Christmas will soon be here, and once again TBS will run the classic movie “A Christmas Story” for a 24-hour stretch. For the uninitiated the movie recollects author Jean Shepard’s magical Christmas when his father gifts “Ralphie” with a Red Ryder BB gun and as admonished by his mother, he goes outside and thinks he’s accidentally shot his eye out. As passionate Ralphie was about his BB gun it makes me wonder what toys of the 1940s and 1950s would bring the same kind of joy to girls?
Now of course everyone has different tastes, some boys I’m sure would have preferred an American Flyer train to the BB gun, but having visited Diane McGregor’s home, it is apparent by her various collections what childhood toys hold a special place in her heart.
Let’s start with the miniature sewing machine collection. This collection started 18 years ago when she found a pink Sew Master in the original box at a garage sale for $4. Now a collection of eight, the last one holds special meaning to her. Her husband Bob, not a big auction attendee wandered over to a neighbor’s auction where he successfully bid on another model of a pink Sew Master to add to Diane’s collection. Sadly Bob died very suddenly a couple of months later leaving the little sewing machine as a constant reminder of his thoughtfulness.
Diane never sewed on tiny sewing machines. Her love of handwork goes back to when she was eight years old and her grandmother taught her how to thread a needle and tie a knot. In the ’30s and ’40s her grandmother a divorcee, a rarity in those days worked as a milliner supporting herself with her sewing skills. Honing her sewing skills at her grandmother’s knees Diane fondly remembers her favorite childhood doll-a black face china doll she bought at Murphy’s for a dime. Only 4 inches tall Diane and her friends would sit under a tree and sew not just dresses, but bathing suits out of sock tops, and accessories like a sled out of popsicle sticks and paper clips for runners. A gourd became a coach to whisk the dolls off to balls. One coach was placed under the bed and forgotten until it began to rot and smell. Diane and her friends loved their imaginative play with their dolls. As Diane puts it, “Why should Mattel have all the fun?”
The family moved to Ashley, Indiana where Diane and her brother Larry acquainted themselves with the local lumberyard. Larry made his little sister a carrying case for all her dolls. Not to be outdone, Diane with painting assistance from the lumberman made a cigar box carrier for her favorite china doll. To this day Diane does not know how it happened, but the box and doll were lost when the family moved again. For her 45th birthday a friend gifted Diane with a black face china doll like the one she lost so many years ago from her personal collection. For Diane it is like having an old friend back to cherish once again.
Today Diane also collects doll stoves, doll houses and play irons. She makes doll clothes out of fabrics unimaginable in her childhood days. She prowls thrift shops to find clothes made of wool twill, silk, etc. and cuts them apart. She shares her booty with other doll clothes makers. She and her friends plan to create a calendar posing their dolls in seasonal and holiday tableaux. The Christmas one centers on a doll at the stove pulling cookies out of the oven. Unfortunately as great as they are at creating doll clothes, Diane and friends lack the photography and lighting skills to take quality photos. If anyone would be interested in assisting them, please contact me through The Waynedale News.
As Christmas approaches Diane’s home will not only be brightened by the lights and sounds of the season, but also her granddaughters’ squeals of delight when they discover dolls under the tree.
Lois Eubank is the owner of Born Again Quilts studio and quilt gallery located at 4005 South Wayne Ave. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.