Did you ever want something really badly, but you couldn’t conclusively explain why? I have. Maybe you can relate to my tale, maybe you can’t. Either way, I was amazed at the memories (and emotions) a doll could invoke in a 26-year-old’s psyche. Poetic, I know. This is my tale (and my attempt to conclusively explain)…

When I was little, I desperately wanted an American Girl doll. I read through the magazines and I admired the dolls of my friends. Yes, I had dolls of my own (and a slightly unhealthy admiration for Barbies) but there was something about the American Girl Dolls that I longed for. I didn’t realize it then, but I understand it now: I wanted to be a part of her (their) story.

I remember when Addy was released in 1993. She was my instant favorite. I was 6 years old and completely enamored by her. I poured over her books whenever I could get my hands on them. There was something about her life that seemed epic to a 6 year old (and there was something to the fact that she looked different than my other dolls). I didn’t understand at the time that she was a runaway slave and that she, along with her mother, were in search of freedom and the rest of their family. I just knew that her life was constantly changing and that she part of an adventure that I couldn’t possibly emulate, no matter how much I wanted to.

But Addy wasn’t my only American Girl Doll dream, she was just the only one I remember anticipating. There were other stories that I read that planted themselves in my young and impressionable mind and grew in my imagination.

I remember Felicity (released in 1991), the spunky colonial girl growing up as America is on the brink of the Revolutionary War. Looking back, I understand that I was drawn to her free spirit and tomboyish nature (I had a bit of both myself), but when I was young, I just thought she was wild. She rode horses and, instead of learning to be a proper gentlewoman, she went off on adventures. She was who I wanted to be when I was tired of being “good.”

I remember Samantha (released in 1986). Samantha was a rags to riches story (in my childlike mind). She was an orphan but her grandmother (and guardian) was rich and I couldn’t imagine a better way to grow up when I was young. I also desperately wanted a nickname and Samantha had one… Sam. She lived in the early 1900s. She lived in a world that was constantly changing; she was a part of the change and yet, she knew her place in it. She was the one that I wanted to be when I fantasized about a proper, high-class, urban life.

And to round off my list of favorite American Girl Dolls, there was Kirsten (also released in 1986). When I was little, I called her Kristen because I didn’t know any better, but she was special because she reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the real live person whose life I wanted to emulate (until I caught on that she had to use an outhouse and even then, I might have been persuaded). Every day for Kirsten was a challenge and a surprise because she was from “somewhere else” (that’s how my child’s mind  thought of it… she was from Sweden). She was part of the pioneer fantasy that I equated to discovery, wide open spaces, and freedom.

Every American Girl story was so different and I desperately wanted to be part of them all. Well, really only the ones I just mentioned. The only other one I knew and liked when I was a child was Molly and she reminded me of my sister because she had glasses. That was the only similarity, but I was a kid and didn’t know any better. I would fantasize about their worlds and lives. I would wish and pretend to be there.

Even at that young age, I remember feeling acutely the emotions of Addy’s journey as if I was running to Philadelphia with her and her mother. Their stories left a deep impression on my child mind. But somehow, I suppressed their impact as I grew. I attached myself to the Barbie world and left the history and stories of these dolls behind. It wasn’t until I was much older (almost 20 years older) that I realized how much those dolls had meant to my childhood imagination.

It was when I went the house of a dear friend and saw her American Girl doll sitting in a place of honor on her shelf even though my friend hadn’t played with her in many years (she is my age, after all) that I realized that that longing to be a part of the American Girl story was still there.

Call it silly, but I felt as though I had missed out. I felt as though my imagination had been hampered and that, somehow, this missing part of my childhood had impacted my adult life.

Then a gift came from my dear friend… something I never expected. In a small box, just a bit talled and slightly thinner than a pop can, lay my very own American Girl Doll (Did you know they made mini-American Girl Dolls? I didn’t!), a new one whose story I didn’t yet know. Her name is Rebecca Rubin and she is a 9-year-old girl living on the Lower East Side in 1914 with her Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, siblings and a grandmother known only as Bubbie.

It wasn’t until I took her out of her box and admired her historically accurate clothing and pretty face that I remembered the stories of Addy, Felicity, Samantha, and Kirsten. It wasn’t until I started to read Rebecca’s story that I realized how deeply rooted my memories of those other childhood friends were. And as I began to re-read their stories (thank you Google), the memories of why I love them so much welled back up inside me. It is really only as I write this blog that I have put words to my childhood imagination and even now, it makes my heart simultaneously smile and hurt.

Thank you dear friend, you know who you are, for re-opening a long shut door to my childhood. You didn’t know that’s what you were doing, I’m sure, but that’s what you did and sentimental me feels that you need to know how much that simple act meant to someone still searching for her own story.

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  1. I really enjoyed this…I feel like I was living the past…great blog!!

    | Reply Posted 5 years, 1 month ago
  2. I always loved Laura Ingalls! I remember playing out my adventures as a girl. Our willow tree was my Jungle House and the roof of our play house was my ship! Give me a blanket and a table to put it over and I was a pioneer in my Conestoga wagon on my way west! Thanks for helping me re-live some of those moments!

    | Reply Posted 5 years, 1 month ago

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