Those of you who met my mother, or saw her photos online, would all agree that Sylvia Myers Willoughby was a determinedly fashionable woman. In the rehab hospital, healing a cracked pelvis at 88, mama (pronounced as in “Downtown Abbey” with emphasis on the second syllable) chose her outfits carefully and always added accessories. Even as she packed for her last days here at the Lake (hospice brought her here from assisted living), she was going to damn well showcase her new navy polka dot silk lounge pajamas. It was a thing with Sylvia, to look as lovely as possible, to appreciate her clothes, to treasure the well-made classic and hang onto the spangly party dresses. And the shoes. And much, much more.
Over these last five weeks, I have sorted and donated to the Congregational Church in Henniker, seven or eight large black lawn trash bags with two bins of accessories - and kept the ultra-great stuff. It’s a considerable pile. I held onto, not just the classy cashmere with the sequins, but her everyday little clam-diggers, the painters overalls and the cream-colored cape that she wore on her valiant travels around the country to visit her family. I cannot do more than describe these few articles before I want to weep.
Yet amazingly and happily, through this process, I have rediscovered our Barbie collection from over 50 years ago, tucked tidily into the low black trunk in the darkest corner of our lake cottage eaves. Our mama had saved it. I remember knowing that once, and then barely looking over them. This time, I was blown away by the artistry and pizzazz of her handiwork.
Appreciation polished my heart as I pulled out each miniature Sylvia design and examined it under the light. Tiny pearl buttons, velvet-lined collars, velveteen pencil pants. Come on! I could not stop myself. I dressed them all up and did a photo shoot - modeling their Sylvia couture.
Fortunately, my sister, Karen Myers Harman, arrived at her lake house down the shore. I shared my revisit to our Barbie Family. We laughed to the point of tears as we invented the scenarios to surround each stunning outfit. So, gleeful art direction has been provided by the Myers Girls.
For example, the second scene is titled, “Christmas Morning in Westport” and it’s dedicated to the hostess with the mostest, who’s nursing a hangover.
You, dear Reader, are invited to come up with your own version of a title, or anything you want to share about any of this, in the comments beneath each scenario. Let’s play!
Karen is a few years younger, and I’m sorry to say, it’s still an issue that I “borrowed” her red Barbie ballet shoes and accidentally melted them on Sarah William’s heat register. It was SO long ago! I have tried countering that I did teach her to read by age 4 but… well, it’s a trigger. This Barbie stuff runs deep!
Our three Ken’s are nominal cameos as they had few costume changes, and let’s face it, Ken - we had him in three versions: Soldier Boy, Movie Star and Sailor Man. None of which were central to our Barbie’s World. Our dolls could be living their lives, enjoying hours of endless tea-times and taking care of their troll children. Within minutes, some version of Ken would show up, all the action would stop, some female would win him in an argument, tear off his clothes and dry-hump him.
(Only Barbie and Midge. Never Skipper! Good Lord!)
I hope you treated your Ken/Kens better. Thankfully, I could control that hysterical erotica impulse this time around. However, I wasn’t going to change him into his bathing suit for one scene - no matter how hard he begged me. I know what he’s hoping to stir up…Dream on, Ken.
Anybody wonder what our parent were thinking, buying us these sex toys? Did they not hear the girlish cries of passion and clatter of plastic body parts?
Karen and I basically confessed to each other that we took the hand-made clothes as sad confirmation that we were too POOR to buy Barbie’s clothes from Mattel. Yes, that is as terrible as it sounds. I was an asshole to our dear, sweet, overworked, loving mama. I’m not speaking for Karen, just me. Sorry, Sylvia! We’re thanking you now!
Something we talked about, as we drew these giggly dramas around the clothes, was that, back in the day, playing with Barbie’s was hours of unstructured, unplugged play. I remember gleefully toting my bulging black patent leather Barbie case up the front steps to my friend’s door. Barbies caught us in their spell for hours and hours.
When we experience time at play, the burden of life melts away. The stress. The existential angst. What are we doing here? Just having fun together. That’s all. That’s enough.
With this pandemic still raging, many of us have more time. What can we get to creating? What can we make with our hands and our hearts? How can we elevate our lives together, in harmony and appreciation? How do we keep Barbie and Midge out of trouble?
Next week, I’ll feature more Barbie Fashions and Play in the Time of Covid. So you don’t miss those installments - please click below to SIGN UP!
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