The prompt this month was "Work and Play" and I combined them by showing a little girl, me– playing but actually preparing, practicing care-taking for "work" later in life. But I couldn't think about the dolls in my own childhood without remembering Winnie Inch.
That day, I was playing in the side yard that separated our house from the Inches who lived next door. Dad mowed that small side lawn rarely and the grass was tall and soft. Hundreds of insects lived in the green, damp vegetation. I alternated between finding insects and looking up at the sky. A better day I couldn't imagine, at 6 years old, than lying in that grass on my back, watching the clouds pass overhead. On hot, humid summer days, this was coolest spot in our small yard. Mint grew two feet high in one corner scenting the air; hollyhocks, their stair-step blooms covered with buzzing bees, lined the side of our house. A rickety fence, always in need of painting, joined the two houses and defined the border line between our front yards—where you had to look good and stay clean—and the back yards, where you could get dirty and play around. It was paradise back there, back then.
As I was staring at the sky, I could suddenly hear the Inches, Harry and Winnie, fighting. Yelling and swearing, their hot anger oozed out the open windows and landed on my little patch. It got louder and louder, doors slammed and I was afraid to move as I'd been taught not to eavesdrop and didn't want to caught there. I had to sneak out of the yard, through two lilac bushes, silently, so as not to be spotted by the combatants inside.
Crawling on my knees and elbows I shimmied my way out of the patch and into the house. The Inches anger had caught a ride on the minimal breeze and wafted through our windows. My mother knew the Inches were "at it again." She didn't say anything. She shook her head and went into the kitchen.
A half-hour of silence followed and our front doorbell rang. It was Winnie, eyes red and swollen. "Can I come in Jill?" she asked and walked through the door. I'd never seen or heard a fight like theirs and was curious, but also wanted to cry too, for Winnie was so sad.
Every Christmas of my life, like my own personal Santa Claus, Winnie Inch gave me a doll. I treasured them—they were always the latest in doll fashion, like the crying dolls or the dolls with silky hair you could comb—and I loved Winnie. In the photo above, from 1946, I have my Winnie doll in a pram with something furry, probably the cat. In 1947, I look much more grown-up and my last Winnie doll, which I have in a non-maternal strangle hold, is dressed for winter.
"Harry's been out every night until 2 a.m. or later. I don't know what to do," she told my mother. Mother was solicitous and eventually, Winnie went home, somewhat calmer. Mom and I both cried out of tension and worry for Winnie. I vaguely remember that my Dad, upset by our tears, went next door to talk to Harry about the "commotion".
There were a few more semi-public crises in their relationship. At one point, Winnie tried staying out later than Harry, to "show him." As you might guess, she could never out-do him and her hours of hanging around downtown killing time accomplished nothing. Harry always got home after her, or didn't come home at all. Looking back, I'm sure Harry was an alcoholic, which would account for his awful behavior and for most of their problems. Alcoholism was common among the many men in our neighborhood who were veterans.
I've tried to remember what happened to them—I think Harry died finally and Winnie was released from that miserable relationship. The house was sold and Winnie moved away. That's all I remember. I know the paradise patch in the side yard, was never the same—I can't remember ever enjoying it again.
When I look at these picture and think about all the dolls Winnie gave me and how generous she was, it seems amazing that I can't remember what happened to her. How self-centered children are! I hope she had a good life on her own. I like to fantasize that she met somebody wonderful—somebody who would treat her with respect and that she managed a little happiness in her later years.