Thwarting the would-be attack of the Christmas Beckys

Looking back objectively, I can see I was a pretty cute kid. I was a little on the fat side, but instead of making me appear blob-like or shapeless, it gave me a pleasant roundness – a chubbiness most called “baby fat.” I had (and still have) pale skin and dark brown eyes. My hair, back then was an unruly mass of tight corkscrew curls. Some compared my hair to Shirley Temple’s, but that was too kind. My hair looked like a mop, or a nest, or a ball of yarn that the cat had got to.

One of my chief complaints involved that very feature. I would run to my parents and yell, through tears, “They’re boinging my curls!” This particular offense involved any or all of my five siblings grabbing my curls, stretching them to their full length, and letting them go as they said “Boing!” I’m sure it didn’t hurt, but I found it distressing. How my parents didn’t laugh in the face of my anguish is beyond me.

To get the full picture of my looks at 5 years old, you should also know that my “smile” consisted of pulling my lips in and widening my mouth at the corners. It made me look like a frog. I have my kindergarten picture to prove it.

And here’s the point: For many Christmases and birthdays, people felt the uncontrollable urge to buy me china dolls that looked like me. These dolls had pleasantly chubby faces; they had tight dark curls and big brown eyes. Their cheeks were pale, with a touch of rouge, as if the dolls had just come in from playing in the cold. They wore various outfits, including Victorian dresses, Christmas frocks, lacy pajamas and fur-trimmed capes. Some wore chic little hats, and others carried accessories like parasols or handwarmers. Each of the dolls came with a wooden base attached to a dowel, which would be shoved up the back of the doll’s clothing to make her stand. Posed in this way, a new doll could be added to the collection of porcelain “Beckys” on my dresser, where she could stare at me with her lifeless, glassy eyes.

The gift-giver loved to ask me to stand next to my new doll. He or she would then make “awe” noises and call it or me or us together “darling.”

To be completely truthful, at first, I liked it. In a family of six kids, I didn’t get a ton of individual attention. So I liked the doting. As a chubby kid who mostly wore hand-me-downs, and with a bunch of only-child friends who were always decked out in the latest “Full House” inspired trends, I didn’t feel pretty very often. So when someone gave me a cherub-faced doll and said it looked like me, I blushed to match my new acquisition, tickled by the comparison.

And then I got a little older.

And the army of china “Me” dolls grew.

And I got creeped out.

Like any leader of a large group, I began to worry. What if they became discontented? Resentful that they were bought only because they looked like me, and not for any of their individual qualities? What if they staged a coup? What if they wriggled off of their dowels, flexed their chubby fingers, did a few knee bends, and jumped down from their display? What if I awoke in the night to them crawling up my bedspread? What if they just threw themselves down, kamikaze-style, on top of my sleeping form?

I shared a room with my older sister, Kristin. Could I wake her in time? Would she save me? Did she like me enough at that point in our lives to save me? No one bought my sister “Kristin” dolls, since she had straight hair. Thus, the doll attack would be my fault and mine alone. These concerns kept me up the night after Christmas morning, when the newest doll had been placed amongst her comrades. Did I mention their eyes glinted in the moonlight? They did.

So shortly after Christmas – I believe it was early January 1994 – I took action. If no one was going to save me from these things, I would save myself, and my sister to boot.

When my Grandma Schwab died a couple years earlier, in 1992, my mother (her daughter-in-law) inherited Grandma’s large, glass-front china cabinet. My mother had always admired it. In an ironic and sad twist of fate, my mother died three months after my grandmother, so Mom didn’t get to enjoy her fancy new furniture for long. But, as there was no one to tell me not to that January, I crammed all my mother’s fancy dishes and gold-rimmed champagne glasses onto the top two shelves, leaving the bottom shelf, which was the largest, empty.

The door locked from the outside. You have to press a secret button to open it. I think you see where this is going.

Doll by doll, I grabbed each of those smirking, bouncy-haired Beckys. I plucked them from their wooden bases, lifting them from their dowel-imposed, perfect-posture stances.

And I stacked those suckers face-down in that cabinet like cordwood.

And I shut the door.

And I breathed a sigh of relief.

My sister and I were safe.

She still hasn’t thanked me for that selfless act. I’ll remind her this Christmas. Maybe I can get her to buy me an extra present, just to show her gratitude. It’s the thought that counts, after all.

Here’s the scariest part of the Christmas Doll story. No one knows what happened to all of those uncanny little Beckys. They’re not in the cabinet anymore; years ago, my father drove it down to Georgia and gave it to Kristin. It’s in her dining room now, full of her (and some of my mother’s and grandmothers’) fancy dishes. No dolls.

Possibilities include the following: One of my nieces discovered the dolls, thought she hit the jackpot, and took them home. It’s a terrifying thought, a little girl I love being exposed to their cold-eyed stares.

They may be in a box in my father’s attic. If that is true, I hope the box was taped many times over, and that the cardboard hasn’t worn thin with damp, or been chewed through by squatter squirrels. All those curly-headed freaks would need is one little hole, one ray of hope for their escape, and their hard little limbs could do the rest, crooked fingers working away until the hole was big enough for a jailbreak.

They may have been donated to some unsuspecting charity, or sold at a yard sale. I shudder to think of who they’re menacing now.

I no longer look like a china doll, or maybe it’s that they don’t look like me. No one has bought me a creepy Christmas mini-me in almost 20 years. My curls have straightened out, except for those at the base of my neck. My cute chubbiness got stretched out around middle school, and I still look like a piece of saltwater taffy at 31 years old. My eye color and skintone remain the same, though I’m more likely to hear “vampire” now instead of “china doll.” And that’s just super with me.

Vampires are way less scary.

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