Editor Jenn Monroe of Extract(s) lit magazine asked me some very thought-provoking questions in today’s interview. Also, check out the excerpt from Doll God also published May 1 in Extract(s): http://dailydoseoflit.com/2015/05/01/excerpt-luanne-castle/
Tag Archives: dolls
After my oldest cat Mac died, there was no question of “replacing” him with another cat. He had a large and impressive personality and nobody will ever take his place. But I’ve been volunteering at a local no kill shelter for six months now, and since the first night I’ve wanted to make 8-year-old all-black Nakana part of our family.
The moment we “locked eyes,” it was love at first sight—at least on my part. Soon after I began to work with the cats in the cat roaming room, Nakana developed ringworm and had to be isolated. I don’t work with the cats in isolation because I don’t want to risk bringing home an illness to my elderly cats. For months she stayed in that room because she just couldn’t shake the ringworm. Apparently, stress makes the ringworm more difficult to eradicate.
After she recovered, she was taken to PetSmart, in hopes that she would be adopted. But there she sat for another couple of months! This was at least Nakana’s second time around at the shelter (after having been returned by someone). I started stopping by PetSmart to wave at Nakana. She would reach her paw toward me. One time I told a couple looking how I have worked with the cats at the shelter, and that Nakana has a marvelous disposition. You see, if I could find her a good home, I wasn’t going to keep her from being adopted just because I wanted her. She needed a home as soon as possible and I couldn’t bring her home with sick Mac taking up so much of my time and energy. The couple took one look at her and shrugged, turning toward the pretty light-colored and patterned kittens and cats.
After I adopted Nakana and brought her to see a vet at the shelter, the vet told me that she has had three black cats and they were her favorites, but that the reason Nakana wasn’t adopted before I took her was because “a lot of people don’t like black cats.”
WHAT?!! HOW CAN PEOPLE JUST NOT LIKE CATS BECAUSE OF THEIR COLOR?
Is this because of superstitions that exist in the United States about black cats? According to Wikipedia, black cats are good luck in Great Britain and in Japan.
By the way, superstitions about cats can be good or bad and can affect more than black cats. If you want to read a wonderful children’s book that tries to subvert superstition about cats (in this case, a white cat) read The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth.
Sorry for that tangent.
In America and much of Europe, superstitions about black cats tend to be negative. The Pilgrims brought this attitude to this continent. This is where the notion of the black cat as a witch’s familiar comes from and why some people believe black cats are bad luck, especially when they cross one’s path.
How silly is that? They are just like all other cats: in need of loving homes and families. Although all cats have different personalities, it is true that many cat people declare with certainty that orange cats are almost as outgoing and verbal as dogs and that black cats have independent, curious, and friendly natures. I would agree with this assessment! Not all, certainly, but many.
Because we grow so many wackos and because of these preposterous superstitions (which could put ideas in the mind of wackos), Halloween is seen as a dangerous time for black cats. While there is disagreement about just how dangerous, why not just be on the safe side and keep all black cats indoors and protected through the fall? My cats are strictly indoor anyway (for their own sakes and for the sake of the wildlife), but I am particularly careful around Halloween.
But is it true that some people just don’t like black cats? Shelters have a more difficult time finding homes for black cats. My son knew this and when he went to adopt a cat two years ago, he purposely took a black kitten he named Meesker.
Meesker is one of my three grandcats!
Mac was 17 ½ when he died. He was an orange and white tabby, with a true orange tabby personality. I found him in my yard all those years ago. Fifteen years ago I found another cat in my yard—a black and white tuxedo cat I named Pear Blossom. She is now my grand lady cat. She’s black, but unlike a black cat, she has white whiskers and almost perfect tuxedo markings. Then we found Felix, a brown tabby, in our same yard, and he became our third cat. Tiger is a calico with tabby markings—maybe a patched tabby would be more accurate? Not one of them is a solid black cat, but then I didn’t choose these cats. They chose me.
But I have had a black cat before. When I was a little girl, the cat across the street had kittens, and I whined and cried enough that I was allowed to pick out a little black kitten my mother named Toby. I hope Toby’s life eventually turned out better than it was at my house. He was afraid of so much. He was afraid to go outside. He was afraid to be any place except under my bed or hiding in the basement. And when my parents adopted my baby brother, my mother was afraid of having a cat in the house with a baby. She actually thought a cat might kill the baby!
TALK ABOUT SUPERSTITION!!!
So one day while I was at school, my parents took Toby to a farm to live out his life. And I never got to say goodbye to him. Then my father took me to an expensive toy store to pick out any toy I wanted. I had never picked out a toy I wanted before. In the midst of my tears over Toby, I selected an empty black patent leather Barbie case. And have felt guilty my whole life that I chose a toy to make my father feel better about stealing my cat.
CATS AND DOLLS. Is that all you can write about?
Now I have a black cat again. Nakana is not Toby. She’s not anything like Toby. In fact, Nakana is a mature, good-natured, curious, calm female cat. One that all those people choosing kittens over her missed out on.
I’m having a hard time taking new photos of Nakana because she keeps moving toward me to rub against me for petting. What a hardship ;).
CHECK OUT MY PINTEREST BOARD: BLACK CATS RULE!!!
Have you ever had a black cat?
My friend and professor Clare Goldfarb published a beautiful piece in Lilith that involves two of my favorite topics: memory and family history. If you recall, I reviewed her novel She Blinked here. You can read “Material Culture: The Samovar” here. I love how it focuses on an object to talk about family and history. Just gorgeous.
That would make a good writing prompt: write about a family heirloom.
I’m working on the Flash Essay course I’m taking right now, but in my research for essay #2, I found this interesting newspaper article from July 9, 1920. Look below the lake commerce article for that tiny article that begins “Seven Babies.”
When I first read this report, I took it at its word: that there were seven babies that had been killed or kidnaped. They even clarified in the headline, although they tried to disguise it. I can just hear the argument.
“You can’t leave it so readers think these were real babies.”
“But it makes for better newspaper sales!”
“Put Kewpies in the headline!”
Grumble grumble. I’ll put it in, but in a way that fast readers won’t pay attention and will still think it’s 7 dead babies.
Haha. Is that all this woman can write about: dolls, cats, and birds?!
Speaking as a doll collector, I can tell you that Kewpies are very popular collector items, and I think this stash of 1920 dolls would be a hit today with the right person. You can click through the following photo to the blogger who posted about her aunt’s kewpie collection a few years ago. It’s full of cute Kewpie photos, and, yes, you can find a real baby in the mix (though not in this exact photo)!
On Monday I mentioned that I would tell you about The Doll Empress who I met quite a few years ago. She must not be confused with The Doll Lady. I have changed her name here for reasons you will see when you read the following story.
I call her Bitzi because she did go by a cute nickname, but there was nothing Bitzi about her love for dolls.
The directions to her house were wrong—I knew that when she gave them to me, but she sounded fragile or confused enough that I thought I’d wing it and see if I could find her place myself. All I need is the address, I thought. I ended up driving back and forth on her rural street until I noticed a dirt road which seemed to disappear into the horizon. I figured I’d try driving down that path since she had mentioned a dirt road.
Sure enough it turned into a sort of primitive cul-de-sac, ending at a gray barn, flanked by houses, trailers, and outbuildings. She had told me to honk when I got there because her dog would greet me barking. So I did honk. The big piebald dog was there almost immediately, barking on schedule. I waited quite some time for her to appear, but I ended up honking again before she finally came out.
When she approached my car I realized why it took her so long. She was walking very, very slowly. Her face was remarkably unwrinkled for 75, her eyebrows jet black, and her gray hair unnaturally robust. It didn’t occur to me until later that her hair might be a wig.
Her greeting was taciturn at best. I followed her into the house, taking a last look for the moment at her property which I mentally labeled “hillbilly compound” (judge me kindly, please). The county dump was neater and less overrun by sad-looking objects.
We entered the house by the cluttered kitchen and through the dining room while I heard about her three cats and three husbands. Later I learned about her three religions. We entered the front room. The one main wall of the room had been outfitted with a wooden shelving unit, fronted by Plexiglas.
When I read about Bitzi in the local paper, the reporter described her place as a doll museum. Museums conjure up organized collections, patterns of objects, on shelves. But these shelves were hardly organized. Perhaps at one time she had tried to organize because I did see small groupings of Kewpies, of Barbies, of baby dolls; but at some point she must have given up re-arranging and had resorted to tucking dolls into cases somewhat randomly.
I had sought out Bitzi when I realized that my own doll collection had defined itself into specific types of dolls. I was here because Bitzi said she had a huge Red Riding Hood collection and was interested in selling some. She also claimed to have a lot of Korean dolls, something I really wanted to see.
My Red Riding Hood dolls
We leisurely strolled through the front room, admiring dolls along the way. I thought of it as a “front room” instead of a living room because surely no one could actually live in a room walled by pairs of staring eyes. Next, we entered a side room with doll cases, a bedroom walled with what she called “boys’ toys” (confiding that this was her 2nd husband’s collection), and then eventually back across the house to what must have been her own bedroom.
By this point it was obvious to me that the only living spaces in the house were the tiny kitchen and the bed. Her 3rd husband must have spent most of his time outside.
I felt uncomfortable pressed between the doll case and her partially-made bed. The room smelled musty–like bedding or clothes not washed often enough. Some of her dolls were beautiful, some in bad condition, and most from the 20th century. I realized we had spent at least an hour in her house, but I had not seen one sign of a Red Riding Hood or Korean doll. Still, I’d seen hundreds and hundreds of dolls and some pretty cool toy trucks and cars.
Was this it then? Maybe she was lonely, so had told me she had dolls she didn’t really own. We walked back outside, crossing the porch area in front. I counted six small refrigerators stacked on the porch, along with numerous other appliances, tools, and junk. A sweet-looking black and white cat followed us briefly, while a gray cat sat licking its hindquarters on top of one of the refrigerators.
We went around to the other side of the house to what Bitzi referred to as the sun porch. She started to stumble on the high steps as one foot slipped out of the men’s corduroy bedroom slippers she was wearing. Once inside she showed me how they had walled up the sun porch from the rest of the house because the cats kept coming in. The plywood was unadorned.
The sun porch was one long room with perhaps one small window, hardly a “porch” of any kind. Near the entrance she had a diorama of witches, fairies, and other woodland creatures, created by a man she described as a hermit who lives in the mountains near Idyllwild. She also had a few of his magnificent dolls which looked like Queen Elizabeth clones.
The same shelves as in the house lined the walls of the tunnel-like porch, floor to ceiling, and dolls overwhelmed the shelves. She had lots of Ginnys, little fashionable dolls from the 1950s with movable arms and legs. One unit was stacked with Ginnys in boxes from floor to ceiling. Who could be enjoying dolls which were stacked in dust-covered boxes? She explained that the boxes didn’t have windows. I guessed that meant that sunlight couldn’t damage the dolls or their outfits. Almost every Madame Alexander doll ever made was on display in this area.
Bitzi asked me some personal questions such as did I have a job, what does my husband do, and she apologized for being so nosy. She talked about her life and herself. A self-confessed OCD “beauty addict,” she admitted that she couldn’t be “allowed out of the house” or she would buy whatever she liked.
By now I’d been nervously checking my watch every so often because I had to pick my kids up for after-school activities. I’d been with Bitzi over two hours. Finally, we were at the end of the porch. I sighed with relief and followed her outside. The fresh air was good when I inhaled deeply. The porch air had been stale and dusty.
“Well, thank you so much,” I said.
Bitzi threw her arm out and spun it, vaguely pointing to the barn and all the other outbuildings, as she did so. “Aren’t you going to see the rest of my dolls? We haven’t gotten to the Red Riding Hoods and the Korean dolls yet.”
Well, dear readers, I moved swiftly through the barn for the next hour, eventually buying a couple of dolls from my childhood era. In one room of the barn, 19th century oak furniture pieces were crammed together and every drawer was overflowing with doll parts. In one dresser, each drawer held legs, arranged by size by drawer. Another chest held arms and another heads. If only I’d had an iPhone in those days–and the nerve to snap some shots!
By now I knew my kids would be beside themselves and I absolutely had to leave. I promised Bitzi I’d be back another day to see the dolls in the other buildings–and particularly the Red Riding Hoods and the Korean dolls.
But I never went back. I never wanted to go back.
Unlike Bitzi, I can say no to dolls. I can set a boundary and usually stick to it. But something about witnessing the results of her
passion obsession made me feel queasy. I want to always remember to know when enough is enough–of dolls and cats. Of anything. If I can’t say no to myself, how can I say no to anybody else when they ask for something unreasonable?
A few years later, Bitzi contacted me by letter, asking if I would be interested in buying parts of her collection as she was moving in with her children. I didn’t respond. I still feel like a heel about that.
More recently, I discovered that Bitzi was a famous doll collector. Her collection was eventually auctioned off by Theriault’s in 2008. Some of the dolls sold for thousands of dollars each. But what I saw that day at Bitzi’s was that she loved all the dolls equally: the $20 dolls and the $4,000 ones.
When I was in Michigan for my father’s funeral and to spend time with my mother, I organized the family photo albums and loose photos so that Mom could find her way in the basement. I took a couple albums home with me to digitize for her.
The first one I worked on is an album that my mother put together when she was 10 years old, so the photos are all from the 1940s.
I love to see that the kids had dolls. In this one, my aunt is holding her two Christmas dolls. This would be about 1946 or 47.
Here my mother and her siblings are with a couple of cousins. My mom is the tallest girl because she was the oldest of all the cousins. I don’t think my uncle is holding a doll. What IS that he’s got? A bow?
Given a little time, I can probably figure out what dolls most of these are. Surprisingly, none of them look like Shirley Temple dolls–and those would have been very popular.
In this last photo (actually there are a few more, but the dolls and stuffed animals aren’t as visible), my aunt (age 6) is sitting with Pat (age 7), one of their cousins. Pat is the larger girl. Pat has a very important surgery coming up next month. If you are a praying sort, please put her on your prayer list.
Notice the wagon handle off to the side, showing they are sitting in a little red wagon. And the leather sandals and saddles shoes with the stretched out saggy socks. Sometimes I think there was more in common between my childhood and my mother’s than between mine and my kids’!
I’m not sure if all the girl cousins loved dolls, but the ones in these pictures seem to have enjoyed them.
Do you have any old photos of family members with dolls? Over on Pinterest I have a board of photos (particularly vintage and antique) of children with dolls.
I don’t intend to natter on about dolls all the time, but on Thursday I think I will share with you a doll story you might find interesting. Actually it’s about The Doll Empress. You thought The Doll Lady overdid the dolls in her house? Hah, she is nothing compared with The Doll Empress.
The Doll Lady had a storefront business selling and repairing dolls, but a few years ago she moved her dolls into her house and closed her store. Now her living room is heavily populated with dolls and headless doll torsos. Even her kitchen has curio cabinets stocked with dolls.
Last September I dropped off my grandmother’s German Kestner doll for The Doll Lady to repair the holes in her kid (a type of leather) body where sawdust was coming out. She said she could re-set her wig, as well. That was, as I said, September.
I started getting anxious by February. I began to request to pick up my doll every couple of weeks, but The Doll Lady couldn’t seem to understand why I wanted her back now, finished or not. When my dad’s illness was diagnosed as terminal I became even more agitated that I might never get my doll back.
She had been my dad’s mother’s doll for decades–and my father gave her to me several years ago, as well as some clothing my grandmother had made for her. I’d admired her for much of my life, and it was thrilling to receive her, another link between my grandmother, my father, and me.
I wrote before about my grandmother’s doll and her beautiful clothes here. When I left her with The Doll Lady, I left her without clothing so that they wouldn’t get damaged. Finally, I was able to retrieve my doll on Sunday. Here she is with her new ringlets and same vintage steel hairpins. And the patches below her knees. What a beauty.
And here is the “reverse” view:
This doll is over 100 years ago. She might be from the 1890s.
As I waited in the living room of The Doll Lady for the paperwork to be completed I looking around and wondered how her husband enjoys living amongst all those dolls. I know that some people don’t even like to stay in my guest room where I keep my dolls because they don’t like all those eyes upon them. But how would it be to live right in the midst of the dolls?
Does her identity slip away or does she feel like a Doll God?
MaryGold’s adventures start today on my Facebook page and on Twitter! Remember to see where she went on her first adventure and jot down the information!
MaryGold with Isabella Rose
As I mentioned the other day, every Friday and every Tuesday I will post on my Facebook page and on Twitter a new adventure that MaryGold has taken (March 13, 17, 20, and 24). After four adventures, I will post a quiz on here on March 26 related to the adventures. The first three persons who email me the correct answer will each win a free signed copy of Doll God. My email is writersite.wordpress[at]gmail.com.
While you’re checking out Facebook and Twitter, feel free to “like” the page or “follow” writersitetweet, if you haven’t already. Also, I will watch for your Twitter follow and follow you back.
I held another contest for people who have already read Doll God. It was to tell me where MaryGold is found inside the pages of the book. That contest has a winner: retired librarian and book reviewer Melanie who blogs at Tea Leaves. She even wrote a review of Doll God,.
I am sending her a copy of James Arthur’s poetry collection Charms Against Lightning.
I thought it would be fun to let MaryGold off the shelf where she lives. She is going to participate in a little social media quiz fun.
MaryGold with Isabella Rose
If you don’t know who MaryGold is, she is the doll on the cover of my book. I held a vote here for her name.
Every Friday and every Tuesday I will post on my Facebook page and on Twitter a new adventure that MaryGold has taken (March 13, 17, 20, and 24). After four adventures, I will post a quiz on here on March 26 related to the adventures. The first three persons who email me the correct answer will each win a free signed copy of Doll God. My email is writersite.wordpress[at]gmail.com.
While you’re checking out Facebook and Twitter, feel free to “like” the page or “follow” writersitetweet, if you haven’t already. Also, I will watch for your Twitter follow and follow you back.
First adventure begins Friday, March 13!
If you already have a copy of Doll God, I have a different quiz for you. This one is easy peasy. Be the first person to email me the quiz answer at writersite.wordpress[at]gmail.com to win a copy of James Arthur’s poetry collection Charms Against Lightning.
Here’s the quiz question: MaryGold shows up in a poem in Doll God. Don’t think it’s THAT easy haha! She doesn’t go by the name MaryGold in the poem. But she is the doll on the cover of the book and is found in a poem. What is the name of the poem and what page is it on?
Please do not enter both contests. One or the other . . . .
I wish I could figure out a way to reblog Ellen Morris Prewitt’s beautifully written and heartfelt review of Doll God. But I could not figure it out.
The Press This function is supposed to pick up part of the post, but of course it only shares the link. But here it is: a story of Ellen, dolls, poetry, and Doll God.
CLICK THERE—->The Gift of Doll God – Ellen Morris Prewitt.
Thank you, Ellen!
Please check out Ellen’s fabulous writing, accessible by her website. Bonus: she’s hilarious–and you can see that even by the review quotes she posts: from an internet stranger and from her mother. That’s the kind of sneaky humor you get by reading and listening to Ellen’s stories.
Dad is chomping at the bit at the short-term care nursing home. He doesn’t like that they won’t let him move around by himself. I told him he’s like me–doesn’t want to follow institutional rules. He said that is true. Of course, it’s more than that. He’s in an extremely frustrating position. But I like to cheer him up by joking with him.
Nakana is my new favorite! She loves petting!