A Bird Named Freedom and Victory Gardens

When I was six or seven, my dad took my sister, Anya, and I into the city for the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. We couldn't find any parking spots, so my father decided to turn this car around! and drive us home to Scarsdale. To cheer us up, my parents decided to give us our Hanukkah gifts early that year. I remember it like it was twenty years ago: I think we were sitting in our living room, and I think Anya and I were playing a game, and I think it was maybe snowing outside but it might not have been. What I do remember, though, is the shriek of glee that rang through the house when our mom and dad handed each of us a box, an American Girl doll resting peacefully inside. I got Addy Walker, who came dressed in a pink and white stripped frock, a straw bonnet and a cowrie shell necklace. Addy was a slave during the Civil War, and her story moved me to tears when I was little--I think the first scene in her first book is of an overseer forcing her to eat a handful of worms. Her family was split up when her father and brothers were sold off, if I can recall, and she and her mom escape to Philadelphia, where her mom finds work as a seamstress and where Addy comes of age. I learned a lot from her story: that the Civil War ended on April 9th, 1865 (Addy's adopted birth date) and that the North wasn't the beacon of acceptance that I had assumed it was. But most importantly, she had killer accessories. I somehow managed to trick my parents into buying me her bed

and nightgown

and this really little (faux) iron bird cage with a little yellow bird in it that currently birds on my bookcase, and which seems to have been discontinued. I sort of remember the bird belonged to Addy's blind neighbor and that it was maybe named Freedom, which is a really great name for a bird and a powerful but sorta obvious symbol for slavery.

Anya was gifted Molly McIntire, and everyone thought that was funny because of my name and because the doll looked like this

and that's pretty much how I looked until I was thirteen. Molly was a midwestern WWII girl. Her dad was off fighting and her mom was raising Molly and her two siblings alone. I learned pretty much everything I know about that era from her books. What does that mean? Well, it means we need to talk about public education!, but it also means that those books were incredibly well written and made learning about history really fun. How else could a little girl become obsessed with Victory Gardens and war bonds and rationing? Black out curtains? British kids taking refuge in America? Molly's summer camp's Color War was a retelling of D-Day. Yep, it was just that good. I couldn't get enough of her. There are other things I remember about Molly's stories--she wore a hula skirt for Halloween, and pinned her hair into curls for a tap dance performance, and she hated turnips. Her mother made her eat oatmeal on a cold day because it would stick to her ribs. She got a question wrong on a multiplication quiz, which is the only reason I can ever remember that 7 x 8 = 56. (I mean, we need to talk about public education.) But mostly I remember reading the books at night with my parents, and having really special and interesting conversations while turning the pages.

Anya got a ton of accessories for Molly, too, but she was a little older and I don't think she played with her much. (Honestly, I didn't play with Addy much, either. Sorry, parents.) Addy and Molly are now tucked into their beds (Molly's was discontinued, it seems) in my parents' attic which you are not allowed to go in, it's so messy, please don't go up there, we're verra verra embarrassed. Their accessories are strewn about and neither doll was ever really hugged or brought out very often; we should be ashamed. That is not how you treat former slaves and children of war. And now Molly is off to the my parents' attic in the sky, and girls (and boys! gender studies!) will never get to experience the magic of tin can drives and the Red Cross in quite the same way.

Goodbye, Molly! Thanks for the life lessons!