A few years ago, when Mum was clearing out some of her cupboards, she found an old shoe box and opening it up found it was stuffed full of paper dolls. Since she never throws away any of our things without our permission, she asked if I wanted it.
Bringing it home, I put it on the list of things to do. One of these days I would get together with my sister and we would go through the contents and decide. Time passed. The box remained un-opened, but this is the year when I’m doing a life laundry and the box, taking up space in my office has to be dealt with.
What am I going to do with it, is the question. .
When my sister, Anuk, and I were kids, we played endlessly with our paper dolls. Some were from magazines, large cardboard images of little girls, never boys, that could be cut out then dressed with the dresses that came with them. The dolls were always in their underwear, and their clothes were attached to their shoulders by fold up tabs.
These simpering children were never enough for our games. With some we added our own homemade and designed clothes, but as they took on lives and stories of their own we soon graduated to drawing our own dolls, complete with wardrobe of clothes for every season and period of history.
For these dolls were the embodiment of our imagination. Not having any tin soldiers were made our own paper ones, complete with princesses and castles. If we needed Indians for a story we drew them, but the story we told most often concerned neighbouring families. In what must have been a precursor to my novels, these families lived dramatic and romantic lives.
We set up their houses on our beds; each room divided by ribbons and furnished with whatever we could cut out of catalogues. What we couldn’t find there we cut out of women’s magazines, which was slightly tricky, especially with the men, who were few and far between in those days, but we managed, even if the picture was at an odd angle, or lacked feet. What mattered was what the character looked like and whether they fitted in to the narrative. Very much like the advice given to writers to find images and make story boards when they are building plot and character. Oddly enough this is something I never do.
The matriarch of my family was the beautiful and mysterious Miss Julie. Haunted by a secret sorrow, her husband a shadowy, if not non-existent figure, she was the mother of many daughters, all of whom had very intense romantic relationships.
For my sister, who now makes her living as an artist and for me as a writer, those dolls were our training ground – to bin them seems wrong yet there is no point in keeping them shut up in a box and never looking at them. So what am I to do? Suggestions would be welcome.