To Her Sixties and Beyond

Imagination, life is your creation.

Barbie Girl by Aqua

With the upgraded tools of today, it is not a stretch for legions of souls now living in the United States of America to imagine how it all started for them. Like a supernaturally designed carnival ride, the internet can reveal the place of your birth, then zoom you onward to original accommodations whether it was a House of Fun or a Roller Coaster. One can imagine how divergent these launches were, not to mention the sort of playtime that was promoted inside.

Be advised to take a deep breath before doing so. Structural alterations of the physical site may be a happy surprise, but more than likely a blow because with evolution, home sweet home likely fell into disrepair via moving on up or even disappeared in the changing world of switcharoo.

Never mind such reality. Personalize the daydream. I conjured a street in North Mississippi to locate Joyner Elementary (still thriving) and then took the block to Frances Square where a giant oak tree spreading its elegant limbs stands guard on a corner lot. Just out of its shade sits a white brick 1950’s ranch. The newly built house cozies up to a sideline of mimosa trees and a backyard drainage ditch which exotically separates it from the neighbors.

The Mother who lives there planted marigolds and ivy to emphasize an wrought iron post of entry while the enthusiastic Father, armed with a posthole digger, situated a duet of fledgling pecan trees reminiscent of his home place. Family life was officially off and running.

If I lift the roof, the living room reveals the petite mother curled up on a couch of printed brown linen. She is drinking a Coca-Cola, smoking a Viceroy and reading a book. Down the hall in the last of three bedrooms, a two-year-old boy naps in his crib while his four-year-old sister, overcome with joy, sets every inch of her bedroom into a Barbieworld.

Sister hopes not to be interrupted; unfettered time can allow endless episodes. Her urges for pretend are mighty.

In strapless glory, the little girl’s ponytailed brunette Barbie is an object of singular affection. Denying all matter of paper dolls stacked inside shoeboxes in her closet or a number of baby dolls with open and shut eyes, she is relieved by her new instrument of make-believe. Playing with the previous puppets never cut it for her.

A horizontal row of windows in her bedroom are of the clerestory variety which is to say, they are above eye level. She raises her eyes to look out and interpret for Barbie the blue sky.

This calls to mind her grandfather’s friend who owns an airplane. Her grandfather often picks her up on Sunday afternoon for ice cream and a trip to the local airport. His friend once asked if she and Barbie wanted to go for a short flight. “You can be the stewardess,” he said. No, but thank you very much. At that moment, she could not feel enough bravery for such a dream.

Still back at home, she puts Pilot Barbie into a shoebox which substitutes for the pink convertible that she knows is now available via the television console. Trying it on for size, she sails the cardboard model over her wicker twin beds into the clouds which resemble blue and white quilted bedspreads.

Barbie made her debut in March of 1959, the week of my fourth birthday. Strangely my Mother’s purchase was not available at the pinnacle of all things up-to-date, Reed’s Department Store, instead entrepreneur George Booth was advertising in the Tupelo Daily Journal ready stock at Tupelo Hardware. Mr. Booth was savvy. After all, not long before it was the site where Gladys Presley bought Elvis his first guitar.

I got wind of the coming bonanza while overhearing my Mother and her best friend discuss the Mattel Toy Company’s new venture. As the matriarch of a house full of boys, our friend was concerned. Her community of faith was ruffled. The pastor preached forbidden fruit to the congregation. A doll with breasts? I considered the word. What were breasts anyway?

My Mother’s reply was something on the order of children’s work through play and just as she intuited, and the 2018 documentary Tiny Shoulders demonstrated, inventor Ruth Handler had the intention of creating a place of play for her daughter where issues of society could be tested. In the movie, a cameo of Ruth lauds a message for Barbie: “Humans only have one ending. Ideas live forever.”

Three dollars was the initial going rate for Barbie. Mr. Booth climbed a ladder to ceremoniously retrieve her for me and then threw in an off brand sparkly hostess skirt. My friends and I were electrified to curate our collections. The patent leather case featuring sequined Barbie as a lounge singer came first.

That Christmas season, I could hear the whir of the sewing machine deep into the night as my Mother created Barbie’s fabulous wardrobe. My Grandmother pitched in by knitting a few ensembles. One spring day, the grande dames were rewarded with a Barbie fashion show which I staged in Barbie’s cardboard fold out dreamhouse. Their laughter still rings in my ears as the best of feminine pursuits.

Unlike my mother who had precise ways of encouraging curiosity, I became a mother who celebrated my children’s lead wherever it took us. To a minor ache, neither were interested in my pristinely cultivated Barbie stuff including felt-headed-yet-balding Ken, best friend Midge, her boyfriend Alan (though it never felt right), Barbie’s sister Skipper with cases, wardrobes and accessories galore.

From the git-go their interests were not about acting out grown up roles. Stuffed animals and baby dolls appeared to override the complexities of male and female. Though I could never articulate my fascination, I now see that Barbie was an evolving reflection of style and culture for favorite playmates Leslie, Tricia, Enid Louise and for me. We enjoyed obliging each other with performances of a Barbie in charge of her dreams.

So what will be will be. I signed in for an ebay auction. The entire lot was dismissed without a tear shed, except for Skipper, whose long hair I coveted and the exploratory wardrobe made from the Hancock Fabric bin of fancy remnants. Soon after, she too had to go for a mere forty bucks.

All to say, you can imagine my fascination with writer/director Greta Gerwig and actress/co-producer Margot Robbie’s creation after I lamented and then forfeited my Barbie playtime era as a judged place that my Mother’s friend always warned.

Decades later when Weird Barbie proclaimed to Stereotypical Barbie, “You’ve done it. You’ve opened a portal,” I was redeemed and delighted because a friend and I, decked in Barbiecore, bought tickets for a morning show to revel while twisting in our seats at unexpected revelations and zany old-movie stage productions intermingled.

Their creative expedition revealed the larger picture of where Barbie came from, where Barbie is today and where Barbie might lead. Though she does not translate the imagination for every child; it turns out that playtime is no joke. Schedule those tots as you may, but spare change playtime stands in for an exercise in designing future aspirations.

Despite the fact that my Barbieworld was cloistered and bookmarked a place in time; there was much to work to do while starring in a future. In the movie, when I heard Nobel Prize writer Barbie speak, I knew down to my formerly pointed southern rural toes, that story timelines of yore only can deliver an iota of the possibilities.

Modern Chocolate Pound Cake

Ironically my Barbie never spent time in the kitchen like I have but, this is the recipe I’d pretend she was making today. Delicious and easy-quick these are the instructions that Susan Kellum gave Quinn at a bridal shower. Since then, friends and relations have all made it countless times. It’s just the thing for women of today with one arched foot in the past and one arched foot in the future.

1 cup canola oil
1 large box of chocolate pudding
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 cup water
1 box butter flavor cake mix
8 ounce sour cream
6 or more ounces of chocolate chips

Mix all. Spray bundt pan before pouring in the batter. Bake at 325 fore one hour.