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Lynnie’s Lessons—Remembering Mandy

After that night of holy ground intimacy, I baked that little face. Anatomically, it was all kinds of just wrong. But it was my first full-face sculpt, the first one I wanted to turn into a figure, a doll even.

I couldn’t just have a disembodied head, so I sculpted her hands and feet—my firsts—the tiny fingers a little too blockish, and I forgot the arch of her foot. I pressed the end of a hair barrette into the pads of her fingers to create nail beds and tried to form ankles.

I baked all the pieces on a glass baking pan in the oven. I didn’t have a clue how to create and build doll armature yet. I worked with what I had, a small rectangular block of wood. Holes were drilled on the top and bottom. I attached her arms and feet to florist wire, wrapped them with a bit of quilt batting, and hot-glued them into the holes (I would be thankful for this step later). Then I inserted the dowel rod that held her head into the predrilled hole. Alas, I forgot to drill holes for her arm wires. I did what I would often do throughout my growth as a doll artist, I improvised. I wrapped the wire around the dowel of her neck. (All of this is not just descriptive prattle; it will be necessary to the story later.)

There she was in all her bald-headed, jimmy-rigged glory. I could hold her in my hands, she could stand, and I could bend her arms and her legs somewhat. If her head was disproportionate, her body was sorely misaligned and disjointed—one leg shorter than the other, her neck non-existent. Honestly, I didn’t care. I was delighted with her.

In little ways, I realized she reminded me of my great-grandmother Amanda—Mamaw. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of her. I brushed her long gray braid; the wispy age of the strands felt light in my hand. At ninety, Mamaw Mandy’s nose was a bit bulbous, and her eyes were small and blue and kind. Even the hue of the clay (I didn’t know how to tint, paint, or chalk it yet) was the color of Mandy’s crepe skin.

Mamaw often stood at the door and watched six-year-old me play in the front yard. As she leaned on her walker, I was told she prayed for me. I wish I could hold her gnarled, arthritic hands in mine and pray together, her head pressed against mine.

I decided to wig this doll to remind me of my great-grandmother. Of course, I didn’t know how to wig a doll either. But I bought flax and covered that sweet head in a twisted rope bun and a shoulder braid—I tied the end with a piece of pale blue thread.

There she stood in her wire and wooden nakedness. She knew no shame; I carried it for her. She needed clothes—and I know now that the clothes, like fig leaves, covered my mistakes and lack of skill. But sewing her tiny clothes was not new or unfamiliar territory for me. Many a night, the clock hands moved far past the midnight hour as I designed and sewed a whole wardrobe of frocks for my daughters’ dolls.

I made her a little blue dress, sewed on tiny buttons, and frayed the hem because I cut the skirt too short. I pulled it over her block body, straightened her sleeves, and pressed down the gathers of the dress. I grew dissatisfied with her, and she seemed frumpy and clumsy. Slowly, she was pushed to the back of the craft table.

I started sculpting and creating more dolls. After the fourth or fifth one, I started giving them away as gifts. And then, someone asked me to make a doll for a family member. The season of commissioned art arrived.

And that first little doll was tucked away in my craft box, forgotten.

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