The curio cabinet sits in a room designated on the floor plan as the solarium—despite the fact it’s a minuscule room. But since it’s easily visible from both the dining room and the den, many of my guests take notice of the dolls within the confines of this piece of furniture. In truth, these dolls represent only some of my collection. However, I do not see myself as a true collector of dolls as much as I’m a person who collects dolls to remind me of places I’ve visited with people important to me at different stages of my life.
This particular curio, which I'd bought with the intention of merely housing a few dolls, is now so stuffed that you can’t see all the details of each doll’s outfit. This is true whether you’re perusing one of the many Italian dolls or those purchased in Austria, Great Britain, or the United States.
Actually, I was most concerned about the American dolls when I purchased this curio.
I’d discovered the pair in a shop on Royal Street in New Orleans’s French Quarter over two decades ago now The shop had been filled with one-of-a-kind dolls crafted by a local artisan. And frankly to me, they had some of the most expressive faces I’d ever seen on dolls. Furthermore, their costumes showcased fine fabrics, intricate laces, and old-fashioned designs which might take one back centuries. Still, the two dolls I bought, a boy and girl in coordinating outfits, had caught my attention despite being surrounded by so many other eye-catching dolls.
A friend and I'd walked into that shop that day together. She was one of those quietly exuberant people who would light up a room without overpowering it. And people loved her because you invariably felt good in her presence. She’d greet you not only with a bright smile, but a unique compliment. Plus when she asked you how you were doing, you knew this wasn’t merely a pleasantry. Furthermore, she'd quickly detect if your response was an authentic, or if perhaps fear or anger or heartache were lingering behind the mask you’d chosen to wear that day. Most importantly, though, she was prepared to hear your truth delivered.
We were classmates in the Ph.D. program at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). She’d received her master’s degree from the same program a number of years earlier and, in fact, had gone to school with some people who became our professors. As a result of my friendship with her and her friendship with them, in time I came to attend lunches and dinners and parties with these professors. This allowed me to come to know them as people. This also alleviated some of the anxiety I'd initially felt not only because I’d returned to school for this degree fifteen years after attaining my Master’s degree, but I was entering a new field of study (clinical social work) with classmates who'd been professors, therapists, and administrators of mental health-related facilities.
Fortunately, these faculty members respected me for my previous professional accomplishments, and they saw to it that I never was put through the type of hell I’d once been told Ph.D. candidates should expect to endure.
Because of my friend’s friendships with these faculty members, we'd occasionally be invited to tag along when they went elsewhere in the country to attend a conference that pertained to them as faculty, but not to us as students. And it was on one of these trips that we found ourselves in New Orleans in the French Quarter studying those dolls as works of art.
In the present moment, I stand before the curio cabinet examining two dolls outfitted in what I assume is a fine silk that’s dusty-rose in color. Magnificent hats billow outward from their heads, softly showcasing faces with blue eyes that though unreal, nevertheless seem to speak of gentle and innocent souls yet unharmed by any of the blows life can ultimately deliver.
My friend was one of those who’d suffered such blows. And yet, her eyes continued to radiate warmth and contentment. In fact, I realize as I continue to stare at those dolls and think about her, now nearly two years dead, that it might have been her narcissistic mother whom, at least in part, provided the model for my protagonist’s mother in the novel I’m finally ready to put into the hands of prospective literary agents.
I’m glad I can stare into that curio, as well as the other places where I have dolls showcased for mostly my own pleasure, to be reminded not only of her, but of others who have been there and enriched my life both stateside and overseas. Despite the uniqueness and beauty of the dolls themselves, I most cherish them because of what they trigger within me--beautiful memories of time spent in beautiful places with beautiful people. And frankly, isn’t that the most beautiful thing of all?