic to dig out my Barbie, Midge, Ken, Skipper and my perky mod friend, Francie, Barbie’s younger cousin.
All my dolls had been passed on to Liz, who loved them as much as I did and played with them as much as with her own more modern (but less cool) Barbies.
I immediately found Barbie, Ken, Midge and – surprise! – Tutti, whom I’d forgotten might still be around. She was an afterthought at the end of my Barbie years, but she was so stinking cute that I got one anyway, even though at about 11 I considered myself much too old for dolls. Lots of Liz’s dolls were there and the fabulous clothes my grandmother made for the girl dolls (and quite a few of Ken’s clothes, which were store-bought and dapper) but no Francie. No vintage Skipper (Liz’s later model is there).
One or more boxes of Barbie paraphernalia is missing. I have torn this house apart – all we can figure out is that years ago, when we had a storage unit broken into, the thief who took Ben’s most valuable baseball cards must have made off with Francie and all her Carnaby Street clothes. Along with Skipper and some of Liz’s Barbie clothes and accessories.
I did find Ken’s case standing alone in the back of the attic. All the others are missing, but at least his survived.
Anyway, back to the late-night shampoo: Years in a dusty attic are not kind to toys in cardboard boxes. A red rubber band had melted into Barbie’s ponytail, and they all were musty and dusty. So what do you do?
You bathe, shampoo and condition. Or, in Midge’s case, bathe, Febreeze and brush like mad. Her curls make washing prohibitive. Barbie lost quite a bit of hair to the red goo, but some menopausal hair loss is normal, and she is 53.
I had plenty of things I needed to do this weekend, but after spending hours grooming dolls and searching through the house – which was fruitless for missing dolls or accessories but turned up other surprising things – instead I hand washed Barbie clothes (and some Ken shirts), repaired a few things and Febreezed Ken’s suit and tuxedo jacket and vest. (His tuxedo pants, sadly, are missing.)
My hands are dry and pruny, but it was worth it. John was supportive (the shampoo and conditioner was his idea, in fact) and seemed to think seeing his 59-in-one-week-year-old wife playing with dolls was cute.
And I realize once again how masterful Mama, my super young grandmother was. Her sewing puts me – and most others – to shame. We couldn’t afford many store-bought Barbie clothes, but my Barbie and Midge were some of the best dressed in town.
One unexpected thing I found today in the mad hunt was this sweet picture of my grandmother and me, taken in 1998 when she came for Liz’s high school graduation. She was 82 and died three years later, perky and living at home until the end.