The Marvelous Toy

Now nearly 100 years old, the wooden baby doll crib has survived for another generation.

One of my mother’s finest qualities was her absolute lack of racial prejudice. Troubled as she was in many ways, Betty had not a racially biased bone in her body. She always attributed her attitude—so unusual for a person born in Indiana in 1930—to having been, while a very young teen, the babysitter for a Black infant. The neighborhood in which Mom grew up was racially diverse, and the baby’s mother was forced to go out to work as a house cleaner for wealthier families. She paid my then-teenage Mom a very welcome pittance to watch her infant. My mother always explained that the experience of caring for that Black child made her realize that skin color was merely that—color—and that we are all, each of us, just members of the human family.

Mom had been born right at the start of the Great Depression; her family of nine children was poor. There was no money in their household for any luxury. When she was a very small child, though, the local fire department sponsored a Christmas used-toy drive for children in need. One of the gifts they collected was a wooden doll crib. Refurbished by the firefighters, the doll crib became my mother’s Christmas gift that year. She and her sisters each played with their few dolls in the crib.

In due time, when I was a tiny child myself, the wooden crib (given a fresh coat of gleaming white paint by my Fire Chief paternal grandfather; firefighters are handy people!) was passed along to me. In keeping with the beliefs that my mother wished to convey to me, two dolls lay snuggled in that crib in the corner of my bedroom: Lisa, my life-size baby doll, and Amosandra, my Black Amos ‘n Andy doll (whose unfortunate name was my Dad’s contribution—he thought it was just funny as hell. That was Dad for you.)

When I outgrew dolls, the little white crib was abandoned forlornly in the attic. But years later it came down once more, to be played with by my own daughter, who, yes, had a Black babydoll nestled there with her other dolls. As she later marched off to middle and high school and college, the crib went to rest in Mom and Dad’s attic once again.

Decades passed, and the circle of life turned. First Mom, and later Dad died, and my brother, cleaning out the attic of Dad’s home, discovered the doll crib.

Now nearly 100 years old, the crib had survived the harsh hot-and-cold environment of the attic quite well. The wood was not warped; the metal screws had not rusted. The crib had been greatly beloved and well-treated by multiple sets of childish hands; it was in excellent condition, although badly faded and yellowed. Even the little quilt that my mother had hand-pieced for the crib had survived.

And so I brought the doll crib home once more, to be given to my own little granddaughter. Her tiny bedroom was so stuffed with toys already that there was no room for the crib; but she was in my home every week for childcare—my living room looked like a Toys ‘r Us!–so I parked the doll crib unobtrusively in a corner, where Morrigan joyously discovered it. I had washed the quilt and sewed a pillow, and now her three baby dolls—two white and one brown, in keeping with family tradition—cuddled under one of her own discarded baby blankets.

But there was no denying that the crib’s paint was badly yellowed. What color, I asked her, would she like me to paint the crib?

It was a silly question. Morrigan played constantly with her African American Doc McStuffins doll, and with all the Doc’s pink accoutrements. There was no question but that the crib must be “pink like Doc McStuffins!”

docmcstuffinspink (2)

Pink it was. Two full cans of flaming hot pink spray paint later, the entire crib was, for the first time in its long history, no longer shining white, but gleaming, bright Doc McStuffins’ pink.

I found myself humming as I added coat after coat of paint to the crib—humming a song I had not heard in decades, the words rising to my mind as if I had just listened to the music yesterday: “When I was just a wee little lad/full of health and joy/my father homeward came one night/and gave to me a toy…” The Marvelous Toy, I now recalled the song was titled, the lyrics recounting the tale of a wondrous toy that was passed from one generation to the next.

My painting completed, I snuggled all three baby dolls back into the restored crib, smiling at the little white and brown faces nestled together.

Mom would be so pleased.

If you’d like to read the story of “Amosandra”, my wonderful Black baby doll, you can find it by scrolling to the Archives, below. It was published June 1, 2018.