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 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