Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bride Doll from Marshall Field & Co.

So what exactly did I do with those Chicago summer lemonade stand profits? What do you do with pocket money when you're younger than ten and the basic necessities (food, shelter, clothes, books for education) are provided by your parents, as they should be? I remember the first significant purchase I ever made exclusively with my own money, and although I can't be 100 per cent sure without asking my mom, I'm willing to bet that the lemonade stands in Lincoln Park were partly responsible for funding my acquisition. And what I acquired was a little girl's dream: a delicate bride doll, the kind that while not made of porcelain (my generation was, sadly, pretty plastic already), was in that china-doll style. What was it about that doll? My girlhood was not, in fact, filled with tales of weddings, marriage—not in the sense that this what I was "supposed" to aspire to; not at all. I was raised reading books like The Practical Princess, a beautifully illustrated collection of fairy tales with a feminist slant, a "you don't need to rely on anyone else just because you're female" guidebook for my earliest years. I was not, in fact, much interested in things bridal—not unless it pertained to my mother's experience, which I loved to hear about—but it's true that I was captivated by the fashion of lightweight "meringue" layers of material, lace, veils, and so forth. So, this doll. I'd seen her in the downtown department store of Marshall Field & Co., the one that is no longer Marshall Field's but was acquired by Macy's in 2005–2006. The Field's store itself merits a Chicago memories post: its flagship location on State Street was a landmark I loved, a treat to visit. I remember the green patina clock jutting from the store's corner, out toward the intersection of State and Washington. Inside, I was awed by the open arcade galleries that housed the individual departments of wares; looking up, the glass mosaic Tiffany Dome mesmerized me with its opulence. It was the perfect setting for this doll, which sat (stood?) in a glass display case and summoned me to her with blue eyes that could blink a dark shelf of lashes. The doll had real hair (blond), pale skin . . . I imagined she looked like my mother did when she got married, although by that time I'm sure I'd seen the pictures, which revealed a more elegant, tailored, off-white dress and no veil. When I asked my mom about the possibility of having the doll, her answer was a wise one, opening a door to the life skills of saving, of delayed gratification. It was not my birthday; it was not Christmas. I could wait for those, or I could save my own money and buy the doll for myself, which is what I did. I was so proud that day that we counted my savings and realized that I had achieved my goal. I don't know how much the doll cost, and I have no clue how to guess without doing research, considering inflation and all. But however much, it was worth every penny. The feel of the doll in my hands after weeks or months of only imagining what it would be like to hold her; the knowledge that I could want and provide myself with this doll . . . it was priceless. And although in time the white of the doll's dress would turn yellow with age, her feet would become bereft of their satiny slippers, and she herself would be packed up in a cardboard box for storage—still, the magnificence of this purchase for a child, the power of self-sufficiency in meeting this one small desire, stay with me.

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