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Vignettes of a Baby Boomer Part 8

Jeaninne is an award-winning fiction and essay writer who is the author of "Manuel's Murals."


The Barbie Years Part One

My parents had nothing when they married and began a family. When I was eight years old, my father was still in his twenties and just beginning a sales career. In fact, he sold Nesbitt soda from door to door. My mother was happy just being at home with her children. The lack of money wasn’t an issue for her. However, my mother, being devoted to her children, wanted us to have one nice present for Christmas. Just one.

I yearned to own a Barbie doll. Barbie was the first grown-up doll who gave my generation of girls more in which to aspire, other than caring for babies. More than a plastic doll, Barbie embodied who we wanted to be someday. She was confident, independent, stylish and able to achieve her dreams. In those days, we didn’t see her out of proportion body type as a problem. We just wanted Barbie’s life as a single woman with a car, a house and a career. I didn’t even care about Ken. And, especially after my father left my mother, I fantasized Barbie’s freedom to choose who she wanted to be without a man. She gave me the permission to be something other than a wife and mother.

All of my friends had several Barbies before I got one for the Christmas of 1961. My mother was on a waiting list at Vicky’s Toy Town because they couldn’t keep them in stock; and, it took her a year of grocery money to save for my Barbie and my brother’s leather baseball mitt.

Barbie will always be synonymous with the magic of Christmas for me. My mother’s anticipation for the moment I opened my doll motivated her to make sure that year was especially festive. With Nat King Cole’s Christmas carols on the record player, my brother and I helped mom drape silver tinsel and colored glass ornaments over the scrawny tree my father brought home on Christmas Eve. Mom even plugged in a snow globe under the tree to illuminate the reflecting tinsel. My brother fell asleep next to it, staring at the falling snow, an oddity in 1960’s Southern California.

Opening practical gifts like pajamas from grandparents that Christmas Eve just made me yearn for Barbie even more. However, my mother’s slow-cooked roast and baked sugar cookies kept my spirits high. I prayed to Santa that night in bed for my own Barbie doll. He didn’t disappoint.

That Christmas morning in my new white and turquoise panda bear pajamas with feet, I remember my first glance at the black-haired, ponytail Barbie. She was encased in her starter box, secured behind tight cellophane. Propped up on her black iron stand sporting a black and white striped one-piece bathing suit, Barbie held white-framed sunglasses and wore black, open-toed high heels. On the other side of the divided box were three outfits -- a blue and white striped summer dress; a white lace party dress; and a white silk and red velvet cocktail dress. I still have that doll and those clothes, fifty-seven years later.

Barbie taught me so many things about life, but what she left me with are the memories I shared with my mother. I covet those moments my mother taught me with her words, her touch and her time through the imaginings of a fashion doll’s fabulous life. Something lost in this digital world.