It was during a holiday visit to Cape Cod recently that we began to reminisce about Italian customs and remembrances.
Zia Concetta, often in her pink chenille robe and matching hair curlers, loved her bed dolls with their rows upon rows of ruffles. Uncle Ronaldo called them “dust collectors.”
We began a search for these dolls within the family. While everyone seemed to have a box in the attic filled with crocheted doilies that sat on the arms of chairs or antimacassars for the back of chairs, no one seemed to have saved the bed dolls.
Zia, a longtime family friend, said that Grandma would crochet dresses and give the dolls as special gifts whenever she took a break from her kitchen and her baking. Advertisements for boudoir doll patterns began appearing in publications. But Grandma was as opposed to patterns as she was to recipes, saying: “What good is it if you can’t create it yourself?”
When she wasn’t baking her biscotti, canning fresh tomatoes for her sauce, or rolling out dough for her pasta and ravioli, Grandma would sit on the porch overlooking the water and crochet — dresses for dolls and antimacassars for her chairs. You could often hear her say, “God gave these boys a good head of hair and what do they do? They slick it down with that Vaseline and mineral oil pomade. If I didn’t have these antimacassars on the chairs, I would have to put a moppina under their heads. Just how do you think that would make them feel?”
Grandma liked making different designs with antimacassars and said that sometimes just adding rows of ruffles to skirts became tedious. It was then that she began to create dolls with bridal dresses, baby dolls with bonnets, and even costumes for summer and winter. Boudoir dolls could have movable arms and legs and eyes that even opened and closed. Or you could just buy a head to attach to a cloth body. For Grandma there was just one choice: “If I’m going take the time to dress a doll, I want dolls in my house, not just a bag of heads.”
—Rita Esposito Watson — www.ritawatson.com — is a Journal columnist writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”
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