Friday, July 29, 2016

From the Communist Patch to the Cabbage Patch

I still have a large doll with brunette human hair, moveable blue eyes, and thick eye lashes; she talks when picked up and says “mama.” Placed in a seated position in a guest bedroom, she has not been touched by children’s hands in over two decades. She is a forgotten gift from Dad to my daughters, several years before he passed away in 1989.

My children were always frightened of her, its large size, the human-like appearance, the strange sounds coming from the inside, and the moving eyes that closed when the doll was tilted. She is dressed in an elegant party frock, socks, black shoes, and beautiful natural curly tresses somehow tediously transplanted into a rubber head. Dad must have worked many days overtime to afford such an expensive gift that my children did not appreciate.

I was not surprised that my daughters refused to play with her. She sat forgotten and dusty in some corner on the floor, an expensive dust catcher. Even the cat gave her a wide berth as if she was possessed.

I think Daddy was trying to make up for lost time. When I was a little girl, he could only afford to buy me a small stuffed cloth doll with a cardboard-covered-with-porcelain head which I accidentally cracked on the first drop on the floor. A gaping hole opened on her head but I proudly held her in a photo as the most precious toy I had. She came with a wooden bed and a tiny wool comforter.

My one and only doll
There were not many toys available during the socialist/communist era and certainly the low wages across the board prevented parents from spoiling their children with toys – not that the stores were awash in beautiful, creative, and abundant toys. I was lucky to have a wooden cube puzzle with various pictures on all sides. When assembled properly, each side revealed the colored photograph of a famous landscape. Books from the library became my toys at an early age.

I had begged Daddy for one of these fancy dolls with real hair, plastic heads, and posable arms and legs but he could not afford any. His 800-lei per month salary had to provide food, clothes, rent, water, electricity, heat, and public transportation for our family of three. A toy was an unnecessary luxury.

I was 16 years old when I got my first brown teddy bear from a generous friend who bought it for my birthday. Since I left Romania when I was almost twenty years old, I don’t remember what happened to my three toys I left behind and to all my paperbacks. I could only bring one suitcase of clothes and mom chose to pack it with hand-made sheets that could not possibly fit the larger American beds.

Once I saw the variety of toys children had in this country, I was elated that my kids would have plenty of educational and fun toys. Aside from plastic farms, the first electronic hear and say board, Pictionary, board games, miniature trains on tracks, Barbie dolls, trolls, unicorns, blue Smurfs, Rainbow Brite dolls, and the first Nintendo game, one of my daughters fancied a Cabbage Patch Kids doll, a very expensive toy for a student with small children, living on a very limited income. The choice was whether we paid rent and bought food, or we purchased the beloved Cabbage Patch Kids doll.

I could not understand the frantic American parents during the 1983 Christmas season searching for the coveted Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. Long waiting lists and first-come, first-serve sales policy gave rise to vicious fights between prospective buyers. By the end of the year, three million dolls had been “adopted.” This frenzy I could never understand, repeated almost every Christmas season over some new and coveted toy that a spoiled American child had to have.

The 16-inch Cabbage Patch Kids doll, with a plastic bald head or yarn hair, and fabric body, was desired by American children because she was huggable, had a birth date, and could be “adopted.” Different clothes, hair color, skin color, hair style, and clothes made her that much more cherished. The official price was $30 but black market prices ranged from $100 to high triple digits.

One day, as I was perusing the children’s department to buy a specific shirt for my grandson, I spotted a solitaire Cabbage Patch Kids doll on a shelf on a distant wall. I was not aware that they still made them today and, I was surprised to find it in this high-end department store. The tag said that this doll was created on August 9, 2015.

I picked it up, and, to my astonishment, the doll was originally priced at $50, but a sale price of $37.50 was crossed over. I took the doll to the cash register and asked to scan the real price. Another big surprise, the doll was one penny. One penny? Yes, the doll had been retired from stock but someone forgot to remove it from the sales floor. I knew I had to buy it for my daughter who is now a mom herself. Her birthday was fast approaching and nostalgia set in. I handed the cashier a dime and told her to keep the change.

I mailed the doll with trepidation, hoping that my daughter still remembered how disappointed I was when I could not afford to buy her the doll. Now she was going to receive one for one penny, an interesting lesson in history, wants, needs, and economics. I wrote her a note – I was hoping someday she may have a daughter or granddaughter who could play with it. Until then, it will remain a collector’s item in the original box.

Time has an interesting way of weaving events. When Eileen suggested that I buy such a doll as a gift and even the title of the story, I was incredulous that it was a good idea. But this doll somehow closed the circle for me, from the communist barren patch with my cloth doll with a broken face to the capitalist one-penny Cabbage Patch Kids cloth doll with a plastic face.
























  1. Childhood is a most curious thing, isn't it? It is almost like a phase in the life of a butterfly. Looking back on it, we know it was us, but we were so so different. Loved your story.

    1. Thank you, Chriss.
      It is another life, in some many ways for me. Uprooting from a dictatorship to a relatively free country, a different economic system, so far away from family, so different culturally, settling in, and then uprooting again within the same country but moving in this country more and more towards socialism. It's almost like a vicious circle, we are returning to a system very similar to what I escaped.

  2. Childhood is a most curious thing, isn't it? It is almost like a phase in the life of a butterfly. Looking back on it, we know it was us, but we were so so different. Loved your story.

  3. This should be a history lesson for those millions of people voting for Bernie Sanders a True Socialist. Maybe if Bernie's followers could read this, they might realize the difference in Capitalism vs Socialism/Communism. Maybe and I mean maybe, they would wake up to reality and vote Republican.

    1. We could only wish, Marlene. But the Bernie supporters are deaf and dumb to history and reality.