If you look up “doll hospitals” on the internet, all the search results seems to trend toward antique doll collectors, Madame Alexander dolls, and the like. I guess no one bothers to fix any old doll anymore just because it went bald being dragged around by its hair. On second thought, do little girls have dolls anymore? I’m not talking about Barbies or American Girl dolls that teach females the ins and outs of conspicuous consumption with the ten thousand outfits and accessories they’re encouraged to buy. No, I’m talking about those soft-bodied dolls with plastic appendages and a plastic bottle for milk. They come with one or two outfits and your mother sews the rest of the limited wardrobe.
My favorite was named “Tootsie” . . . you know, after the Al Jolson song “Toot, Toot, Tootsie good-bye; Toot, Toot, Tootsie don’t cry” (I was always a fan of the big band jazz my dad loved). She had blue eyes and short blonde wavy hair. Her torso was stuffed with shredded nylons. Her soft, molded plastic arms and legs in a life-like peach color gently curved like a baby reaching out to grasp my hand. Her chubby little toes curved up and down like the toes of a baby who had not yet learned to walk. She arrived on my birthday with a navy blue dress and flannel nightgown. Momma knitted her a winter sweater and hat.
I loved that baby doll to death. Literally. She burst at the seams so that I’d wake up in the morning with shredded bits of nylons in my bed. Her hair began to disappear, but I was never certain where it went. It’s not like it came out by the handful as I brushed it. Each day, however, there was less of it. All she had remaining were the rows of holes across her skull where the hair plugs had been glued. The soft peach skin of her plump cheeks and chubby fists were covered with streaks of dirt impossible to wash off with my little doll washcloth.
So Mom and I drove downtown to the doll hospital to see if she could be saved. I put her on the tall wooden counter and they promised to take care of her. And I learned to sleep alone while she was in recovery. When I went to pick her up, she was her chubby self again, having been re-stuffed and with all seams sewn up tight. I again had hair to comb and her skin had been restored to its pink luster.
She was once again loved to death until I grew up and put her on the top shelf of my closet, where I found her again when cleaning out my dad’s house to sell it when he was too old to stay there alone. I was tempted to keep her, but I knew that it was pointless to hold on to every physical touchstone of my life. If Dad could let the house go, I could let Tootsie go. So I sang one last time “Toot, Toot, Tootsie good-bye . . . .”