Post image for Bleuette – my mother’s china doll

Bleuette – my mother’s china doll

March 31, 2011

WWII was over and family units were gradually reconstituted, men folk missing or back from the war in an appalling state, women exhausted by the burden of running family and work together in great hardship.

Now was the time for my parents to lick their wounds and face a new life. As soon as my father was strong enough to travel after his ordeal in concentration camp, we left Normandy to visit my maternal grandparents on the island of Oléron, their native island, where they had been virtual prisoners for the duration of the conflict.

I was seven years old at the time and did not remember ever seeing my grandparents. We arrived at the big house, a “Psycho” look alike building, amid cries of joy and anguished comments on the state my father was in. We children didn’t have any idea what was going on and were quite frightened by the tension and misery around us.

After a long road journey and a hectic two-hour sea crossing on a very battered, uncomfortable and smelly small ferry, we were crying with exhaustion. A quick supper was followed by bed. We woke up the next morning, fit and ready for fun and games but all the grown ups in the house came down on us to be quiet and well behaved. Father needed sleep and rest.

My brothers aged five, three and one were taken out to stay with cousins but I was allowed to stay and play with my mother’s old toys. Grandmère opened an old wooden chest and I could play with anything I liked: spinning top, marbles, chess pieces, dominoes, cards, an old tiny metal cooker with even tinier pots and pans and a great assortment of odd and mysterious junk. I had never seen such a collection of toys in my life.

Boredom quickly set in though as there was no one to play with and I started whining to my gran. Exasperated, she took me to a locked cupboard, which she reluctantly opened. She extracted a three-foot long bundle all wrapped up in tissue paper, put it on the couch near by and, without a word, slowly unwrapped it.

Bleuette - my mother's china doll

Bleuette - my mother's china doll

Finally, there, right in front of me, was the most beautiful thing I had ever cast my eyes on – my mother’s prize possession, her very own china doll!

She said in a firm tone: “Voilà Bleuette, tu regardes, mais tu ne touches pas!”, you may look but you may not touch. She put the doll on her feet and it stood. She delicately held her hands and magically, it started to walk. She picked it up and cradled it and it closed its eyes. I was riveted! Grandmère then sat her safely in the corner of the couch and reminded me not to touch before she disappeared again to tend to the kitchen chores.

Bleuette was staring at me with the largest deep blue eyes as I was left spellbound, kneeling down in front of her. She was made of some sort of china (“biscuit”, I later learnt) and her whole skin radiated a browny-pink uniform glow. She had nimble fingers with red nails, pencil eyebrows and rosy cheeks, with a faint smile on her cherry lips. I so wanted to touch her hair and slide my little finger into the numerous blonde ringlets surrounding her face! There was a pink bow on either side of the parting, matching her pink organza dress. Fine cotton knickers vest and petticoat, white frilly cotton socks and white kid leather strapped shoes. My little finger was exploring timidly, jerking back as soon as I could sense Grandmère peeping round the door.

Bleuette came out every day after that as I had been a “good girl” and she sat, watching me play. I still wasn’t allowed to handle her but I cooked for her on the miniature stove and read to her, chatted to her and she became my confidante as the weeks passed.

Finally, it was time to move on to a new life, Father had mended and was heading for a new job down south. Bleuette was put away, only to come out again when we came to visit at holiday time and when the boys were out of the way. She was my special secret treat.

Sadly my grandparents died, their house was sold and their possessions dispersed. Bleuette came to my mother and found a corner in my parents’ garage where she languished for years, having been forgotten by all, including me!

By the time she was rediscovered on the occasion of a radical spring-cleaning of the house, poor old Bleuette look very much worse for wear. Even her hair was full of creepy crawlies, the ringlets dull and lank. Fortunately, I was there with my own children, able to rescue her from the skip.

I was finally allowed to touch her. She felt very stiff and heavy, cold and lifeless, what a disappointment! My children turned up their nose, wondering why I was interested in that old smelly unwanted doll that had not ever been mine.

I “owed” her thought. Bleuette was washed and deloused, her clothing mended, her hairstyle revamped although I was never able to revive the ringlets. She has moved England now and sits proudly in my living room, away from my grandchildren’s busy little fingers, a grand old lady approaching her first centenary and still not a single wrinkle!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

sue ellen christian April 2, 2011 at 6:21 am

I, too, have a doll who was my childhood companion. She was squirreled away in my mother’s attic for 40 years. Mom always said she was too hard to get to and it just seemed like too much work for her. Also, sadly, mom passed away five years ago. She left everytihg for my sister to sort out so two more years wne by until my sister invited me over to dig out the dolls.

She, too, is a little ragged around the edges but I always knew that she needed to be re-united with her true friend. I eagerly went over. Dug in places my sister was afraid to approach. (I always thought she was fearless.)
Finally there she was where I had put her to sleep so many years ago. Now, thankfully she is in my living room where she is gradually acquiring new toys and new dresses. We are happy together with my tolerant husband to face the next 40 years together.

Sue Ellen

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Lynne Gray April 2, 2011 at 9:04 am

What a lovely story – thank you for sharing 🙂

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