When I was a child in the early 1960s, Raggedy Ann had her own cartoon show. She was bright, cheerful, sweet, and helpful—all the things my mother said I was supposed to be, but could never hope to be.
I fell hopelessly and madly in love with Raggedy Ann.
In my family, falling in love with anything—anything at all—was dangerous. Even though I was energetically precocious as a five-year-old, I loved Raggedy Ann so much, that I could only hide how I felt for a short time. Though I knew better than to penetrate my mother’s Jabba the Hut-like stupor of cigarettes, wine, and soap operas, each day I’d timidly approach her, fidgeting from one foot to the other as the muscles of my face struggled to form words.
“M-mom?” I’d stammer. “W-when is Raggedy Ann coming on?”
“It’ll never come on if you keep interrupting my soaps, you little brat!” she’d snap.
Then she’d send me to wash dishes or fold laundry for my impertinence. Late one afternoon, for whatever reason, my mother left the television on with the Raggedy Ann cartoon playing while she drank coffee and gossiped with the next-door neighbor, Laurie. I sat on the empty couch, right in the little hollow my mother had made with her body. It was the closest I ever felt to her—catching whiffs of her energy on the couch, and watching my favorite show while she whiled away the afternoon next door.
“Four o’clock,” I chanted to myself. “Four o’clock.”
Now I knew when the treasured show was on. I sat transfixed, grinning so wide my cheeks hurt, barely blinking until the show was over. I checked to be sure what channel the show was on, and after that, whenever my mother decided to visit Laurie around four o’clock, I watched my beloved Raggedy Ann.
One day during the show, a commercial came on that showed a new product. I had seen commercials for things like aspirin, antacid (Speedy was one of my favorite characters), and cereal, but this was the first time I saw a commercial advertising something right from the show I was watching. Maybe I had missed it before, or maybe this was the beginning of the marketing scheme that is so familiar now—where versions of television characters are offered for sale—but from that moment, I had a new obsession.
The commercial advertised a Raggedy Ann doll. My mouth dropped open in surprise and awe and I moved closer to the television, my breath fogging the screen, so I could take in every detail. The picture was black and white, of course, but I took in all the details. The white dress with the words Raggedy Ann embroidered across the skirt, the yarn hair, the striped legs, and most of all, the heart embroidered on the doll’s body that said I love you.
I knew how things worked in my house. I knew that the less I bothered my parents, the less they would bother me. Since I’d discovered when the Raggedy Ann show was on, for instance, my mother hadn’t been troubled by my obsession, so there had been no further conflicts in that area.
Now I had to have a Raggedy Ann doll. As a five-year-old, I didn’t have an allowance. I knew what an allowance was, because some of the older kids in the neighborhood talked about having money to spend, and I’d asked how they got it. That’s how I learned that at least some parents gave their kids money, just because. Other kids told me that they did chores to earn money.
A brave idea occurred to me. Maybe I could ask for money for all the chores my mother made me do. At five, I was responsible for vacuuming the floors, mopping, washing and drying the dishes, weeding the yard, cooking dinner, and folding the clothes. Was it possible that I could earn a Raggedy Ann doll for doing all of that work?
I waited eagerly for my mother to return from Laurie’s house. I waited and waited, as the sun set, the neighborhood grew dark, and as the local news show came and went. Finally, headlights flashed across the living room window as a car pulled up in front. My father was home.
Moments before he walked in the front door, my mother rushed in through the back door.
“Krissy!” she called. “Get some frozen beans out of the freezer and put them in a pot!”
I rushed to obey, the words pushing against my tongue about how much I wanted a Raggedy Ann doll, and what I would be willing to do to get one.
As I reached around my mother to get the green beans out of the freezer, while she rummaged in the refrigerator below me for a package of hot dogs, the words exploded from my mouth.
“I saw a Raggedy Ann doll on television today,” I said as I pushed a chair up against the sink, so I could run water in the saucepan where I’d placed the frozen beans. “I really, really, want one! I’ll do lots of work and chores and stuff to earn it, and … ”
“Daddy’s home!” my father cried, as he burst into the kitchen.
Oh, good, I thought, he’s in a good mood.
I placed the pot beside the sink and called, “Daddy!” I jumped down from the chair and rushed over to him as if he was the best dad in the world.
“Careful, Phil,” my mother hissed. “She wants something.”
“Oh really?” my father said, sitting at the head of the table, and patting his knee so I could sit on it.
I hesitated a moment. It wasn’t safe to sit on Daddy’s lap. Every time I sat on his lap, his hands wandered all over my body, and made me feel like bugs were crawling beneath my skin.
But, I wanted the Raggedy Ann doll very badly. I swallowed hard, and sat on Daddy’s lap.
“Now,” he crooned. “What can Daddy do for you?”
I caught a whiff of perfume coming from his shirt, and saw a smear of red on his collar. I breathed a sigh of relief. Even at five years old, I knew that when Daddy came home happy, smelling of perfume and with smears of red on his collar, that he was less likely to do stuff to me, and he was more likely to grant me a request.
“Well,” I said, twisting my fingers together, and trying to look humble. “I saw a Raggedy Ann doll on television today. Could I have one?”
I tilted my head and looked at him out of one eye, pulling the corner of my mouth into a coy smile.
“I don’t see why not,” my father said.
“Oh great!” my mother spouted, grabbing the pot of beans that I’d left beside the sink, and slapping it onto a lit burner. “Whenever the little brat wants something, you jump. What about me? All I ever get is groceries, boring stuff.”
But, by some stroke of luck, even my mother’s grumbling didn’t shatter my father’s mood that day.
“Well, Betty,” he said, in the same warm tone he’d used for me, “what do you want?”
My mother stood beside the stove for a moment, thinking. She pulled out her chair and sat, still thinking.
“Well, it would be nice to get a permanent,” she said. “Maybe a new dress.”
“Let’s go out tonight, get the dress, and the doll,” my father said. “You can get your hair done tomorrow.”
“Really?” my mother’s eyes lit with wonder for about thirty seconds. Then they hardened.
“Where did you get the money for all of this?” she hissed.
Her eyes narrowed farther when she saw the smear of red on my father’s shirt collar.
“Oh, I see how it is,” she sneered, her demeanor shifting from wonder to bitterness so quickly, that if I’d have blinked, I would have missed it.
I slipped off my father’s lap and moved to the corner of the kitchen. I’d seen this argument played out many times before. It could get ugly. It all depended on just how badly my mother wanted the new dress and the permanent.
“Listen, Betty,” my father said, rising and moving closer to her. “It wasn’t what you think. If I let some customers get, you know, friendly, with me, they give me big tips.”
“How big?” my mother said in a pouty voice.
My father fumbled in his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and removed a fifty dollar bill. My mother’s eyes widened.
So, we went to Two Guys, and I got a Raggedy Ann doll. My mother got two new dresses, and the next day, she even treated me to an ice cream soda before she got her permanent.
I wish every day could’ve been like the day we went to Two Guys, and the day after that. But, as you can probably tell from what you’ve read already, life in my house wasn’t often calm. I had to hold on tight to anything I loved, simultaneously knowing that showing how much I cared for anything made it a target. Anything I cared about wouldn’t last long.
The Raggedy Ann doll lasted less than a month.
One night, as I was falling asleep with my Raggedy Ann doll tucked under my arm, my mother slipped into my room. Without saying a word, she began to tug at the doll. I was watching her out of the corner of my eye. I tightened my arm against my body and tried to roll over as if I was really asleep. She tugged harder.
My mouth tightened, and that betrayed me.
“I know you’re awake, you little brat!” she hissed. “Let go of that doll! You’ve been carrying it everywhere and it’s filthy. I need to wash it.”
I knew better than to obey. I’d believed that line before, about my stuffed animals being dirty and needing washing. When I’d cooperated and given them to her, I’d never seen them again. I was determined that wouldn’t happen to Raggedy Ann.
My mother grabbed both of Raggedy Ann’s legs and pulled, hard. With a sickening rip, my doll split at the waist, her puffy, white stuffing falling to the floor.
“Now look what you’ve done, you little brat!” my mother sneered. “When your father gets home, I’ll show him how well you’ve taken care of his generous gift. You’ll never have a nice doll like this again!”
In a way, she was right. I had no more dolls for the rest of my childhood. I missed Raggedy Ann each day, though as I grew, I became better and better at hiding how I felt. But one day, when I was finishing grad school, I saw a Raggedy Ann doll in the window of a toy store.
“Sixty-fifth Anniversary Edition!” the sign proclaimed.
The doll was complete with red yarn hair, an embroidered red nose, and I love you embroidered on her chest. She now sits on my bed, her impish smile brightening each day. No one will ever part us again.