Sunday, March 16, 2014
In Honor of My Mother, Who Made, Restored, Collected Dolls, and gave them back their Innocence
If it were not for my late mother, Mrs. Clara Fanakos, Tsagaris, I would have had no doll collection at all. She led a remarkable life, and was caught in Occupied Greece for World War II and the Greek Civil War that followed. Though she was born in Douglas County, Illinois, her parents packed up the family to go on a vacation to visit family and settle some real estate business that ended up taking 8 years. Most of her toys were left behind or lost; we only have two dolls left from that time in her life that she dressed in Greek national costumes. Later, when the entire family moved back home, they travelled extensively, and amassed their own collection of international costume dolls and American regional dolls. The first dolls in my collection came from that group from all over the world. We had a lot of Greek dolls, but also a beautiful celluloid girl from France, Korean and Japanese dolls and statutes from the 1950s, Mexican folk dolls, mechanical figures, Inuit, Native American dolls dressed in buckskin, a few Hummel figurines, one doll from Portugal, they seemed endless to me. Sometimes, another doll would find her way to my collection, either from my Grandma, or as a Christmas present. My grandmother loved dolls, but she didn't have any when she was little. Her father died when she was six, and she grew up wearing black, and seeing her mother and sister wear black. It wasn't until she married my grandpa Steve that she had beautiful clothes, but he married her in Paris and went all out with a French trousseau. In fact, both my grandmothers knew each other had gone to school together to learn to be seamstresses. My mother's mom was the one with the international collection. She hated seeing naked dolls lying around, so she would make outfits for after I had gone to bed. My mother also liked to make dolls and to dress them. She was very good at knitting and crocheting, and she would often make her own designs, patterned from my commercial plush stuffed animals. Every Christmas, she would take one of my dolls and give it a make-over. This included cleaning it up, styling her hair, and dressing her. She made matching shoes and slippers from the dress's material, and sometimes, would cut down one of my dresses to fit a larger doll. She kept making clothes for these doll projects, and the day after she died, I found finished and unfinished crocheted doll clothes in her sewing basket. She liked refurbishing old dolls and making dolls with antique heads. Some were heads that had been burned in od dumps, or chipped. We built them up and restored them to their former glory. Many times, I would be plying outside oblivious to the fact that a newly washed composition or rag doll was drying in on the bushes. We liked monster dolls and stuffed animals, and they all had outfits. When my husband bought me one of the Playboy fashion model dolls, wearing jewelry, bikini, and "fur coat," my mother said, "That's ugly; she needs a dress!" and promptly knitted one that fit like a dream. She knitted a red sundress for my Alien queen action figure and a layette for our two-headed zombie baby. All my bears wear handmade sweaters, similar to those she used to knit for party favors at my birthday bashes. No doll was too hopeless for, and she took even the ugliest specimens, restored them, and gave them back their innocence as children's toys. Her talents extended to finding hard-to-get dolls and antiques in strange places. At the height of the Cabbage Patch craze, she walked right into our local Kmart and bought one. She found Furby, Tickle Me Elmo, Obi Wan Kenobi, Beanies, you name it. She never waited in one line. She wasn't a doll collector, but she and my dad liked to save things, and they both had collections of stamps, coins, rocks, tea cups, and other small items. I didn't fall far from the collecting tree. I had hopes she and I would be the next Pam and Polly Judd, going to exotic places to collect dolls and then write books about them. Everything good I have came from her. She hated rummage sales and antique sales at first, but would go with me to the Doll Shows and big antique shows later, and then alone when I was in school. The doll collection became hers, too, and she always encouraged me to write about dolls. Tw days before she died, we were looking at an ad from The Rosalie Whyel museum, deciding what to buy. One of her last gifts to me was a Hanna Montana doll, with clippings about it she had saved from Newsweek. She was very creative, and I consider myself lucky that she was my mother, and my doll collecting friend.