I was born a poor black child…I was born a coal miner’s daughter…okay, neither of these is my story. I was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, though no one in my family was a coal miner. Or a hillbilly, for that matter. In about 1967 my grandparents bought a hotel in Kingwood, WV. It seemed giant to me, but it probably was not big at all. Because my mother was doing her medical school internship after she graduated in 1966, and because she had divorced my father in 1964, and because we (my 3 brothers, though I used to tell people I had 3 monkeys, and I) were less than well-behaved children, which resulted in our live-in housekeeper/babysitter always quitting and leaving my mother without child care, we spent a lot of time at The Inn. The really funny thing (now) is it was only about 24 miles away from where we lived. In those days, though, people did not commute, at least not in West Virginia. This was also long before an interstate highway even existed there, and the road between Morgantown and Kingwood was a curvy, twisty, 2-lane mountain road traveled by coal trucks. So (in the summer, at least) my mother would take us to Kingwood and leave us for weeks at a time. Oh, she’d come visit us when she had a day off, though in my mind, she just dumped us there for long periods of time. (I am willing to allow that my memory might be a little skewed here.)
The truth is I liked going there because I got my own room. Until we moved to Georgia in 1970, I shared a room with two of my monkeys, I mean, brothers. (Yuck!) At The Inn, though, if it was available, and my recollection is that it was almost always available, I got room 15. I also liked room 14, mainly, because it has a full-sized bed, but it was on what was probably the north side of the building and was always dark. Room 15 was much brighter and had two twin beds, side by side, but made separately. I always slept in the bed the furthest from the door. Of course, I had my own bathroom, which was also nice. And it had a television. We were not allowed to watch tv at home. We would sneak and watch it, but as soon as we heard my mother’s car, we would quickly turn it off. This was in the days that the tv took forever to go off. The picture would shrink into a small dot in the center of the screen before it eventually disappeared completely. All my mother would have had to do was touch the cabinet to know it had been on, though I do not remember her doing this. So, since I was not supposed to watch it, alone in room 15, you better believe I did. There were probably just 3 or 4 channels, though, unlike today with hundreds, especially at a hotel. For some reason it was not all that appealing when I could, literally, watch it all day long and no one would have known or told me not to.
But what I mostly did alone in my room, for hours and days on end, was make paper dolls. And I made up stories for each of them. Each had an envelope that she ‘lived’ in, with her name and age written on the outside. I only made 2 male paper dolls, and one was the father in the only family I ever made, and the other was a teenager, who, basically, was the boyfriend of whichever girl I decided was worthy of him that week. This was the late 60s and I continued to make them into the mid-70s. I was very much a tomboy, but also loved playing with dolls, making paper dolls and sewing and designing my own clothes. (Some things never change, I guess!) The clothes I made for these paper dolls definitely reflect the time period – lots of bell-bottom pants, big, puffy sleeves, short skirts, body suits and a lot of red, white and blue.
You need to keep in mind that I was not good at drawing, especially faces, so these dolls are really pretty ugly. I could have taken 100s of pictures, but I limited myself to these few:
The first is my teenage boy, who I named Danny Brown –
and because of that, she had tons of clothes. More than the others, though they had a fair amount, as well. And she also had a body double that you can see on the far right. She’s the only one I ever did that for, and, now, I have no idea why.
What I used to make the dolls and their clothes was the card stock-weight paper that I got out of the panty hose packages that my mother bought. (Looks like I was repurposing long before this was even a word!) I would draw the girl and then cut her out. I almost always gave them long hair, which presented a problem to make their clothes fit. My solution to this was to use the pointy end of the scissors and make a small hole at the shoulder/neck line and then the clothes would always fit properly. I would then color the doll and cover her with tape. This was so the clothes would be removable without ripping the doll. Also, the paper dolls that were store-bought then came with clothes that had little tabs that you folded over, and they never worked. The clothes always fell off. The tape method worked really well. What I did not take into account was that tape discolors over time and all the clothes, in most of the envelopes, are stuck together now. Oh well.
As silly as this may seem now, being in room 15 and making up stories and lives for my paper doll friends was something I loved doing. It keep me away from my brothers, and it allowed me to be creative and to indulge that creativity. I like the idea of making a new paper doll right now. Of course, I still cannot draw very well and I’m not sure what the solution for the tape problem might be…perhaps glue that dries clear over the body of the girl (because I’m sure I’d stick to girl paper dolls, just like before) but then now to keep the clothes on? Or I’ll just visit with my old paper doll friends…