Hi Everyone i know you have all been waiting in anticipation
for my next instalment so without further ado, here is the 3rd from Childhood to Sasha, from non other than the lovely Anne Votaw.
In the waning days of the Great Depression and six months before England declared War on Germany, I, Anne Winslow Parker, was born in Lafayette, Indiana, U.S.A., on March 30, 1939. It was a time of great world unrest, as well as personal belt tightening for my family. Before my unlikely appearance on life’s stage, my grandmother told my mother, Virginia McGhee Rice, she didn’t know why anyone would want to bring a child into the world right then. My mother could not have agreed more, but there was nothing she could do about it. I was already on the way.
Some of my mother’s activities and dates before my birth are crystal clear to me, but the immediate two years before I joined the living are vague. Thus, I must tell my mother’s story from her college graduation in 1930 onward, through her brief marriage to my biological father, Raymond Edward Parker. Since he was an unlikely candidate for much of a life on this planet, then, my appearance was also in jeopardy, but somehow we both reached adulthood.
My talented Mother was a budding artist, with a career goal to become her very best. Straight out of college, she landed a position at Dakotah School for Boys, a private Illinois boarding school, where she taught art and English. Combining the two disciplines, she taught the boys how to make marionettes and props, and guided them in writing scripts.
At the end of the school year, Mother had saved enough money to pay her own tuition for a summer art program, given by the Art Institute of Chicago, where she met and became friends with Mrs. Kaye Parker. The Parkers opened her eyes to how the wealthy lived in Chicago, and she was invited to exciting weekend parties, held on the Parker horse farm in LaPorte, Indiana, near the Lake Michigan dunes. Their farm had become an artist colony, where the artists had lodging of some sort. I know the name of one artist who was living there, the now famous miniaturist Eugene Kupjack, noted for his work on the Thorne Rooms. He and Mother became friends and partnered on a couple of money-making projects, but didn’t have the funds for the needed patent.
During Mother’s third teaching year, 1932-1933, the second wave of the depression hit. That summer instead of using her savings to attend the Art Institute, it was more practical for her to find another way of earning cash. She kept her head above water financially by founding her own Pall Mall Marionette Productions. She made the marionettes and many of the props, painted the scenery, and wrote the script. She and her younger sisters who played the violin, clarinet, and piano wrote new lyrics for known scores. My grandmother, an enthusiastic backer of her daughters’ project, asked people who owed their grocery store money to pay off their debts by making the furniture, stage, sets, and rigging the lighting, all of which my mother designed. Mother, age 25, and her two younger sisters, Margaret, age 19, and Elizabeth, age 17, performed Jack and the Beanstalk at the 1933 Chicago World?s Fair on the Enchanted Island, a special pavilion for children.
(above is a photo of the Pall Mall Marionettes)
That autumn Mother taught at a local public high school on a provisional license, and took summer classes in 1934 to obtain a teaching certificate, which would allow her to earn a full salary of $150 per month. All the while she and her sister Margaret continued to develop their marionette repertoire and give shows. After Margaret enrolled in nurses training in 1936, a cousin stepped in to help and she and Mother took the shows on the road across Indiana and Illinois, performing in many venues, including the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The Pall Mall productions ended abruptly February 13, 1937, when Mother’s car hit black ice and skidded through a plate glass store front on the return trip after a school performance. Following the sudden and expensive end of the Pall Mall Marionettes, she returned to teaching once again at the local high school.
Around 1937 and/or 1938 when Mother returned to the Art Institute for the summer, many changes had occurred in the Parkers’ lives: Kaye and Ray had divorced. Ray’s foster father, Leonard Parker, had died, and instead of leaving his adopted son the expected fortune, Ray inherited a huge debt. Leonard had been a multi-millionaire, but since some unknown date during the Depression, he had been living on credit. Ray’s lavish life style as a wealthy playboy was over. He had sold the race horses and his Lake Michigan racing yacht named the Wagtail.
Little was ever known about my biological father’s origin, and I’ve not learned much about his childhood either. I know that around the age of four months, he was adopted from a Chicago Orphanage, by a Mr. Leonard Parker, whose older sister was the orphanage nurse. The story goes that upon hearing a knock at the front door, she opened it, coming face-to-face with a group of Gypsies. One beseechingly held out a beautiful baby boy to her, as if asking Miss Parker to take him. The dark-haired Gypsy woman mumbled “Bambino ees seeeek,” and as soon as the nurse took the baby, the Gypsies turned and fled.
For Miss Parker, it was love at first sight. She wanted to adopt the foundling, but since her brother Leonard and his wife had no children, he convinced her otherwise. The Parker’s judged the baby to be about four months old, gave him an arbitrary birth date, and named him. However, because Mr. Parker wanted to know how the blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby happened to be in the care of Gypsies, he hired detectives to investigate, but nothing conclusive was discovered. They speculated the foundling might have been the sole survivor in a passenger train accident, and when the Gypsies were looting the wreckage, they found him.
I believe my father felt keenly displaced his whole life. His foster mother died when he was 11. During his teens, he was kicked out of the private school he attended and was constantly involved in some scrape or other, from which his foster father had to extricate him. Even though Ray studied law and passed the Indiana Bar Exam, he never practised. Mother said he always submitted to a get-rich-quick scheme, instead of working hard to achieve something , anything. Mother said he was irresponsible and drank too much. He told Mother he had come into the world with nothing and would go out with nothing.
I’m afraid I share in some of those feelings of nothingness or partial emptiness because I, likewise, know just half of me. I have no idea of my actual surname any more than did my biological father. I don’t know what genetic diseases I might be at risk for developing. Although my mother’s ancestry is well documented back to the American Revolution and beyond to the British Isles, my paternal heredity is a complete blank.
I have gained only a fragmented idea about my mother and father’s courtship and marriage, or my conception. What I do know I have gained from innuendoes, my Aunt Margaret’s uncertain memories of those events, and a letter my mother wrote me shortly after I was born. When I took high school biology, I began asking questions about Ray, but Mother consistently refused to discuss any of their marital history with me.
In the early 1950s my Uncle J.T., a northern Indiana lawyer married to mother’s youngest sister Elizabeth, whom I called Aunt Libby, ran into my half-sister Barbara, also a non-practising lawyer. When she asked to see me, Mother reluctantly agreed to a visit, but only if Barbara promised she would prevent my seeing Ray. I was 14, idealistic, and very eager to meet him. My mother never did find out about my deception, or that I saw him twice afterwards. The last time we saw each other, I was 19, and my father was so drunk and maudlin he did not even recognize me. Nearly overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of revulsion, I telephoned Mother to tell her I was cutting my visit short and coming home would be on the next train south, scheduled to pull out of the Crown Point Wabash Station House at midnight. Although Ray had been married and divorced five times as of my final visit, I was still his youngest child.
Following Mom’s death, I found a yellowed scrap of paper with some scrawled words to the effect that my grandfather cried when Mother told her parents, presumably after the fact, that she and Ray had been married by the Justice of Peace, but no date was given. However, I suspect their marriage took place in the summer or early fall of 1938. Instead of resuming her teaching for the following year, she moved with Ray to Duluth, Minnesota, where they lived in a trailer. Ray worked as a travelling salesman, but his drinking was becoming excessive, and he changed jobs frequently. I believe Mother concluded he would not make a good parent or a responsible husband. She left Ray, headed home to Indiana, and filed for divorce. My biological father saw me once when I was an infant and paid Mother a total of $15 for my support.
(Above is a photo of Anne with her Mother)
Until I was two and a half, I lived with Mother in the small northern Indiana resort community of Norway. It was perched on the banks of Lake Shafer, where my grandfather had owned the only grocery store in town for more than fifteen years. I have very few memories of Norway and most of what I do know comes from looking at old photographs and asking questions about them.
I have a vague feeling of many people, probably relatives, visiting us, especially when the weather was warm. My memory is accurate: There were weddings, funerals, family reunions, and visits from friends and relatives. Often, my grandparents, five grown children were home, whether Aunt Mawgy, my baby language for Aunt Margaret, had driven down from St. Luke’s Hospital, or Uncle Bill, who was a business major at Indiana University, had come home for a weekend. Aunt Libby and Uncle J.T. lived just 25 miles from Norway and Uncle Jim and his wife, were 100 miles away. Also, my grandma came from a large family, and so there were many great-aunts and uncles around to spoil me, as if my mother’s siblings had not already. I have a black and white photograph of me as a toddler, dragging a large Mama Doll across our yard and from the way I’m dressed, I suspect it must have been taken during one of our family events.
(Above is a photo of Anne with her doll called Daisy)
I have specific memories of my grandfather giving me piggyback rides on his way to the store, and of searching with Mother along the shore of Lake Shafer for shells. I remember riding on a big dog’s back. I know I fell down the kitchen steps to the basement because I damaged a tooth and have a scar where I bit through my lip. I’ve been told that once when I was left in my playpen, while the family sat down to lunch, I shook down its rails and climbed out. Mother’s easel and paints were set up in the same room where I had watched her all morning, while she worked on a commissioned wall mural. When she returned from eating, I was hard at work, paint brushes in hand, dipping them in her oil paints and slapping paint not only on the canvas but also on me and everything nearby. Apparently, she was upset beyond belief, because my grandfather’s often repeated words have informed our family’s care of children ever since: “Don’t punish the child. She is much more valuable than the thing.”
At St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, one of Aunt Margaret’s patients was Mr. Richard G. Krueger,owner of a New York manufacturing and wholesale business, specializing in the nursery set. Around 1941, he had come to Chicago for a meeting and while there needed emergency medical care. He happened to be hospitalized on the same floor where Aunt Margaret, whom I called Aunt Mawgy, was head nurse. He so appreciated the care he had received that when he was released a month later, he sent a large box of beautiful stuffed animals to my aunt, with instructions that they be distributed to all the nurses who had cared for him, and she should take what remained. I reaped the benefit of my aunt’s gift, when she gave me the most beautiful velvet Ferdinand the Bull with tubular legs which let him to sit on his haunches. Half a dozen colourful felt flowers on long stems drooped from his embroidered mouth. My second gift from Aunt Mawgy was a blue monkey that became my best chum. From the first through the third grades, I dressed my monkey in doll clothing most mornings and took her to school with me.
(Above is a Second Grade school photo of Anne with her blue monkey)
Once when I was small, Mother and I drove to Chicago to visit Aunt Mawgy at St. Luke’s. Looking out one of the windows in the nurses’ quarter, we saw an organ grinder cranking his hurdy-gurdy with his monkey chained to the box and holding out a tin cup to every passer by. Quickly, we went down to the street for an up-close look. I was impressed enough by my memory of that stellar event that roughly sixty years later when I spotted a put-together organ grinder doll in a sales room, complete with his hurdy-gurdy, monkey, and tin cup, I bought it.
My mother applied to teach in Indiana public schools as soon as she graduated with her Masters of Art degree from Purdue University in June 1942. Signing a contract with the school system in New Albany, Indiana, to teach art in the elementary schools, she and I moved about 200 miles away from the only family I knew.
New Albany, a medium-sized town founded on the southern-most edge of Indiana, lies in a flat floodplain, bordered by the Ohio River, which also marks the Mason-Dixon Line and divides Indiana from Kentucky. During the Civil War, the river separated the Union States from those in the Confederacy. The Iroquois named the river Oh-e-yo, meaning beautiful water. To the west and north of New Albany, the city is surrounded by quite steep hills, known by the descriptive term, The Knobs. These distinctive looking hills with rounded tops rise above the floodplain by 400 to 850 feet, and were long ago pushed here by the ancient glaciers, which dug out the Great Lakes. New Albany is the county seat of Floyd County, and the name Floyd is shared with one of the steepest hills, Floyds Knobs, virtually creating a northern wall behind the town.
Main Street runs parallel to the river and is the last street before the ground drops to the water’s edge. The street is now blocked from the mile-wide river by a flood wall, which was erected sometime after the 1945 flood. Along Main Street, steamboat captains lived in grand Victorian mansions, some equipped with widow?s walks, from where wives could watch for the approach of their husband’s vessels. My husband’s great uncle lived in one of these houses and owned the Steamboat Dexter until it caught fire.
(Anne’s husband standing in front of his great-uncle’s house on Main Street in New Albany, Indiana)
As one would expect of a borderline town in a borderline state, some of the mansions along Main Street had secret passageway, leading to the river, and were part of the Underground Rail road, built to aid runaway slaves in their hazardous journey to reach freedom. Since 1958, many of these elegant homes have been put on the National Register of Historic Places, and my mother painted watercolours of most numerous times.
(The Culbertson Mansion, a watercolour by Anne’s mother of the Culbertson
Home, finished in 1869 and built in the Second Empire architectural style)
Mother was fascinated by the vivid contrast between Main Street’s uniquely fanciful antebellum architecture and the run down buildings found in other New Albany neighbourhoods. I believe she looked upon the city landscape as if it were an old, tattered piece of fragile lace, which retained great beauty in its historical decay. I’m not sure which side of the divide was the location of our rented housing during our first year in New Albany, but I have sketchy memories of more than one place where Mother and I resided, and of several people who cared for me daily.
Mother wisely discovered she could not properly provide for my care and teach, too. Since my Uncle Jim, two years younger than Mother, had recently died , it took little persuasion from her to convince my grandparents to move to New Albany. They had already realized that of their four living adult children, my mother needed them most. My grandfather sold the store and house in Norway, grandma packed up their belongings, and it wasn’t long before we were all living under the same roof. About a year later, my uncle Bill moved to New Albany and in with us. Although he had graduated from Indiana University in 1941 and had embarked on an accounting career, he continued to suffer both emotionally and physically from a farming accident, which had nearly killed him when he was sixteen. In 1943 he was in need of frequent medical help, especially as the leg he had injured was diseased and needed further surgery. So, now, we were five under one roof.
Beginning in January 1942, Aunt Mawgy signed up to give her all to the war effort. She spent six months with the Red Cross recruiting nurses for the army before joining the Army Nurse Corps in June 1942. Eventually shipped overseas, she landed a day or so after the offensive on Omaha Beach, from where a truck drove her and the other nurses to Carentan, France. Here, Aunt Mawgy supervised sixteen surgical wards in a tent hospital.
Likewise, my mother served during the summers of 1943 and 1944, working at Jeff Boats where many large troop carriers were under construction. She took me to witness a bit of history when a finished war ship was christened with a bottle of champagne, broken across the bow as the war ship slipped into the river. The carrier would follow the Ohio River to the Mississippi and down that giant waterway to the Gulf and out to sea. I have a vivid memory of that gigantic black hull crashing into the water.
(The photo above is Jeff Boats, ca. 1943, a watercolour by Virginia Parker, of a World War II war ship)
Besides my mother’s career and summer job, she had an active social life. Since I saw little of her, my dolls and stuffed animals were my beloved playmates and my grandmother was my main caregiver. I called Sundays my pink days because that was about the only time I could have an entire and wonderful day with my mom. She spent many Sundays cutting out and sewing stuffed dolls or doll clothes for me, while I built towns from blocks for her to admire. The story was related to me years later about one night when Mother, after returning home from playing bridge, went upstairs to kiss me goodnight, but instead of finding me in the bed, she saw all of my dolls tucked under my covers. I was discovered under the bed, soundly asleep on the floor.
I knew my Aunt Mawgy was overseas and that everyone was anxious about her safety. The family would gather around the radio in the evening to listen to the European war news. Grandma and Grandpa (whom I’ve called “Gagan” my whole life, as did my cousins) were worried about their intrepid, red-haired daughter and wanted some word she was safe. Yet, no letters from her arrived for months, and I sensed their uneasiness. In the morning, Grandma would turn on the radio to John Phillip Sousa marches, and while she washed up the breakfast dishes, I’d march around the dining room table, yelling “Kill Hitler.” I was keenly aware he was the reason behind the war, and my dear Aunt Mawgy’s being gone, as well as the distress the evening radio broadcasts caused my family, and my grandma and Gagan’s worried faces.
I was a happy child, and my extended family was all that a little girl needed. Sometimes, though, a few more small girls for playmates probably would have pleased me, that is, before I learned at the tender age of four to be careful what I wished for because I might get it. When little Joy Formals came to live with us on a daily basis,I was quite happy to see the back side of her when she finally left.
It must have been early summer 1943 when my Mother asked Grandma what she thought about giving Joy Formals a temporary home.Her single mother worked at Jeff Boat with Mother, was poor, and had no one to watch her daughter during the day. Mother believed I would enjoy having a little girl about my age around every day. My grandmother said taking care of two children was easier than one, but I don’t think either Grandma or Mother counted on that one child being as spoiled as I. Not too long after Joy’s arrival, I grew jealous of her, for after all, she was robbing me of more than half the attention I was used to receiving. She had a speech impediment and said funny things, making everyone think the little waif was adorable. That fall she went to kindergarten with me. After she had been with us for a short while, I discovered she was a push over, so I did naughty things and blamed them on her. I soon learned she was too shy to defend herself, so I struck out on a mission to become the naughtiest girl imaginable. I have no idea how long little Joy lived with us, and I don’t remember playing with her much. In fact, I have almost no memory of interacting with her, other than to blame her for my bad deeds. In contrast, I do remember how I loved my dolls, and some of the adventures I had with them.
Joy may have disappeared from my life around October or November 1943 when my Aunt Libby was pregnant with her second child and needed to be hospitalized. Grandma was summoned to care for their first born, my 18-month-old cousin John, and she took me with her on the train to Washington, D.C. Uncle J.T., an Army Air Force Major on the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, met us and took us to their apartment. Grandma and I were there until after Christmas, while Aunt Libby was under the care of doctors and nurses at Walter Reed Hospital, but due to her worsening condition, surgery could no longer be delayed. Since aesthetic would have killed the foetus, the hospital called in a doctor skilled in performing spinal taps, which in the early 1940s was an experimental procedure. Successfully accomplished, the spinal tap is credited with having saved her second child, who is now a doctor himself.
At my aunt and uncle’s D.C. apartment, I slept on the living room couch. I remember awakening on Christmas Eve and staring at the Christmas tree, when suddenly whom did I spy, but Santa himself. Seeing is believing and my belief in him was more firmly planted than before. I did not give up on the jolly old elf until I was nearly 8 years old. Each Christmas he gave me a special doll, carefully placing it under the tree, and he had even found me at my uncle and aunt’s apartment. Through the years, Santa brought me a Madame Alexander W.A.V.E., having a Wendy Ann face,wearing a white navy outfit, and a short, curly, brunette mohair wig. In 1947, I received Alice in Wonderland. And, there was the Baby Genius I named “Betty.” The Christmas when I was four and a half brought a 13-inch Ideal Shirley Temple, but in honour of my mother, I named her Virginia Golden because both the doll and Mother were beautiful.
I believe Virginia Golden was my favourite doll, although Daisy was a close second. Before age five, Dr. Day used to pay regular house visits because I was in bed several times with those horrid childhood diseases for which vaccines had not yet been discovered, and I came down with almost all of them , whooping cough, measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Once when my kind paediatrician made a house call, he brought me a bouquet of daisies. The flowers so perked me up, I named my old Mama Doll after the flower, even though she was already well loved by then. She had a composition head, lower legs, and arms; a stuffed cloth body; and tin, lithographed sleep eyes. She was one of my first dolls, and had been with me since we lived in Norway.
Great-Aunt Marnie, my grandmother’s youngest sister, sent me a pair of her daughter’s out-grown bisque Happy Fat dolls. I was careful with them, and at my early age, they whetted my desire for antique dolls. One time when Grandma and I passed the Goodwill Industries store in New Albany, I noticed an old-fashioned, bisque-headed doll in the window, which I very much wanted. I begged for her unmercifully. I’m sure Mother and Grandma discussed the matter, concluding I had no business with an antique breakable, yet they didn’t want to forbid it. Mother said if I washed the kitchen floor every week and saved my money earned for doing a good job, I could buy the doll when I had enough to pay for her. I worked diligently under Mother’s supervision each weekend, scrubbing the floor and saving every earned cent. Mother must have called the Goodwill to ask them to hold the doll, for when I had enough money to buy her, she was still there.
Even though suffering a cracked shoulder plate (eventually repaired) and inexpertly taped arms to stop the sawdust from leaking, my common 18-inch Armand Marseilles (A.M.) 390, from the early 1900s, is significant to me still in so many ways and still with me. She has a bisque head on a kid leather body, and a reddish mohair wig. Engraved on the back of her bisque shoulder is the name ?Alma? in script.
(Above is a photo of Alma, an 18-inch Armand Marseilles 390)
Shortly before I was six, the first and second grade teachers at the nearby elementary school invited me to bring my dolls and talk about them to their classrooms. I knew the two teachers well because one was dating my Uncle Bill and would be my first grade teacher in September, and the other was Mother’s close friend. That was the first of many talks about dolls I would give in my 76 years.
The year 1945 was important for me not only because I’d earned enough money by working to buy an antique doll and had given my first doll presentation but also because of three major national and international events: U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died; the second worst flood in New Albany since 1884 devastated it, as well as all the river towns and cities up and down the Ohio River; and the Allied troops finally defeated the German Nazis.
I well remember the destructive flood of March 1945 when New Albany and other towns and cities along the Ohio River flooded. The muddy water rolled to within a couple of blocks of our house. We were lucky to have a small grocery store next door. However, if we needed to go south toward the river or just about anywhere else, we had to take a boat. My imagination was whetted by the flooding and the taxi boats Grandma and I rode in if we needed to go almost anywhere. For several years a flood scenario supplied the main theme for my doll play. I’d sit on an area rug or blanket surrounded by my dolls and their clothes. In my fantasy the water was very deep, making it impossible for my dolls and me to get off our raft.
The following month after the flood waters receded, my grandparents were deeply saddened by President Roosevelt’s death and in equal measure were deeply gladdened on V-E Day by the newsboys, cries of “Read all about it. The war is over.” I was playing with my dolls on the side walk, in front of our house that afternoon, when it seemed the quiet afternoon was split apart by thunderous shouting, horns honking, people running. Grandma ran from the house, grabbed up my toys, and I trailed after her to be scrubbed and dressed in clean clothes. Out the door we went and hopped onto a trolley to go down town and celebrate with the whole world. When Grandma explained that Hitler was dead, I knew my morning marches around the dining room table had been successful.
I understood, at age five, the jubilant day meant my dear Aunt Mawgy would be home soon, but it didn’t happen quite that fast and not quickly enough to please my family. We still did not receive any letters from her or hear of her whereabouts until shortly before Christmas. I can’t imagine, now, what the adults in my family must have feared.When Aunt Mawgy finally called from Manhattan, she had just reached shore, but didn’t arrive
in New Albany until January 1946. She explained she wasn’t allowed to leave Frankfort, Germany, until nearly the last of the transport ships departed for America because they had to set up POW hospitals and train the German staff. She spent Thanksgiving somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, dining on a savoury wedge of lettuce with mayonnaise on top. She also had gone months and months without mail or pay checks, and had left Germany with ten dollars to her name. Aunt Mawgy brought me two dolls from Belgium, a boy and girl in regional dress, wearing wooden shoes. The girl carried a basket from which a goose poked its head out from under the lid. Now, I think, she perhaps represented Bécassine, a French comic character.
(Above is a photo of Anne’s artwork of a pair of Belgium dolls in regional dress, wearing wooden shoes. My caption of their provenance written after 1946: “Aunt Mawgy gave me these dolls.
She got them in Brussels when she was over-seas.”)
Meanwhile, between the flooding in March and the end of summer, my mother and grandfather went house hunting. Their criteria for the right place included a safe neighbourhood for me, with an affordable and suitably large house, situated high above the floodplain. Before the start of school in September 1945, we moved into 415 Highland Avenue, located on Silver Hills, a steep knob at the city’s western edge, overlooking the river. Legend has it that the knob was so named due to the silver poplar trees. When the wind blew, the silver undersides of the leaves flipped up, turning the hill into shimmering silver. Others feel the name Silver Hills is a translation from the Woodland People’s language for the knob. The word silver figures in many area names , Silver Crest, Silver Street, Silver Creek, and so forth. The term Woodland People refers to the numerous tribes of Native Americans, living east of the Mississippi. The furthest outreach of the Middle Mississippian Culture is thought to be around the area where I grew up, consisting of among other tribes, the Algonquin, Iroquois, Cherokee, Shawnee, and Miami.
The hill was a great place for an imaginative child to grow up, despite my memories of the loneliness I felt that first winter in our new house. The seemingly unlimited space overwhelmed me, and I didn’t know the neighbourhood children because most attended the county school. Silver Hills was still outside the city limits at that time. However my mother paid tuition for me to attend city schools, which meant my classroom friends didn’t live anywhere near me. To soothe my solitude, Mother gave me a golden cocker spaniel, and we named her Copper Penny. When she was hit by a car less than two years later, I remember being terribly distraught. My second dog, Specky, was a black and white mix of terrier and cocker spaniel, and we got into lots of scrapes with each other.
I don’t believe I acclimated to life on the hill until my first summer in 1946. I became playmates with Butch and his older sister, Janice, who was two years older than I. Nonetheless, the two of us often played dolls or paper dolls.
(L-R: Janice holding Annes W.A.V.E. doll, Butch & Copper Penny, and Me holding Daisy)
Then, there was Van, another pal, despite his pranks. The boys, Janice, and I founded the hambone club. I remember each of us tied a string through a hambone and wore it like a necklace that summer and perhaps the next. Since our summer mission was to find as much treasure as we could, we became explorers.
My yard sloped downhill from Highland Avenue in front to the flat grassy strip where the Highland trolley tracks had been laid in 1890. The back corner of my backyard marked the end of the line. Here riders used to step down from the trolley to take a Sunday stroll in Tuley Park, adjacent to our property. Since the park and trolley were disbanded in 1932, nothing remained of the trolley when I moved to Silver Hills, except for the flat track bed. In the Hambone Club’s quest for treasure, we scoured the area and were rewarded by finding an occasional spike. In old Tuley Park we discovered a crumbling stone fountain and collapsing benches, artifacts which lit up our imaginations. The foundation of a house on the other side of the car tracks was barely visible through the vines and overgrowth, but the more hidden it was, the more it intrigued us. Our exploration turned up treasures, such as rusted old iron horses and figures, small metal toy cars, and once I found a pretty Limoges doll plate without so much as a chip or crack. I still have this cherished treasure from a by-gone-time. The woods beyond the tracks continued in steep decline to the floodplain and river below, giving us kids a great deal of acreage to explore.
We Hambone Club members also canvassed our neighbours in our search for treasure. Mrs. Mary Murphy, who lived two doors up from me, was our best source for costume jewellery, and I still have a necklace she gave me in 1946. She and I became great friends. Throughout the years, I often told her of my adventures, one proving the catalyst for a children?s adventure story she wrote.
Mrs. Murphy often visited with my grandmother and me in the evenings, holding our attention with the latest news of our neighbours, and of her many family members, most living on the hill. She was a writer for Woman’s Day magazine and as such was full of great stories. I don’t know when the idea occurred to me, but I also wanted to command my elders, attention by telling them the Silver Hills gossip. Thus, I became a spy at age seven. Shortly before Mrs. Murphy was due home, I’d slip into the unlocked house she shared with her sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw. Entering Mrs. Murphy’s parlour, I’d hide behind the couch awaiting her arrival, at which time Mrs. Shaw would come in with coffee, and the two sat exchanging news, family matters, and gossip. When they left the room, I slipped out and ran home to tell all I had overheard. Much later, Aunt Mawgy told me Grandma wondered where in the world I was picking up all of those stories.
Off and on from the second grade until I was about 32, I took ballet classes. The very first ballet class I attended was held in my Silver Hills home. Mother hired our teacher, who was probably one of her high school art students, and she gathered a group of girls about my age to take the classes with me. From then on, if I can borrow the movie title, I felt as if I were born to dance. I dreamed of becoming a ballerina, and my friends and I pretended we already were, as we danced all over my house.
My life took a sharp curve in the summer of 1947 when Mother met a lawyer, J. Comer Biggerstaff, and they fell in love. After a short courtship of no more than two months, they decided to marry.
(Above is a photo of Anne’s mother and step-father’s wedding in July 1947.)
Because I was to be the ring bearer in their wedding, Mother, who sewed most of my clothing, made a sweet dress for me to wear during the ceremony. From the scraps of the floral print on a light coral-coloured background, she made another dress for my antique A M, named Alma, the doll from the Goodwill.
I called my new step-father Dad from the start and firmly believe, as I once told my niece Avery Biggerstaff, born after her grandfather’s death, that Comer was the most honest, unselfish, and most giving person I’d ever met. He loved my mother more than anything, which was evident every day of their married life and made me happy. Dad was a bit old-fashioned, though, having been born in 1900. He’d fought in both World War I and World War II, and when in the Philippines, had become very ill with yellow fever. Throughout his life, he continued to have periodic attacks of it.
Less than a year after Mother and Dad’s marriage, my grandparents and Uncle Bill moved to Reno Avenue, which was roughly three miles away, at the other end of town. Along with their move, I also changed grade schools, to be within easy walking distance of their house. Reno Avenue became my second home, where I spent more nights than on the hill. I often went to a friend’s house after school and sometimes on the weekends we had sleepovers. Since my classmates and my grandparents lived within walking distance of Silver Street School, it was easier for me to become good friends with girls my own age. I was a frequent bus rider to and from my grandparent’s house and Silver Hills. Some of my new girlfriends still liked to play dolls and with these few I formed the closest bonds. One continued as a lifelong friend, who was my room-mate at Indiana University and Maid of Honour in my wedding to my first husband.
It wasn’t too long until I had a baby brother, born August 12, 1948, named James Rice Biggerstaff. When Mother returned to teaching after Jimmy’s birth, Grandma took care of him. Often she not only had him but also our neighbours little girl Katie, and me.
My childhood summers on the hill each slipped one into the next in a blur of freedom, full of running and outside games and bike riding. Early in the morning when the dew was still wet, I’d hop on my bike, pedalling to an old orchard where butterflies were plentiful, and I’d catch one or two in my butterfly net. I had a small amount of formaldehyde to knock them out before they could tear their wings apart. When again home, I’d mount and study them.
Later in the day, Butch, Van, Janice, and I would follow the trolley car line through the woods as it curved around the crest of the hill, below neighbourhood yards. Sometimes we’d climb up through a backyard to visit this or that friend. Other times we detoured to explore a played-out quarry. Often, we’d continue around the knob until we reached Main Street Hill, one of the three steep, winding roads that led from the city to the top of Silver Hills. Off to the sides of the hilly road were the scant remains of foundations where houses once stood. One was the source of a mysterious legend about two sisters, which fired our sense of adventure. Just before the road made its final turn we skirted of the main road, taking a driveway, which provided a shortcut home. Our excursions might last three or four hours, but no one ever worried about us.
After supper, we frequently played kick the can , running, hiding , making a beeline to kick the can, and yelling Olly Olly Oxen Free, which freed all prisoners from jail. When we heard the standard cry, we often changed hiding places since the one who was IT had to return to the home base where the tin can stood. IT would count to a hundred as fast as possible, and then yell “Ready or not, here I come.” Generally, the person selected to be IT for an evening’s game still held that distinctive position when dusk turned to dark, and we ran home.
I grew to love my step-father, who wanted to adopt me legally, but was prevented because my biological father couldn’t be found to sign the necessary affidavit that would transfer my legal guardianship from Ray to Comer. Despite the legal problems, I convinced my mother and step-father that I didn’t want a different last name from theirs. Mother thought it would be a good time also to exchange my middle name for a new one. So, Winslow, the maiden name of my foster grandmother was ditched along with Parker, leaving me with just one of my birth names , Anne.
The courtroom was panelled in wood and seemed a huge place full of echoes. No one was in the room except my step-father, the judge, and me. I was in awe of the vastness and silence. When the judge asked me to step forward and explain why I wanted to change my name, I told him I wanted to have the same last name as my mother.The judge, then, asked, “And, why do you want to change your middle name”” I answered, “My mother wanted it changed.” At that moment, a month after the start-up of school and the fifth grade, I was no longer Anne Winslow Parker, but Anne Lee Biggerstaff. I remember sitting at the table, pencil and paper at hand, learning to sign my last name. The previous day, I’d gone to school with one name, to return the next with another. Sometimes, it seems the only stabilities in my life have been my love of dolls and my first name of Anne ‘ a name I cling to because it’s the only permanent name I’ve ever had and my identity is rolled up in it like a Polish Paczki.
For two years Grandma seemed to cope, taking care of her three charges, but then her health grew worse. I believe we all took her for granted, even though she was diabetic. Aunt Mawgy who was married by then, came home from Vermont to care for Grandma as her health continued to slide. She died on May 9, 1951, and I was profoundly affected.
I barely spoke the next few months, gave up my ballet lessons, and did nothing with my friends. I think Mother and Dad must have been very worried about me. Mother managed to involve me in a regional theatre production, by securing her part first before I tried out for the ingénue. We had a great time rehearsing and being in the play together, and I discovered I really liked acting.
I think it was during the late summer of 1951, our minister advertised to hire an assistant, and the man who was selected had two daughters close to my age. Since they needed somewhere to live and we had an empty third floor, with three rooms, Mother and Dad thought it might be a win/win situation for all, if they could trade room and board to the family in exchange for Mrs. Isom’s care for my brother Jimmy. I loved the arrangement. The Biggerstaffs and Isoms lived as one big family, eating our meals together, and it was almost like suddenly gaining two sisters. Both girls liked ballet, dolls, and adventure. There’s no need to say we got along famously. That Christmas we each received a Toni doll, all three having different hair colours and dresses. We played many, many hours that winter with our dolls.
Shortly before the school year began in 1952, the Isoms moved to a neighbouring town, but the girls and I remained close. Our parents drove us back and forth on weekends so we could be together. We had so many escapades it would take a good-sized chapter or two to record all of them. One that stands out is the same adventure I related to Mary Murphy who made it into a story. We discovered a completely vine-covered, two-story house or garage, accessible only from an alley. After we entered, we realized the place was inhabited, when that person entered the shack shortly after we had. Luckily, we’d already climbed a rickety ladder to what was either a loft or partial second floor, but if the man, probably homeless, had looked up, we might have been caught. Although the vagrant did not discover us, we beat a hasty retreat soon after he left.
Acting and friendship with the Isom girls greatly helped pull me out of my grief after grandma’s death. While eventually I lost track of the Isom family, my interest in acting and ballet remained strong. I continued to be active off and on in a variety of capacities in school, university, regional, and children’s theatre productions from 1951 until 1976, majoring in theatre at Indiana University. Around 1955, I auditioned for a summer repertory production, held by the South eastern Theatre Conference and, to my parents utter amazement, I was offered a summer acting job with the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. The excitement I felt upon receiving that acceptance letter was followed by one of my most bitter teenage disappointments: My parents told me I was too young to go off like that, especially to mingle with a theatre crowd. I’m not sure I ever forgave them on this score.
In high school, for two or three summers, I directed the neighbourhood children in plays for a small fee. Another money-making venture my friends and I embarked on was presenting Hansel and Gretel puppet shows at birthday parties. Mother taught me how to make a plaster of paris mold from a clay head I had sculpted and how to use the mold in forming a hollow plastic wood head. We made different heads for Hansel, Gretel, Woodcutter, Step-Mother, and Witch; fashioned wigs out of raffia, and sewed the costumes to fit over our arms like a sleeve. The father of one of my friends, taking part in the puppet show, built our stage. My friends and I painted the scenery, I wrote the script, and they sung the lyrics from Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera of the same fairytale. Since I’m tone deaf, no one wanted to hear me attempt to sing.
Although I’d actively stopped playing with dolls sometime in the eighth grade, I remember saving my allowance a year later to buy one more. I never went to Stewart’s, a big department store in Louisville, without visiting the doll floor. One of my favorite dolls there was the 8-inch Vogue Ginny, and in particular a Kindergarten Kid named Dawn. By my sophomore year in high school, I made up excuses to buy more Ginny dolls, not for me but for my younger girl cousins to give as birthday presents. Even though I could not keep the dolls, it was fun just to examine all of the Ginnys and pick my favourites. A number of my younger girl cousins still have their Ginny dolls Mother and I gave them.
Mother loved to barter her watercolour paintings and portrait commissions of live models for something she wanted or needed. I think she’d developed this trait from my grandfather who had always enjoyed bartering. Once when I needed a lot of dental work, she painted a portrait of our dentist’s niece in exchange for the dentistry. Another time when I was perhaps in junior high, she painted a neighbours daughter for the antique doll of her choice, stored in their attic. She chose a china head on a pre-patent Goldsmith body, from the latter quarter of the 1800s, wearing its original dress, sewn by the elementary supervisor of Louisville schools. Technically, the doll belonged to Mother, but I named her Jenny. Enclosed in a shadow box, she hung in my Silver Hills bedroom, we called The Crows Nest. Now, Jenny resides in that same shadow box, but it’s hung in my Cincinnati doll room.
(Above is a photo of Jenny, a pre-patent Goldsmith body, late 1800s, original dress)
After Mother completely gutted and remodelled our house about 1953, I had a larger space where I could spontaneously fling myself into dance. I’d execute a graceful balance before transitioning into a piqué arabesque, followed by a series of quick pas de bourrée, and then, a grand Jeté, where upon touching the floor, I ended like a spinning top performing a fouetté rond de jambe en tournant. Although I never developed beyond the amateur level, I just loved moving with the music. Ballet removed me from all my anxieties, cares, and any unhappiness I was feeling. Moving to the music made me feel uplifted and whole.
During my high school years, I had a dancing scholarship, taking lessons every weekday after school, and teaching Saturday morning classes. One day, a month or so before Christmas, a representative from Stewart’s visited our dance class and picked out some of us to model in the holiday doll show. We knew we would be portraying Madame Alexander dolls before we arrived at Stewart’s that Saturday, but none of us knew which specific doll. I dreamed of being Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty, or another equally gorgeous doll. We lined up and as our names were called, we took the costume we were handed to the dressing rooms. Instead of a lovely princess, I drew bashful Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
I was paid $16, the most money I’d ever had at one time. To put my earnings into perspective, 25 cents in 1953 bought a gallon of gas. Mother and Dad hoped I would spend it wisely, and I did due to Mother’s help with my travel arrangements. I spent three glorious weeks visiting the Isom girls in Wichita, Kansas.
At this point, my life was beginning to revolve around boys, dating, cruising around in cars, and other teenage activities. Dolls pretty much took a back seat until after I was married and had a little three-year-old daughter. It was Christmas day, 1966, when I met my first Sasha doll , a Götz Sasha to be specific. Mother sent a large box to her granddaughter Ellen and when my daughter tore off the wrappings, I was nearly bowled over by the doll inside. I was much more taken with Ellen’s doll than she was. I imagine Mother had looked through a Creative Playthings, Inc. catalogue and liked what she read about Sasha Morgenthaler’s concept. Educational toys had always been stressed on my mother’s side of the family. When she and her siblings were children, they not only had a Schoenhut doll but also the complete Schoenhut circus. Although Ellen played some with her new Sasha, she was never one to spend much time with dolls, even after I made clothing for her new Sasha.
(Above is a photo of A Christmas Sasha doll for Anne’s daughter Ellen from Grandma.)
We’d been living in Wisconsin for three years when Ellen received her Sasha. When we moved there in 1963, I’d packed most of my childhood dolls and animals in a large foot locker and, for safe keeping, put it in the basement of my in-laws, store, which was humidity controlled due to requirements for storing the greenware used in the store’s ceramic classes. My mother-in-law called one night with the most awful news, saying the majority of the contents in my foot locker had been pitched due to water damage. I listened in disbelief. The store next to theirs had caught fire and burned past repair. It was the same Goodwill from where I’d bought my Alma so long ago. Although my in-laws’ store had escaped catching fire, the basement flooded. Everything not bolted down bobbed around like boats on a lake, including my trunk. Most of my dolls and all of my animals had been tossed out afterwards. The few dolls saved from the trunk were no longer strung, and by the time I saw them, a few had some discolouration to the hard plastic. I am thankful that not all of my dolls were in that trunk, but most were.
Following this heartbreak, I bought dolls on my travels to Canada and Europe. Once my husband surprised me with about six or seven antique dolls he’d spotted in a thrift shop window when walking by. My favourite was an 11-inch Simon Halbig dressed in his original Scottish kilts.
My first husband was a linguist and as such our family moved behind the Iron Curtain to Pozna’, Poland, in 1972. The ten months I resided there were not only such a cultural shock but also such a rare, stressful, and exciting learning opportunity that I cannot write of its impact in a limited way. Side trips from Poland took me to three Scandinavian countries on two occasions, Yugoslavia (now defunct), Trier and Frankfort in Germany, Luxembourg, and from Belgium on a ferry across the English Channel to Dover, and hence to numerous places in England. Everywhere I went I looked for interesting handmade folk dolls.
(Photo above is Four Polish leather dolls, 2 inches to 3 inches: In Poland we hung these on our Christmas tree because we had no real ornaments. Then, on our return state side, many of these little leather people became gifts.)
When my thirteen years of married life broke up in Poland, I returned to the States with my two children and enrolled in post-graduate work. In January 1975, the kids and I moved to Virginia where I taught English and directed the children’s theatre in a community college for two and a half years. Except for putting my small collection on make-shift shelves, dolls were completely out of my mind for the next five years.
From the autumn of 1974 on, I began seeing my brother Jim?s older friend David Votaw, whom I married in May 1977. I wore an orange dress to match the handmade orange shoes my students gave me for a wedding present. A group of them worked in a local shoe factory. Our first several years of marriage were full of ups and downs, while both of us learned how to deal with my two risk-taking and rebellious teenagers.
I did buy a cheap case for the dolls I had accumulated after the trunk disaster,and added in a few more that had been stored at my mother’s house. Then, double trouble hit again during some home remodelling when a door and window were out. During the lunch hour when the workmen were gone, as well as our family, one of the men who drove my 19-year old son to work each morning, returned to our house around noon, entered, and stole every doll in my cabinet, including my first antique, Alma. Although the police got a confession from him, they had neglected to read him the Miranda Rights, so the perpetrator and his two buddies got off free. When we learned who had committed the crime, my son confronted his working associate, saying I would pay to get my dolls back, but by that time the dolls had been sold or ditched, and the thief was in full denial he’d taken part in the break-in.
Not long afterwards my son died in an accident, and thirty-five years later waves of grief still overwhelm me. After Steve’s death, my husband and I continued searching all area antique shops for my missing dolls. We were walking down Elm Street, when I suddenly felt an ice cold chill down my right arm, as if being guided. The moment we entered the doll shop, a clerk walked from a back room, fluffing out the dress on a doll she carried. I was electrified. I knew from the full length of the store the doll she held was my Alma. I went ballistic. The owner then came out of her office, and asked why I thought that particular common 390 AM was mine. Even though she no longer wore the dress Mother had made her, I could describe Alma’s repaired shoulder plate and the tape wrapped around her elbows well enough to convince the owner the doll was mine. Then, she had the audacity to ask me to buy the new dress the shop had put on Alma and commented about the rag she had worn. I told her I wanted the rag, which had nostalgic value for me. Then, looking around the shop, I found a number of other dolls belonging to me. I returned with an insurance detective to reclaim them.
To satisfy our home-owners insurance policy, I had to supply photos and an itemized descriptive list of every doll stolen from my case. To do so, I went to the public library
and combed through the doll books and price guides. This process renewed my interest in dolls and in great measure helped me through the initial period of my grief over the loss of my son. I was awarded a couple of thousand dollars by the insurance company, which I spent on a French Bébé, ca. 1875, in all original condition. In fact, at the auction, my bidding opponent was a buyer for a doll museum. When I won the bid, everyone clapped. I named my new doll Stephanie after my son. For the first time ever in my life-long love affair with dolls, I finally acknowledged to myself I was a doll collector.
Because I had loved Lenci dolls since childhood, I decided they would become my main collecting pursuit, rather than the nineteenth century French Bébés and fashions, due to my limited financial capability. I had met my first Lenci when I was eight, while spending a week with Great-Aunt Bernetha and Uncle Jack, whose children were long gone. Their daughter Harriet, sometime in the mid 1930s, travelled continental Europe on her bike and stopped in Torino, Italy, where she bought two long-limbed Lenci boudoir dolls. She tied their legs to the back of her bike, where they flapped behind her as she rode off on the rest of her adventure. These two enticing dolls were stored in a glass-fronted bookshelf beside the mantle. Aunt Bernetha let me hold them if my hands were clean and I sat quietly in a chair, which I did every afternoon of my visit, enraptured by the two dolls. Years later when I visited Harriet in Seattle, she regretted having given the Lenci pair to her grandchildren instead of to me, since they had destroyed them.
The two photos above are part of Anne’s Lenci collection)
Although I still loved Sasha dolls and often dropped by my favourite down town doll shop to see the latest Trendons, as well as saved all the Sasha catalogues from the mid 1970s on, I didn’t buy the dolls for a variety of reasons, but mainly because my husband didn’t like them, much preferring Lencis. He’s changed his mind by now, I think, or, if not, at least he respects the Sasha doll’s concept and history. Then, too, since I believed the English Sashas would always be around, there seemed no rush to delve into my pocketbook. My friend Molly had all of the limited editions, plus a few others, which I enjoyed, but neither of us knew much of their history or even that Studio Sashas existed, to say nothing about the early Götz production. Then, one afternoon in February 1986, I was early to meet mother’s bus, so to pass an hour, I stopped by Arnold’s Fairyland. The proprietor knew me well and my attraction to Sasha. She told me the factory had stopped making them, and all but one of the Sasha dolls on her shelves had sold immediately. A lone Cora, wearing a floral print dress, stood on the shelf looking at me… I put her on layaway and immediately left to go down the street to the only other doll shop, which carried Sasha, the one where I?d found Alma six years before. The shop had Marina, Gingham, and White Dress, plus a few packaged outfits, so I put everything on layaway. When paid off, I brought my new Sasha dolls home, and told my husband they were a financial investment. Secretly taking them out of their boxes to study them, I realized these Sasha dolls didn’t match my memory of Ellen’s Sasha from 1966, and upon comparison, my interest was whetted by the differences I observed. On the spot, I decided if I wanted to keep my new Sasha dolls, they would have to work for me, and the best way was to write articles about them, which meant I needed to research their history. Molly found out about a toy and doll shop in Virginia that specialized in Sasha dolls and said the shop owner had a large Sasha doll made by the creator, Sasha Morgenthaler. It just so happened my mother and I were driving to Virginia to see some relatives who didn’t live too far from Richmond, where the store was located. I called The Toy Shoppe to ask if I could see their large Sasha and my request was granted. Remarkably, the first Studio Sasha I ever laid eyes on represented Air, of the four elements ” air, water, earth, and fire ” but I knew none of these things then and was a complete Sasha novice. I have by now had the great fortune to study all four of the dolls and still know the whereabouts of three What followed the trip to Virginia was my first article on the Sasha doll, which I entitled Sasha: The Everychild Doll.
(Above My first published Sasha article gives a brief but comparative look at the three generations of Sasha dolls, as existed in 1988. My idea was to write a series of short cameo articles, each focused on different type of doll. The next, an unfinished, a cameo detailed Lenci dolls. The Sasha article appeared in the February/March 1988 issue of Doll Reader.)
(Above Picture of Air, a 1900s European Girl, as shown full-length in the illustration above, represents my first examination of a Studio Sasha. When I photographed her in the summer of 1986, I had just recently learned there was a third Sasha classification, beyond the serie Sashas, Götz, and Trendon. Sasha Morgenthaler did not identify what the harmonizing connection among the four dolls, including Air, was but after I examined the group and re-read her correspondence with the original owner multiple times, while pondering the repeated word harmonize, I realized the four were unified by the idea of the four elements ” water, air, earth, and fire.”)
(Above The South American Girl of Today, represents Water. She is a CIII, marked SashaM 65/73lCIII62. She is dark skinned with dark eyes, which are deep, soulful pools. Her outfit consists of a batik dress with navy ripples and brownish foam, knitted navy wool socks, navy court shoes, chemise, and pink half slip and drawers with an open crotch. I’ve named her Lelia after my grandmother. (Since I haven’t asked the other owners for permission to show Fire and Earth, I’m not posting their pictures.)
Close on its heels, I wrote my second Sasha article, and afterwards kept churning them out, as well as giving talks and seminars about Sasha. I continue to be almost as strongly fascinated with this very special doll’s history as I was when I first began to learn about her.
(Continued in Part 2)
FOOTNOTE: Anne has asked that none of these photos are to be copied ,downloaded or pinned without her permission. Anne owns the copyright to these photos