TBT. “Throw Back Thursday” in Facebook language.
This past week, I threw myself back to 1960. There in a black-and-white snapshot is my five-year-old self and Patti Playpal, the life-sized doll Santa brought.
I remember seeing her for the first time beside our tinsel-draped tree on Christmas morning.
In the snapshot I’m standing at the back door in my navy blue coat and hat, the 35-inch doll standing beside me in my hand-me-down red coat and hat. It’s early January. Patti has become my new best friend, the little sister I’d asked for and would never receive.
Patti Playpal, the brainchild of Ideal Toy Company, began a trend of life-sized dolls that could wear size 3 clothing. My Patti came in a red gingham dress, white pinafore, white anklets and black patent leather shoes. Her straight auburn hair wasn’t exactly my color, but close enough to be considered family.
1959 was one of the last Christmases I fully believed in Santa Claus—reindeer on the roof, big sack and all. Somehow Santa had squeezed this large doll down our chimney without getting her sooty. I quickly renamed her “Susan,” the name I would have given a baby sister.
Patti Susan went with me everywhere. One day she accompanied me to kindergarten to astonish my classmates for show and tell.
Another day I insisted on taking her to my mother’s hair appointment. The Twins Beauty Shop in Shelbyville, Illinois was located in a private home of Victorian vintage. I was assigned to sit in the front parlor and play quietly while my mother had her weekly hairdo.
The process took eons. That particular afternoon I twisted Patti Susan’s leg a little too far. It detached from its socket. I panicked. My mother would have a fit thinking I’d broken my brand-new doll.
I wound up leaving the body on the sofa and carried the leg into the beauty shop room—where my mother sat in a swivel chair with a drape over her shoulders, her head covered in bobby pins. Another lady was having her hair trimmed while a third customer sat under a roaring dryer hood. When the women saw me carrying the large doll leg, they gasped.
Fortunately, the leg was easily reattached by the hair dryer lady and all was well with the world.
My mother the Keeper of Everything, insisted on keeping Patti’s shipping carton, and I, my mother’s daughter, still have the doll in her original dress, in her original box.
I unearthed the Patti Playpal the other day. She doesn’t look bad for 56. Her arms need to be re-strung, her hair could use attention, but for a short time this weekend I was the little girl in 1959, racing to the Christmas tree to meet the next-best thing to a baby sister.