Old Reverend Freeman wasn’t one to pound the pulpit or scream and shout to bring sinners to repentance. No, he was the quiet, laid-back type who just told the old, old Story and let the Spirit do the bidding. I liked his style! That being the case, it was mighty quiet in the Sunday meetings when the Reverend spoke, and the slightest noise from any of us parishioners bellowed like a barnyard rooster at the crack of dawn.
The church-folk nicknamed me “Anna” on my 84th birthday. They said I was like the New Testament prophetess – old, widowed after seven years of marriage, and never missed church! My real name is Martha. I used to be “worried and upset about many things”, but over time the Good Lord has taught me to slow down, sit at Jesus’ feet, and choose “what is better”. I suppose rearing six children on my own was His good training ground for me.
Being the eldest in our congregation, I took it upon myself last Lord’s Day to take a little chick under my wing when her mother needed to retreat to their wagon to nurse her infant. Two-year old Lucy eagerly took her place beside me on the second row, brown curls bouncing. She knew the rule about being respectfully quiet while Reverend spoke, but that’s easier said than done for a toddler. When her dangling legs swung, the wooden bench creaked; when she slid down to pick up the song sheet, the floorboard groaned; when she climbed back up, her leather shoe hammered the seat ahead. Try as she might, the wiggles and squirms got the best of her. I tried settling the tot by placing my hand on her knee, then around her shoulders, to no avail. She crawled into my lap for a moment, then she was back on the bench squirming.
At last, I remembered what my mother had done to entertain me when I was a youngster. Reaching into my handbag, I retrieved my finest rose-embroidered handkerchief. Right away, Lucy gave me her full attention. I smoothed out one corner and tied a knot about an inch away from the tip of the fabric. Next, I tied an identical knot on the opposite side. With a strip of fabric from between my Bible pages, I made a loose ball, wrapped it in the center section of the hankie between the knotted corners, and tied it off with the satin pink ribbon from Lucy’s hair.
Lucy’s eyes became as round as gumballs when I produced a dainty doll. She cupped her chubby little hands, ready to receive her new toy. For the remainder of the church meeting, Lucy played quietly with her doll, until, at last, she drifted off to sleep in my arms, clutching her darling treasure.
From the pulpit, Reverend Freeman glanced our way and gave a smile of approval. He closed the service with the first verse of my favorite hymn: “Jesus, I am resting, resting / In the joy of what Thou art / I am finding out the greatness / Of Thy loving heart…”.
©March 2020 by Angela Free
PHOTO: The handkerchief this doll was made from was chosen by my daughter at an antique mall in Cambridge City, IN. We both loved the pink and yellow embroidered flowers, and thought they would make a perfectly lovely dress for the doll! This tiny baby sold on my Etsy shop to a customer who will be gifting it to a new baby girl!
Please visit my Etsy shop (link above) to see more handkerchief doll selections!
Father died of Tuberculosis when I was two. I don’t remember him, but I do remember the day Mother, Baby William and I moved into the tenement house in Philadelphia. It reeked of sewage. I was four years old.
Mother had done her best to provide for us, but the Fever took hold of her, confined her to bed, and swiftly swept her away to the Municipal Hospital. William was taken to the Orphan Society; I was put on a train with forty other children, not aware that I would soon be the foster child of a large farming family in southern Indiana.
In my last moments with Mother (just before the stern, grey-headed woman snatched me from her bedside), she whispered in my ear, “Look for me, my dear.”. Then she dabbed my tears with the corner of her little white handkerchief, letting the pink threads of the embroidered roses caress my cheek.
“Look for me, my dear. Look for me, my dear.” Rhythmically, Mother’s words chug-chugged in my mind as I crouched on the cold, dusty boxcar floor between a teenage street urchin and a sniffling 6-year old ragamuffin. Something about those words brought comfort, even though I didn’t know what they meant.
The family who chose me loved me. Mama Betsy, a jolly, plump woman, nestled me in like a barn cat does her kittens. Pop and the siblings were fun-loving, receiving me as one of their own. In the evenings, after the older children had finished their chores, Pop sat by the fire and played his mandolin while the rest of us munched on kettle-popped corn and hummed the joyful tunes. This was my life for three years, every night the same -- until a knock on the door changed everything.
There, just outside the threshold, stood a woman. Her eyes were bright, but she seemed uncertain. No one knew who she was…except me. Pop invited her in, motioning for her to warm herself by the fire. She complied, gratefully. My heart was thump-thumping, like locomotive wheels on steel tracks. I was eager, not afraid. Eager to reach out and touch the dainty doll that was pinned to the bosom of her pinafore.
Bravely, I walked toward her. Our eyes met. Mine diverted to the doll. Back to hers. To the doll again, but this time I fixated on the pink embroidered roses on the dolls dress. The room was silent, except for the crackle of the logs on the fire. Gingerly, she unpinned the trinket and handed it to me.
Gazing at this loveliness, I cradled the cloth baby in both hands, then leaned forward to kiss her. So soft. So sweet. Looking up at the woman, I beckoned her to come close. She knelt. With the corner of my little doll’s dress, I dabbed the woman’s tears, letting the rosy pink threads of the embroidery caress her cheek. I whispered in her ear, “Look for me, my dear. I’m here”.
PHOTO: This doll was made from a vintage handkerchief that I found at an antique mall in New Paris, Ohio. The cotton cloth is lightweight, soft and flowy! The tiny pink-embroidered roses all over the hankie are what captured my attention the most when my daughter suggested we buy it! This doll sold on my Etsy Shop to a friend who bought it as a gift to another friend!
©2020 by Angela Michelle Free
My birthday celebration started out fine and dandy – friends at the farm, Ma’s homemade chocolate ice-cream, and plenty of laughter. That is, until Pa had to rush me into town to see Doc Miller after jumping down from the barn loft and twisting my ankle.
Doc said I had a sprain. He wrapped my foot securely with a bandage, working his way up to just above my ankle. “Now, take it easy and don’t put any weight on that foot for three weeks,” he instructed. Then he retrieved a small wooden crutch from the back of his coat closet and handed it to me.
That night, everyone treated me like a queen! My six older brothers did my chores, Ma served me supper in bed, and Pa read from the family Bible until I drifted off to sleep. Our little house was warm and secure, all tucked in until morning.
When the sun rose, I hobbled to the kitchen table on my crutch, plopping myself down in the nearest chair. “What are we going to do today?” I asked Ma, who was stirring a kettle of oats in the Dutch oven. My mouth was watering for a taste of the silky porridge.
“Well, I was thinking we’d do something indoors since you can’t run and play. How would you like to see some special things from my hope chest?”
“That sounds like fun!” I replied.
After the breakfast dishes were cleared away, Pa and the boys headed to the fields to bale hay. Ma brought a stack of neatly folded linens from her trunk and placed them before me. “First, let’s sort them,” she suggested.
In the first pile, we placed two lace doilies that Ma’s ma had given her for her wedding. The next was a sky-blue table runner with yellow embroidered roses down the center. This, Ma said, had belonged to her sister before she passed away from cholera. There was one large patchwork quilt and two smaller ones that Ma had made before she met Pa.
We continued to sort the items. There was an apron, four cross-stitched pillowcases, a few knitted dish towels, and a dainty handkerchief doll with violets on her dress and a matching satin ribbon around her neck. “Oh, Ma! Where did you get this?” I exclaimed.
“That, my dear, was given to me by your pa when you were born – in celebration of finally getting a baby girl! It used to be a handkerchie—“
“It’s lovely,” I interrupted. “Did Pa make it?”
“He sure did! All by himself!
I gazed at the treasure, speechless.
“And someday,” Ma continued, “When you marry and have a daughter, I will pass it on to you.”
For the weeks following, while my ankle healed, Ma let me play with the little hankie doll. She said I could get it out any time I wanted, and then we would tuck it away again for another baby girl, in another time and place!
©2020 by Angela Free
PHOTO: The soft violet flowers on this little handkerchief doll's dress make her just perfect for springtime, which is right around the corner! Wouldn't you love to know the history of this beautiful handkerchief -- who carried it and what the occasion was? May this little doll and her story bring a smile to someone's face as she travels to her new home in South Carolina!
To view more vintage handkerchief dolls, please visit my Etsy shop (link above). Thank you!
“Who’s that for?”
I stood on my tiptoes to peer over the counter to look at the basket of goodies that Ma was packing. Ma smiled down at me, and replied, “This is for Grandma. She’s not feeling well. I pray it’s nothing serious”.
I climbed onto a chair to help Ma prepare the basket, but she lifted me off and set me on the floor.
“Now, Mary, Grandma is sick. I don’t think it would be wise to have you and Sarah around her today.”
My heart sank. Visiting Grandma was always a treat. I glanced over at my baby sister, Sarah, with dismay. She was too little to get sick, but at the age of six, I considered myself old enough for anything! I climbed back onto the chair and started to argue with Ma, but she set me back down and looked me in the eyes.
“Mary, I’ve made my decision. Grandma wouldn’t want you to get sick, either. Now run along to your room.” Her voice told me not to protest, so with a small sigh, I headed to my room.
A few minutes later, it was time for Ma to go. I stepped out the door with her and as she knelt to say goodbye, I pressed a small object into her basket. “This is for Grandma.”
Ma lifted the object out of her basket. A smile lit up her face as she stared at the small doll. She recognized the dainty flowered handkerchief that Grandma had passed on to her, and that she had passed on to me.
“Where did you learn to make a doll from a handkerchief?” Ma asked me, as she smoothed the doll’s dress.
I smiled. “Grandma taught me when I was sick”, I said, simply.
©2020 by LEAHZ
PHOTO: I especially loved the teal on this handkerchief doll. She was a special gift to a little girl who had a hospital visit one day. Receiving it brought comfort and joy to her heart!
I was seven years old in the winter of 1859, but I remember it like it was yesterday. This was to be our first Christmas on our new homestead. Papa had taken us across the land to settle in Kansas. What had seemed like an exciting adventure at the time had gradually turned into a burden. The approach of winter made matters increasingly worse. The small fireplace couldn't keep out the chill from the drafty walls or boarded-up windows. We couldn't afford a stove, so the baking had to be done over our fire. We couldn't even afford new clothing, so Mama worked fervently day and night to patch up our garments. She even transformed old, torn dresses into warm, beautiful quilts! If there was something we needed, she figured out a way to make it.
Christmas arrived, and my little sister and I woke early. Despite the chill in the air, we hopped out of bed and ran to Papa and Mama. We woke them by hugging them and yelling merrily, laughing the whole time. Jumping off their bed, we ran to look at the tree. We stopped suddenly and became still. There were no brown paper-wrapped packages this year. No candy or fruit in the stockings. My little sister started crying. I took a deep breath and turned around. For the first time I understood that we had no money for gifts, and I was ashamed that I had expected so much from them. I put on my best happy-face and gave Mama a huge hug. I wished her a happy Christmas and gave her another smile.
Mama and Papa called my sister over, who was still crying. They knelt, and Mama reached into her dress pocket. Although they couldn't afford to buy gifts, she explained, she had made something. She handed us two small dolls. My doll had a sunflower-yellow dress with lace trim, made from a small handkerchief. I recognized it as one of Mama's favorite hankies. My little sister laughed happily and ran off to play with her doll, but tears filled my eyes. I understood that the real gift wasn't the doll; it was Mama, who stayed up throughout the day and night to care for us, to sacrifice her own wants for her family. I was most thankful for her and Papa this Christmas, and the doll was a constant reminder of this.
©2020 by LEAHZ
PHOTO: A friend/co-worker purchased this "sunflower girl" to give as a gift to one of her friends who loves the color yellow! The dainty lace-trimmed handkerchief made the doll absolutely irresistible, adding a bit of sunshine on an otherwise overcast wintry day!
If you love these little dolls and their special stories, please leave a comment and share with others on your social media platforms! Thank you! Angela
“Eight times eight is sixty-four; eight times nine is seventy-two; eight times ten is eighty-one.”
With satisfaction, I finished my arithmetic recitations and sat back down on the wooden school bench. Truth told, I had been reciting my times tables by rote since last year, getting them right one-hundred percent of the time. Today’s competition was no exception. Instead of engaging my mind, I let it wonder to distant lands where I hoped to travel one day, or to our family’s ripened apple groves where we harvested and played. This time, however, my thoughts were set on the award for the “Young Ladies Annual Arithmetic Competition”: a delicately stitched, powder-pink handkerchief! For the longest time, I had yearned for a pretty hankie, one that proved I was now a lady and could be trusted not to lose or soil it. Mama said I still had some maturing to do, but I was out to prove her wrong.
“Incorrect.” The word, spoken by Miss Hensen, struck me unexpectedly…painfully -- like a forgotten Ambrosia thrusting itself down from the tree to take revenge. “The answer is ‘eighty’. Eight times ten is eighty, not eighty-one, Emma Elizabeth. I’m sorry. The prize goes to Anna Clemmons.”
Anna stood, walked to the front and claimed her reward. Even though she was my best friend in the whole world, my eyes still welled with tears. I had failed again, proving that I was not yet the lady I wanted to be. Still, I was happy for Anna, so I blinked away the sadness, offering her the smile she deserved as she passed by to return to her desk. I could never hurt Anna’s feelings by showing my disappointment; praise was all I would give her on her special day.
When Miss Hensen dismissed school, I rushed to Anna’s side to congratulate her. She held out her new handkerchief and we both admired it. On our walk home, we reminisced about the many weeks of study we had spent preparing for the competition. We even missed our last warm day for wading in the creek, we were so busy.
The next day was Saturday. Just before the noon meal, Anna rode up to our cabin door on Scout, her young Morgan, a basket strapped to his saddle. “Wanna go on a picnic? I’ve got the food all ready,” Anna asked, patting the picnic basket.
“I’d love to! Let me check with Mama.” Off I dashed into the house.
Mama was agreeable. “Don’t forget your shawl,” she hollered, as I ran back out the door.
We rode on horseback to the lake, spread our blanket on the grass, and unpacked the lunch. After we thanked the Lord, Anna reached into the basket and lifted out a delicate cloth doll made from the handkerchief she had won the day before. “I couldn’t have won this without you, Emma.” She placed the handkerchief doll in my lap. “Thank you for helping me learn my arithmetic facts, and for being the best friend ever!
©2020 by Angela Free
PHOTO: This little darling doll measures approximately 7.5" in height. The intricate stitching throughout her pink dress gives her a delicate, feminine look. I gave this doll as a gift to a friend who was in the hospital after surgery. She was very blessed! Please visit my Etsy shop for more handkerchief doll selections (link above)!
I wanted to give my older sister a special gift this year. Her tenth birthday was nearing quickly, and I knew we had to make it a special day. We were the closest in age in the family, being only one year apart, but we were also the closest in spirit. Our little brother and sister were nice, but my sister and I shared a special bond that no one could understand, nor break.
Pa had just settled new land out West, and our homestead was still being built. The process was slow, since most of us were still too small to help Pa much. He didn't mind, though. He was a hard worker, and we yelled encouragement and brought water to him, as we watched him place each log securely in place with his strong arms. The cabin was coming together nicely, but there was still much work to be done.
I had asked Pa for money to buy my sister a gift, but he shook his head. He was saving his extra money to buy windows for the cabin, he told me, so we would be safe from anything that may try to get in. He said that we needed to make this birthday special without money.
My sister's birthday arrived, and she was brimming with excitement. Pa had made a small cake for us, and a fresh loaf of bread with cheese to enjoy. He also gave her two small wooden dogs, carved on a piece of oak. My sister laughed and played with her new treasures.
I reached into my pocket and presented her with a gift of my own. She grew quiet as she looked at the small object in my hands. Tears filled her eyes as she reached out and took the gift. It was a small doll, made from a handkerchief. A simple gift: a gift that I had made that very morning. She turned the doll around gently in her hands. Upon the doll's dress was embroidered a lacy red and white border -- Mama's handiwork. Mama had given me this hanky the year she passed away of the fever, for my own birthday. The handkerchief held many memories for us; from sitting on Mama's lap by the fire and watching her embroider onto the plain hanky, to crying together into it at her funeral. My sister thanked me for the gift in a whisper and tucked it safely into her pocket. We smiled at each other, and Pa gave us a hug. We all knew that when we saw the doll, memories of our time with Mama would follow, and it would be like having a little bit of her back with us.
©2020 by LEAHZ
PHOTO: What makes this doll especially lovely is the wide red and white embroidered border around the otherwise ordinary white cloth handkerchief. I imagine that it took some lady many, many hours to complete this detailed work; she did such a professional job! And all these years later, it still holds up to perfection! This doll sold on Facebook Marketplace as a special Valentine gift to someone's loved one!
Pa was a dreamer, brimming with ambition and determination. He had his sights set on the prairies of Kansas – Indian Territory – where the land stretched on and on for what seemed like an eternity. He wanted to travel far, far away from the crowded eastern border to a more vast land where he felt free…unrestrained.
On the morning of our departure, my five sisters and I gathered our few belongings, tied the strings of our sunbonnets under our chins, and climbed up into the back of the family’s horse-drawn wagon. I (and my twin sister) being the eldest, felt a churning pain in the pit of my stomach…or was it in my heart? This was our last good-bye to Great- Grandmother and dear Aunt Lois who had cared for us girls since the passing of our mother after the birth of our youngest sister Annabelle, who was now only three years old.
For the sake of the three middle sisters, I held back my tears. After all, being five, six, and seven years old, they were obviously quite excited about this new adventure, bouncing about in the wagon bed and giggling as if hiding secrets from the rest of us. I and my twin sister, however, clutched each other’s hand tightly, waiting nervously for Great-Grandmother and Auntie to approach the wagon one last time.
Grandmother was too dear to me; I could barely look into her soft blue eyes, knowing it would be the last time ever. Sweetly (yet strongly), she reached out and put her wrinkled hand on top of mine and Lizzie’s. She didn’t say a word. She didn’t need to. Instead, she pried our hands apart, turned them palm-up, and placed into each of them a little white doll wearing a yellow satin ribbon. We both stared at Grandmother’s handiwork. How many times had we girls traced our grubby fingers over those spanking white handkerchiefs, outlining the goldenrod bows and bouquets of pink and blue flowers? Never once did Grandmother scold us; she just started in with her stories of Great-Grandfather and how he romanced her over the years with six lovely handkerchiefs, saying, “One day, Catherine, you’ll have six great-granddaughters to hand these down to”.
I wondered that day, as we sisters bumped up and down in the wagon with our hankie dolls cradled in our palms, how Great-Grandfather (who we’d never met) could have known we would be born. Some things will always be a mystery, I suppose. Yes, that’s where we were headed that day – to a land of mystery -- the unknown – holding, close to our hearts, Great-Grandmother’s love…and Great-Grandfather’s, too!
©February 2020 by Angela Michelle Free
Photo: I made these dolls from the hankies that a co-worker brought to me. She plans to give them to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren as heirloom gifts!
It was a cold, lifeless day in the winter of 1865. The snow was falling in glistening hills of white outside our cabin window. Mother was sitting by the fire, working on one of her many projects. She sighed as I paced past her for what must have seemed like the hundredth time. I was only seven years old, after all, and there wasn’t much to do when we were snowed in the cabin.
Mother sighed again as I approached her, and she covered her craft with her arms. I asked what she was making, but instead of answering, she asked me to take care of the supper dishes. I obliged, grateful for something to do, despite how much I disliked scrubbing dishes.
Just as I finished my chore, Mother stepped into the kitchen with a smile on her tired face. She told me to come over to her, and I did. From behind her thick skirt, she presented me with a small gift – a doll made from her finest Sunday handkerchief! With delicately embroidered flowers around the hem of the doll’s dress, and a dainty lace bonnet about her head, she was absolutely perfect. I gave Mother a hug and ran off to play with my new doll.
For many long winters, the doll brought comfort and entertainment to me, but most of all it brought memories of my dear Mother, working day and night, endlessly, to care for the family, but never forgetting the joy found in a simple child’s toy.
Copyright February 2020 by APZ
PHOTO: This doll was made from a vintage handkerchief that I found at a nearby antique mall. It was a favorite and is now SOLD!
My daughter "LEAHZ" and I write these short heirloom doll stories. The idea came from my daughter when, one day, she told me that I should use my creative writing skills to write a unique, one-page historical fiction story for each handkerchief doll. And, so, we joined up together and started writing! We hope you enjoy these sweet little tales! Angela Free