Two Women and a Doll

If you’ve read my profile on WordPress, you already know that I grew up way, way back in the sticks (In my younger days, sticks was synonymous with woods.) about as far as one could get without falling off the edge of the Earth. I was backward, shy, and ignorant in the ways of the world. All I had knowledge of was my family, our farm/ranch, and the few—three or four, I think—neighbors who were within a walking distance of a couple of miles. Our closest neighbors were Effie and Thell Shaw. They lived up the main road a piece in a ramshackle house in worse shape than the one my family lived in. At the time, I had little to no knowledge of indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and other modern conveniences, so to me, their four-room house that had probably seen its last coat of paint in the Stone Age, was a nice place to visit. Why, they actually had a TV, something my family didn’t acquire until I was nine years old.

But their TV wasn’t the main attraction for me; it was Effie, a nice elderly woman who was either a full-blood Cherokee or close to it. She and Thell sort of adopted my siblings and me as honorary grandkids. She took my sister and me fishing on at least one occasion, digging the fat red worms we baited our hooks with from the dirt right outside her kitchen window where she pitched out her soupy-looking dishwater. Lord, I still remember the taste of the homemade biscuits and sweet onions she brought along for our dinner—lunch to y’all who happen to live up north—on our fishing trip. And her ice cream, also homemade. Pineapple was my favorite, and to this day, when I buy a malt or shake, nine times out of ten, you can bet your butt it’ll be pineapple.

But what I remember most were her dolls, lined up all nice and prim on top of a free-standing cabinet in her kitchen. My favorite was an Aunt Jemima doll that, if memory serves me correctly, was about a foot tall. All decked out in her red-and white checked gingham dress, white apron and kerchief, that doll was beautiful to me. I loved that doll. I adored that doll. And if I washed my hands, Effie would let me hold her for a while. Lord, did I ever covet that doll.

Now on to another set of neighbors: Mr. and Mrs. Little. They were black. In fact, until I started school, I think they were the only black people I recall seeing.

They lived on a farm a tad bit farther along the dirt road that ran in front of our house. Every so often, Mrs. Little would stop on her walk to the mailbox, which was located on the main road–also dirt–that was a little past our house in the other direction, to visit with Mama.

Now remember here that I was a terribly shy, skittish child. I did well to speak to my immediate family, let alone someone I barely knew. So, when Mrs. Little dropped in occasionally, I literally hid behind Mama. I can remember Mrs. Little telling me in a gentle voice that she wasn’t going to hurt me, but I was sort of scared of her just the same. But I was that way with everyone, not just her, so please don’t mistake my reticence for bigotry. Why, at that time in my life, I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

Mrs. Little is only a whisper of a memory; she came into my life and left before the Aunt Jemima doll. She and Mr. Little sold their place to my parents and moved away before I’d so much as set foot inside a schoolroom—a horror story I’ll save for another time. When I got a little older and a little wiser and looked back on my childhood, I wondered sometimes if the Aunt Jemima doll was a stand-in for Mrs. Little. I wondered if my abiding love of it was my way of saying I was sorry I hadn’t talked to her. If I could go back and change things, I would. But I can’t. And I hope wherever Mrs. Little is, wherever her Lord took her, that she still looks down on me with kindness and understanding, like she always did.

Now on to another chapter in the Aunt Jemima saga…

After years of being a stay-at-home wife and mother, I went to work for Walmart in the crafts and fabric department. One day, a customer came into my area looking for gold hoops, which luckily, we had in supply. Out of curiosity, I asked what she was going to use the hoops for. Earrings, she answered, for—you guessed it—an Aunt Jemima doll. Then she went into detail about how she made the dolls. The base was a tomato cage that supported the full dress-tail; and attached on top of this, the torso and head, stitched in brown fabric from a pattern and stuffed with poly-fil. She painted on the face, tied a white kerchief above the features, and glued the gold hoops on the tiny, delicate ears. She went on to inform me that each doll was made to order; the customer picked out the color of the checkered gingham dress, the color of the apron and kerchief.

At that time in my life, money was tight, but I had to have one, cost be damned. 

I chose red-and-white gingham for the dress, white apron and kerchief—just like the doll that had sat in Effie Shaw’s kitchen. I picked up my doll at the woman’s shop a couple of weeks later. brought her home, and placed her in a prominent place in my kitchen: against the wall adorned with family pictures. And there she stood, all of three feet tall, beautiful and proud. I named her “Mima.”

Mima was already living with me and Husband #1 when our first grandson was born. He grew into a toddler well acquainted with Mima. She had always been there, just like Granny and Ga’Pa.

One day, for some reason, my husband was talking about his own mother to our small grandson. Husband told him that his mama (husband’s mother) lived in town. Grandson said she didn’t. Husband said she did. Exasperated, Grandson said, “No, Ga’Pa, she lives here.” Then he ran into the kitchen and pointed at Mima. “Here’s your mama.”

Needless to say, husband and I had a good laugh. All the time we’d been calling my doll “Mima,” our grandson had been hearing “mama.” To this day, that memory still brings a smile to my face.

Mima stood guard in my kitchen for many years, first in the home belonging to me and Husband #1, until his untimely death, then, later in the dining room of my present husband’s and my house, which happens to be in the city. A few months after the move, I carefully wrapped Mima and stored her away. My reason? I have neighbors and friends who happen to be black, and I did not wish to offend them in any way.

But I never looked upon Mima as a degradation of being black. Lord, I loved that doll and still do. To me, when I looked at her, I looked at my childhood, a time of innocence, a time before the ugliness of the world elbowed its way into my life.

I miss Mima. Sometimes I think about taking her out of the darkness in which she now abides and letting the light shine on her beautiful face once more.

I think about it, but that’s all I do.

©2021 KT Workman


(Note: I know some who read this may think I was/am racist for loving a doll that to some, represents a racial stereotype; nothing could be farther from the truth. I was just a backward, little, country girl fascinated with a doll, and as an adult, associated that doll with two kind women and my childhood.)


Image by 13082 from Pixabay

Snow Ice Cream

Snow ice cream served up in a bowl (one of two) that Mama gave me when my first husband and I married many, many years ago—along with a few other needed odds and ends we didn’t receive at our wedding shower. The bowls are special, antiques at least as old as I am; but what makes them even more special is that they had belonged to my mama, that I had eaten out of them when I was a kid.

Last week, for the first time in several years, we received enough snow—around five inches—that I could scrape up (from my vehicle’s hood) clean, fresh snow and whip up a batch of snow ice cream. I have to say, it was almost as good as my mama used to make.

The simple treat took me back to winters spent in that weathered, drafty house filled with kids and love. Mama cooking on the wood stove, Daddy out tending the cattle, Granny Tucker sitting in front of the fireplace in an old, wooden rocker as close as she could get without scorching her legs. My brother, sister, and I out playing, having snowball fights, skating in our shoes on the frozen-over branch, our half-ass attempts to build a snowman. The time my brother fell on the ice and hit his head so hard the ice cracked. Seems like I recall him lying there for a bit before getting up. The time he threw a snowball at me with a rock packed inside and cracked the front door. I guess I’m lucky he missed me. The seemingly endless days we were out of school around Christmas break because the buses couldn’t run the rural routes.

The snow is gone now, though because of the unusual cold snap that arrived with it, hung around for a few days. When I looked out on all that snow, my mind traveled back to those times, long gone but never, ever forgotten. Yes, our house was old with cracks between the boards you could have slung the proverbial cat through. Yes, by today’s standards, we would have been considered poor. But you know, I never felt poor. I had a roof over my head, a warm fire—though you had to be practically on top of it to feel its heat—clothes to wear, good food in my belly, and loving parents. In all the things that really matter, I was rich.

©️2021 KT Workman

I Was So Much Younger Then…

I’ve had a song stuck in my head, on endless loop, since it popped up on my playlist during my afternoon walk yesterday. That song is “My Back Pages,” written by Bob Dylan, sang by The Byrds. Dylan recorded it first in 1964 on his album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, but it’s The Byrds’ rendition released in 1967 that I’m most familiar with. And like the best. Dylan was a hell of a poet-songwriter, a master wordsmith, but his singing left something to be desired—in my opinion.

The reoccurring line “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” in “My Back Pages” brings to mind something my daddy told me long ago, something to the effect that the older he gets, the less he knows. When I was a young adult, I didn’t get the meaning of his words, even though at the time, I thought I knew everything. As I grew older, though, I understood that as one matures, one becomes aware there’s so much they don’t know, and what one thought they knew, was often wrong, assumptions based on missing or faulty information. And along with the understanding, realized that in our youth, most of us believe “…lies that life is black and white…” (another line from the song). That’s when I began to think for myself.

The song also got me thinking about the current state of pop music—and I include country because it has devolved into pop. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there’s still good singers and songs out there, they’re just few and far between. Think Maggie Rose and Ryan Bingham, two artists who I think are highly underrated unless you like your music to all sound the same.

60s and 70s music has soul. And to a lesser extent, so do the offerings from the 80s and 90s. But somewhere around the turn of the century, music lost its way, began to sound canned, so to speak, as if it all came out of the same place. Nowhere is the difference more apparent than songs with a message; here, the disparity is quite clear. Let’s compare the lyrics of “My Back Pages” with Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down”—

"My Back Pages"

Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I
Proud ‘neath heated brow
Ah,but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
Rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

Girls’ faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke their word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

"You Need To Calm Down"

You are somebody that I don’t know
But you’re taking shots at me like it’s Patrón
And I’m just like, “Damn!

It’s 7 AM”
Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out
But you say it in a tweet, that’s a cop-out
And I’m just like, “Hey!

Are you OK?”

And I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression
But I’ve learned the lesson that stressing and obsessing
‘Bout somebody else is no fun
And snakes and stones never broke my bones

So, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to calm down
You’re being too loud
And I’m just like

“Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to just stop
Like, can you just not step on my gown?
You need to calm down”

You are somebody that we don’t know
But you’re coming at my friends like a missile
Why are you mad
When you could be GLAAD?

(You could be GLAAD)

Sunshine on the street at the parade
But you would rather be in the dark ages
Just making that sign
Must’ve taken all night

You just need to take several seats
And then try to restore the peace
And control your urges to scream
About all the people you hate
‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay

So, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to calm down
You’re being too loud
And I’m just like

“Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to just stop
Like, can you just not step on his gown
You need to calm down”

And we see you over there on the Internet
Comparing all the girls who are killing it
But we figured you out
We all know now
We all got crowns
You need to calm down

Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to calm down

(You need to calm down)
You’re being too loud

(You’re being too loud)
And I’m just like

“Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!
You need to just stop

(Can you stop?)
Like can you just not step on our gowns
You need to calm down

“My Back Pages” reads like poetry written by a thinking adult while “You Need to Calm Down” sounds like a child’s scribbles. I’m not running down Taylor Swift, she’s preaching to the choir; she’s a savvy businesswoman, knows what her fans want to hear. But tell me this—which song will pass the test of time? (Hint, one already has.)
What has happened to originality? What has happened to heart and soul? Where the hell has it gone? And what has happened to our youth that they accept this pablum? Why don’t they demand more from their songwriters/storytellers/singers?

Or is it just that, like the generations before me, I think everything was better in The Good Old Days of my youth? Hmmm…

Naw, the music sucks.

©️2020 KT Workman

This version contains the two verses not included in the Byrds’ cover: