My uncle Raymond was in the Air force. He traveled a lot. He would bring my cousin Ellen and me dolls from some of the places he went. The spring of 1956 he brought us black baby dolls. I immediately named mine Jenny. Jenny had a rubber head and rubber arms and legs. She had tiny fingers and toes. She even had fingernail and toenail indentions. She had a cloth body and cried “mama” when I’d turn her onto her back. I loved that doll instantly! She was my first best friend.
I took Jenny everywhere. I sat her on the chair by our front door when I went to school in the morning and grabbed her as soon as I came home after school. I had a bed for her next to my bed. She had a dress and a nightgown.
About a week after we got our dolls my uncle Thomas found out about them. He didn’t think his nieces should be playing with black dolls. I distinctly remember my mom’s agitated voice growing louder and louder as she spoke to Ellen’s mom on the phone. When she hung up the phone she looked at me with a disturbed look on her face. We heard the familiar crunch of our gravel driveway and she ran to look out the window.
Uncle Thomas was sliding to a stop in our driveway. Dust was flying from under his car. He started running up to our back door. Mom and I were now on our porch. Mom said hello to Thomas as I heard the familiar “click” of the door latch. She had locked her brother out! Mom turned to me and told me to go hide Jenny and lock the inner door. I did. I pulled a chair to the door, which was wooden on the bottom and window on the top, and watched mom’s conversation with Thomas.
I can’t remember the words used but Thomas told her he was there to get rid of the doll Raymond had given me. He said he’d destroyed Ellen’s and he had come to do the same thing to mine. What he’d done was get rid of Ellen’s doll by cutting it to shreds. When Kathleen had called it was to warn mom that Thomas was on his way to our house. There were lots of heated words. Thomas said little white girls should play with little white dolls. I felt my eyes hurt and tears began running down my cheeks. Mom told him to leave and she would take care of her own children. She didn’t raise her voice often but she was raising it plenty during that conversation.
The argument only lasted a minute or two but I remember being really scared. I don’t know if I was scared of Thomas or of my mother yelling. After the second or third time she told him to leave Thomas stomped back to his car and sped out of the driveway with gravel flying in all directions behind him. It left marks in our driveway dad had to rake level when he came in from the field. Mom was my hero. She had fought her brother and saved Jenny. Dad was my hero too because he backed up her actions. I remember rescuing Jenny from behind my parents shoes in our closet, holding her tight the rest of the day and taking her to bed with me that night.
I didn’t understand such hatred then and I don’t understand it now. I still have Jenny. Years ago Adam asked me if he could have her. I told him he could have her someday. When I leave this world he will find her still in the drawer next to my bed.
I loved her long detailed fingers and fingernails.
I loved her pretty toes and dimpled knees.
I loved her ears and her eyelashes.
I made her this outfit a few years ago when we had her cloth body replaced.
It includes socks, shoes, knickers, an underdress and a pinefore.
Mom called this Jenny's "Mammy Hat."