by Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson
In 1982, Cabbage Patch dolls were all the rage, and my daughters were not immune to it. They were very specific about hair color, gender and type. Melanie wanted a girl “preemie.” Maureen wanted a girl with red hair.
I thought the task would be simple, but getting to a store before the dolls were snapped up was daunting. Oh, I could find girl dolls with blond hair or brown hair, boy dolls, and even boy dolls with red hair. But the ones I was searching for were scarce as hen’s teeth.
Then Fred’s Dollar Store put an advertisement in The Bolivar Commercial stating a large new shipment of Cabbage Patch dolls would arrive shortly before Christmas. The store would open at 8:00 a.m. and not a minute before.
My mother and I decided to be there when the doors opened. Mama insisted that we get there early, so Daddy dropped us off in front of the store at 6:00 a.m. on a frosty December morning. The parking lot was already filling up with eager shoppers hoping to find the perfect doll for their own little angels.
Most of the early birds were waiting in their cars to avoid frostbite, but Mama and I came prepared. Layered and bundled, we got in line behind maybe thirty other brave souls and began the long wait. Daddy parked on the street and stared in amazement as the line snaked its way to the street and down the sidewalk.
During our cold vigil, Mama had spotted a red-haired doll propped in the window. She decided to go straight to it when we entered. “You can find Melanie’s preemie.”
At precisely 8:00 a.m., a terrified-looking Fred’s employee approached the door. His eyes grew wide, and he looked over his shoulder at his co-workers for support. At this point the crowd began to inch forward. When he finally unlocked the door, the crowd surged. Mama and I, with our arms locked together, were propelled through the opening as if by magic. Everyone tried to get through the doors as quickly as possible because many had their eyes on other dolls in the windows as well.
Mama won. She grabbed that box housing the precious red-haired doll, hugged it to her chest and immediately sat on the window ledge to wait out my quest. Mind you, I observed this out of the corner of my eye as I sprinted to the five-foot tower of dolls in the middle of the store two aisles in.
Apparently, Mama was more agile than I. By the time I reached the pyramid of dolls, it had disintegrated into a pile of bodies and boxes. I reached for a box --any box--and was shoved to the floor (literally) by a young woman screaming, “I got it! I got it!” As I struggled to get to my knees, another mother hit me from the other side. Down I went again. From my vantage point on the floor, I could see one lone box just inches from my face. I grabbed it as if it were a football and pulled it under me daring anyone to come near me. Finally! I had one of those stupid boxes in my possession.
The crowd moved away, apparently to another pyramid--they were strategically placed all over the store. I stood and looked inside the box. My heart sank as I stared at a brown-haired boy in overalls. At that point mothers and grandmothers (there were no men at this place--they all had more sense) began to yell, “I’ve got a blond girl; I need a blond boy” or “I’ve got a red-headed boy; I need a black-haired girl.” I jumped right in. I’ve got a brown-haired boy and I NEED A GIRL PREEMIE NOW!”
Standing not two feet from me was a young mother with two boxes in her arms. Briefly I wondered how she managed to get two of them when I almost got killed for the one I had. She turned, and I swear she had tears in her eyes when she looked directly at me and said, “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” That voice sounded familiar. She lunged toward me and thrust a box in my face. “Here’s a girl preemie. Give me that boy doll!” I didn’t even look at the box she shoved my way; I just grabbed it. Sure enough, it was the preemie.
I signaled to Mama to head to the nearest check out line. I needed air.
“Santa, my foot,” I replied as I dragged a brush through my hair and wiped dirt from the palms of my hands. “After what we’ve just been through, these dolls will NOT come from Santa Claus! I want my girls to KNOW what lengths Mama and I had to go to in order to get these darn dolls!”
By the way, that was the last time I succumbed to pressure from manufacturers to buy the “Number One” toy of the season.
Not me, Bubba. I learned my lesson.
Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson is a Mississippi Delta native. She now lives in North Carolina where she teaches English to eager young minds.
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