My Life in Pigtails
Hey, wait, I’m groovy
I remember looking in the mirror when I was 7 years old and realizing for the first time just how groovy I was.
My nose was covered in freckles from all day cannonball fests in my above ground pool and my hair was styled by my mother into these low slung pigtails held in place by white plastic balls.
My mother could have written a book called, “101 ways to wear plastic pigtail holders & plastic flower barrettes”.
In fact, my sister swears to this day she’s still emotionally scarred by some of the hairstyles she was forced to wear as a child.
She says she used to wait until she was a couple blocks from school and rip them out. A declaration that I find really impressive, even to this day.
I never would have had the nerve to retaliate in such a way as a child.
I, on the other hand, just stood still as my mother ripped a brush through my long, baby fine hair, saturated in Johnson & Johnson’s “No More Tangles” and styled it into some new creation of multi-colored plastic flowered barrettes and coated pigtail holders.
Of course, being that I was the accommodating daughter, I also took the same stance when it came to wearing whatever creation she whipped up for me on her sewing machine.
Marsha Brady incarnate
As I stood in the mirror that day, I was wearing a dress made from material covered in large and small olive green circles, that she had trimmed with white rick-rack around the neck and cuffs.
This look was definitely straight out of an episode of the Brady Bunch, and I felt it worked for me quite well.
The olive green circles emphasized my green eyes, or so my mom told me.
Even my smile, peppered with black holes from the ongoing vacancies created by departing baby teeth, didn’t dampen the effect of this ensemble.
I was Marsha Brady incarnate.
I actually loved the different hairdos my mom whipped up, especially the pigtails.
Not only were they refreshing on a hot summer day, but there was something about pigtails that always made me smile. It was like having happy hair.
To this day, if I’m feeling a little low I will reach for some pigtail holder’s and pop them in my hair.
This of course, is usually after I have eaten my weight in chocolate and done some online shopping with still no positive effect.
Yes, the importance of these two little elastic bands was not to be underestimated.
In fact, to be quite honest, my pigtail holders really should be hung from my bathroom wall, behind a sheet of glass, with a plaque stating, “In case of emergency, break glass, and apply to hair.”
When I’m wearing pigtails, my mind can’t help but drift back to a simpler, happier, time when my biggest worry was if my doll’s leg was going to fall off again.
Actually, that milestone from my childhood was in reality, one of the weightier ones.
It all began one Christmas morning, as I eagerly pulled a box wrapped in “Rudolph” paper from under the Christmas tree.
A box that contained the answer to all my sugar plum fantasies, as well as, much unwanted future pain and frustration.
It was my very own Baby Tender Love Doll.
She was the latest in 1970’s doll technology.
Her body was made of some new kind of plastic that was soft and cushion-y instead of hard like a wiffle ball, thus the name “tender”, and she had rotating limbs that would allow her to sit or lay down.
All I could think was, motherhood, here I come.
I named her Beth, after one of the names my mom said she considered calling me.
At the age of seven, I had not yet developed my own list of baby names to draw from.
My mom gave me some of my old baby clothes to dress her in and we picked up a couple of plastic doll bottles with milk and juice colored liquid inside for me to feed her.
From that moment on, Beth and I were happily inseparable.
That is until, the unthinkable happened.
I was holding Beth feeding her a bottle, one day, when I looked down and noticed her leg was laying on the floor.
I’m certain my screams could be heard from 10 miles away, where my mom was working her shift at the local A& P Grocery store.
Regardless, my dad was the only adult available to handle the crisis.
Within seconds, of the first wave of screams my dad came running into the room, I’m sure, half expecting me to be laying on the floor bleeding to death.
Once he realized I was fine, and it was really my doll that was in trouble, he furrowed his brow, in that way he always did when he was thinking hard, then picked up my doll, and her dislocated appendage, and headed for the place where all solutions could be found, his workshop in the basement.
Kitchen in the basement
He had a look of determination on his face, mostly to stop my incessant sobbing, as he headed down the stairs past the washer and dryer to where the magic happened.
The room was the size of a big closet, with each square inch giving it’s all to the assortment of tools and doodads suspended from peg boards on the wall and stacked in boxes and cans on home made shelves.
The hub of all the activity centered around a crude workbench table situated below the only small storm window available in the space.
It let in just enough light to make the dark eery crevasses in the room, appear even darker and eerier.
The work bench, or what would now become the operating table, was a patchwork of various types of scrap wood pieced together with nails and possibly old gum.
It was splattered with more colors of paint than the rainbow and held pock marks from the numerous misses by hammers, saws, drills and whatever other apparatus was put to use in the confines of the space.
It looked as though one good sneeze could convert the bench into a pile of kindling.
Which, may be why a few months later it would be replaced by a green metal kitchen counter, after my dad decided to rip it out of our kitchen on impulse.
Unfortunately, I was never able to make the transition with this piece of furniture, and it would always feel like we had a kitchen in our basement from then on.
As my dad entered command central, he pulled the silver cord dangling off of a bulb suspended from the ceiling of his workshop, lighting his work space, and the body of my Baby Tender Love doll now laying face down on the workbench.
My dad’s brow furrowed again, as he began to dig around in different bins under his work bench, pulling out a container and setting it up on the operating table next to BTL.
He then grabbed a screwdriver from a hook on the wall and popped the lid of the mystery container, took a paint brush from an old metal coffee can with a picture of a man and a donkey on the side, and dipped it into the container of black gooey stuff.
He picked up Baby Tender Love and began to smear this definitely NOT doll enhancing stuff all over her hip socket and detached leg, grabbing both ends of the doll and smashing them together.
He then took what looked like a big claw, and crushed BTL’s tender loving skin between it, and set the doll back down on the bench. I remember thinking, one, that looks like that hurt.
And, more importantly, two, how am I ever going to get that black goo off her leg?
My dad put the lid back on the goo container, hung the screw driver back on the wall hook, stuck the paint brush in some can of liquid and declared the surgery complete.
He told me to go and play while she dried, and he would bring her to me when she was ready.
I myself, was more than happy to leave that strange place, with or without BTL in tow.
Within a couple of hours my dad found me in the playroom upstairs engrossed in cutting the hair off of my only remaining untouched Barbie doll, and handed me Baby Tender Love saying she was all fixed up, just don’t move her leg.
The black goo had dried and left a tar like ring around her leg and hip area, meaning short dresses were definitely out from then on.
She also seemed to have suffered some type of paralysis. I was unable to bend her leg at all, which meant BTL was now down to one position, laying.
Well, it wasn’t the perfect scenario, but I wasn’t going to turn my back on her now that she had a disability.
Soon we both adjusted, and went on with our relationship trying to forget the traumatic events that took place that day.
Until it happened again about a week later.
Then again, and again.
My cries of despair became a regular occurrence in the house, and a means of ongoing frustration for my dad, and his permanently wrinkled brow.
Finally, my mom stepped in, on what I believe was HER last leg.
She suggested maybe it was time for Baby Tender Love to take a trip back to the manufacturer.
She helped me write a letter, biting her tongue to the things I think she would liked to have added, or so I gathered by the continuous mumbling under her breath.
Then we wrapped Beth up in newspaper, packed her in an old box, and sent her on her way.
After she departed, my mom had a talk with me about how Beth might look a little different upon her return (i.e. they would be sending a new doll).
I in turn, prepared my stuffed animals for the change, that night as I lay in bed.
I reassured them again every few nights, thereafter.
The days, weeks, and approximately 2 months that followed, must have driven my mother crazy, for all the times I asked her when Beth would be back.
In fact, she was probably longing for the simple days of detached limbs and crying bouts that made up her past.
Then one day it came: a box not unlike the one I sent, addressed to me.
Baby Tender Love was finally home, and I couldn’t open the box fast enough.
I’m sure you can imagine my surprise, after tearing through layers of newspaper, to find the same tar legged doll waiting for me at the bottom of the box.
An enclosed letter stated, although they were sorry for my dissatisfaction, they were unable to assist me at this time.
So much for my mom’s guilt theory. It looked like Baby Tender Love, her detachable leg, and I were stuck together, metaphorically, that is.
Eventually, I outgrew “Baby Tender Foot”, as my brother and sister teasingly renamed her, and she got packed away with the rest of my childhood memories.
I came across her in my attic in a box a couple of years ago. She was dressed in a one piece yellow sleeper that I had gotten for her at a neighbors rummage sale.
As I picked her up out of the box, her detached leg dangled freely inside the leg of the sleeper.
My heart sank, remembering the painful journey I had traveled with Baby Tender Foot.
I guess pain really was relative.
I gave her a quick hug, placed her back in the box , shut the lid, and quietly went down the stairs back into the garage.
As I walked toward the door to the house, I swiped a hammer off the workbench, then headed inside the house, past the kitchen, and straight for the glass container suspended from my bathroom wall.