My parents were good at keeping things, but really bad at keeping things organized.
My blue footlocker, that I took to Girl Scout camp, was in the garage storeroom, which also had old camping equipment and a case of motor oil and some tools. And dust. Plenty of it, making a thick coat on everything.
The very first thing I saw when I opened the trunk was this doll, whose head had somehow become detached from the rest of her. I remember this doll – it’s a Madame Alexander doll, and it was for Looking At, not Playing With. She was well-dressed, with that fetching off-the-shoulder dress, trimmed with a velvet ribbon. She has stockings, too, and a lace petticoat, and fancy panties. (In all categories, she’s better dressed than I am.)
I don’t know why this doll was saved. None of our other toys were anywhere around.
I had a Barbie and a Ken. My sister had Midge and Skipper (Barbie’s often-overlooked little sister). My best friend down the street (also named Melinda!) had a Barbie with a large wardrobe of store-bought clothes. At our house, though, our mom made Barbie clothes from Barbie-specific patterns, with scraps from her other sewing projects. I wished my Barbie had a fancy wardrobe – specifically the strapless evening dress in silver lame with a mermaid hem made from tulle and matching plastic high-heeled mules. But my doll wore dresses with set-in sleeves, tiny swing jackets, or cotton sheaths in fabrics that matched the clothes my mom wore.
We didn’t find Barbie, or her extended family, when we cleaned out the house. No hand-made clothes, no patterns. That was a little bit of a disappointment: I wanted to look at those tiny pattern pieces with the holes from the pins that would have been used to secure them to the fabric.
Our parents were remarkably (and surprisingly) progressive when it came to our toys. Sure, we had Barbies. But we also had building blocks, made from corrugated cardboard printed to look like red bricks. And a woodburning set (which one of my boy cousins used to burn a tiny line in the wood floor in my bedroom, and which I never mentioned to anyone until now). And cars and trucks. And books. And a sandbox in the yard.
But back to the footlocker. It held a eclectic mix of things that will be headed to the estate sale. Like the doll and her head. Old pictures of people I don’t recognize. (Oddly enough notes that say “Mama” or “summer” on the backs of photos are not all that helpful.) A white baby dress with pink smocking. A box of pocket watch chains. And the thing is none of this stuff has any meaning to me. There’s no way to know why it was important enough to be kept, or who it belonged to, or why I ought to care. And so it seems like the right thing is to let it go. And hope I don’t regret not keeping any of it.
My dad was a civil engineer. He started his career in San Angelo, Texas, working for the highway department. He says he thought he’d spend his career there, until his boss told him it was “too bad” that his degree was from the “wrong” school. It seems that back the the big guys at the highway department went to Texas A&M and he’d gotten his degree from Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University).
He stuck around long enough, though, to meet my mom in Sonora, Texas. According to an entry in their wedding album, he proposed to her in the car, while they were parked along the Ozona Highway. Sounds about right, I guess, for an engineer to take his beloved out to look at a road before he popped the question.
He left the highway department, and went to work for Phillis Petroleum, in Borger, Texas, and then moved to Lubbock in 1956 and went to work at Parkhill, Smith, and Cooper, where he worked until he retired. He did well there, working on a variety of big projects across the country. His particular area of expertise was water- and sewage-treatment facilities. I can remember on many (most, actually) family vacations we’d stop along the way to look at sewage plants. Nothing says “vacation” like the smell of effluent, that’s for sure!
After he retired from working, he mostly retired from wearing neckties. He’d wear one if he had to, but would complain about it. But he kept some, neatly hanging on their rack, just inside the left-hand side of the closet.
We are cleaning out the house now, and I guess someone will be happy to take over the neckties.