As a child, I collected books. I had no money of my own, but my mother was a sucker for books, and though almost everything else from those log ago days have been lost, I still have some of the books I loved as a child.
I was born to collect, but lack of funds and a home of my own limited me until I hit my stride as a married, working adult. Armed with money, I could choose from an entire world of beautiful things. Although many collections have come and gone, three things have remained constant: the dolls of my girlhood, antique porcelain, and books.
I no longer collect. The shelves, walls, bookcases and every other place that might house a collectible is full. The “No Vacancy” sign has gone up on our lives. We are in the “cutting down,” not acquiring stage.
My favorite dolls — now a mere couple of hundred from who-knows-how-many — surround me. In every room, in hallways, on high shelves and in glass-fronted cabinets, dolls stand, smile and wave. At night, they whisper secrets about the things they’ve seen, places and people they’ve known. I wish I could hear them, but their voices are too soft. They speak amongst themselves, not for human ears.
I’ve held onto a modest, but satisfying collection of my antique Chinese porcelain too.
The dolls were born of my never-ending attempt to reconnect with something happy from a difficult childhood, but the porcelain grew from my love of history.
I wish my porcelain could talk because oh, the stories it could tell. When I hold a perfect 5,000 year-old pot, I imagine the lives that pot has touched. How many kitchens it has lived in, how many different things were stored in it.
I feel a little buzz when I hold the very oldest of my porcelain pieces –a painted vase from China’s neolithic period — and imagine the history to which it has been witness. It was made at a time when Europeans were still living in caves and wearing animal skins, yet the Chinese were making painted pots of fired river clay, pre-porcelain from the earliest human civilization. I have Han pot, a Tang horseman, vases and some bronze pieces that span thousands of years.
At night, when I take off my earrings, I drop it into a Qing dynasty Tongzhi/Guangxu late 19th century “Cabaret dish.” I have Eucalyptus branches in a Jun vase with a shiny black glaze that at first I couldn’t believe was real, but turned out to be genuine.
I have a set of Sui musicians, and although I know they have been repaired and are not entirely original (I would never have been able to afford them if they were perfect … they’d be in a museum, not on my mantel), I love them no less for their needing reconstruction. If I were 1,500 years old, I’d probably need a bit of reconstruction too.
These are a few of my favorite things, but my favorite of all favorites is Annabelle.
Annabelle was made for one year by Madame Alexander. The year was 1952 and for my 5th birthday, my mother gave me Annabelle. How I loved her. She slept with me. I talked to her. I dressed her each day and when her wig wore out, my mother sent her to a doll hospital and had her touched up, restrung and re-wigged. When I left for Israel, I still had Annabelle, the one and only surviving physical piece of my childhood. I didn’t want to take her with me, so I gave her to my best friend’s daughter … who has her still.
A few years ago I was lucky to find another Annabelle, one identical to the doll I’d gotten for my birthday. And she is still my favorite doll, my favorite almost-a-person.
She is my friend and I still talk to her.
There are dolls all over the house and everyone talks to them, the same way we talk to our dogs. We don’t expect them to answer, but they are very good listeners.
The pottery is elegantly arrayed in my living room, on the mantel, in display cases in the dining room and a few pieces in the bedroom. Dolls stand atop every bookcase, on shelves throughout the house. Several hundred pairs of eyes, watching me. I like it.