My interests were more about being outside, playing Cowboys and Indians, building forts and looking at rocks and insects. The only thing I liked to do inside when it was cold outside, was curl up on Dad’s chair and read. I had no interest in dressing paper dolls or playing with baby dolls. That is until I saw a little waif of a doll in the gift case at the hospital where Mom was having one baby or another.
Grandma C waited with us kids down in the lobby, while Dad visited Mom and the new baby. Probably Frankie. I never knew what Dad and Mom talked about for so long. Dad was up there forever, and I had to sit down there in those chairs with stiff backs and hard seats the whole darned time. There was nothing to do and nobody interesting to talk to. Grandma sat there comfortable as could embroidering dresser scarves with tinsy-tiny flowers and french knots. She showed me how to embroider. I liked the french knots the best, ’cause I just wrapped the floss around and around the needle then poked the needle on through to the other side and voilà, a cute little center to the daisy. The petals were a lot harder and curved lines were the worst; I was no good at tiny stuff.
Grandma was good at sitting still. She could sit all day and embroider or tat with her tinsy-tiny crochet hook, making doilies for on top buffet or TV. Grandma had lots of practice. I hated sitting still. I felt like my sit bones would pop right out of my skin and my legs started to twitch and pretty soon my foot started to kick up a little. Grandma never had that problem. For one thing, she had a whole lot of cushion around back, so she never even knew those chairs were hard. For another thing, her feet went all the way down to the floor, so it was way easier for her to keep them still planted down against the linoleum. The only time she took her hands off the embroidery was when she pushed some of her curls up toward the bun on top her head. She had curly hair, that just refused to be tamed. The rest of her was mild as can be.
Deanna was good at sitting still. She could play with paper dolls forever and a day. Deanna loved cutting out paper clothes and attaching them to the cardboard dolls by folding down the tabs at the shoulders, waist and sometimes the legs for pants. She was an expert at cutting around all those curves and corners. Sometimes Deanna and her best friend cousin, Linda, played paper dolls for hours; one blond head and one red head both in tidy ringlets like Shirley Temple, bent over paper dolls, making up stories and dances until the cows came home. I was horrible at cutting and worse at keeping the clothes on those dolls. Pretty soon, I wore the tabs off the clothes, and bent the dolls at the neck and knees. Deanna told me, “Get lost, and quit ruining my stuff.” Which was fine with me on one side, ’cause I hated playing with those dolls anyways, but on the other side, I wanted so much to be just like Deanna, that I begged her for another chance.
Anyways, Grandma must’ve seen I had the jimmy-legs, so she sent me over to the gift case to window shop. That’s not really shopping, it’s just looking and wishing, ’cause there’s not enough money for buying. Bonita went with me, ’cause she had the jimmy-legs, too. All kinds of crazy stuff was in that case, like short little bed-jackets, and books and crocheted lap blankets, and playing cards, and a bunch of other junk that was even less than interesting. Then I saw her: a little doll that looked right back at me just like she knew me. I didn’t know it yet, but her name was Jonsi-Belle.
I sat right down there in front of the gift case and kept on a looking at her the whole rest of the time Dad was visiting Mom and that new baby, ’cause Jonsi-Belle just seemed to be looking back at me. The only other time I sat that still was when I read a good book, but that’s only ’cause all the action was going on inside my head, so my legs didn’t need to move. That baby doll just looked right into my heart and said she needed me.
Grandma said, “Come back here and sit in the chair.” So of course I did, ’cause it’s a sin not to obey grandparents; they’re the same as parents only way older, so that commandment counts for them too. “You can’t have that doll. Those gifts are for people in the hospital.” I knew that already, so I just nodded and kept on a-looking at her from over in the chair. Grandma kept embroidering until finally, finally Dad came back and took us all home.
Next day, same thing, off to the hospital, sit and sit with Grandma doing more embroidery, and me staring at that doll again. She was still there, so it looked like nobody else wanted her. “That’s the ugliest doll I ever saw,” Grandma said to me. I guessed she was kinda homely: squinty little eyes, and wispy blond hair, red-red cheeks and a tinsy little mouth. That made me love her all the more, ’cause maybe nobody else would. Besides that, those squinty eyes still looked right into my heart.
Grandma bought the doll for me. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas, or any reason to buy a gift. She only bought me something, nobody else got a thing. Which peeved the heck out of Bonita and Deanna, ’cause they were just as good as me. “You don’t even play with dolls,” Deanna said and swished her hair at me and gave me that same tight-lipped look Mom got when I let her down, just like she did when I bent those tabs on her paper doll clothes.
Dad helped me name Jonsi-Bell, because he was the best a picking names; that’s probably why Mom let him name all their daughters. I kept her for years and year. In fact, I still have her. Jonsi-Belle is kind of a homely doll, and she still looks like she really needs somebody like me to take care of her.