Your favorite plaything as a child

October 14, 2013 • Posted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, memoir writing, Uncategorized by

Some members of the memoir-writing class I lead at the Chicago Cultural Center. Wanda is to my left in the photo (the far right as you look at it).

Wanda Bridgeforth is 92 years old and has been attending the memoir-writing class I lead in downtown Chicago for seven years. She grew up in Chicago and her mother worked “in private family,” which means Mama lived at the houses she took care of. Wanda lived with one relative one week, a friend the next, and sometimes, with complete strangers.

When I asked writers to describe their favorite plaything as a child, Wanda came back with an essay about her doll, Geneva. Wanda is compiling some of her essays to self-publish as a gift for friends and family this Christmas. I have a feeling this one about Geneva will be included in that collection.

My Favorite Toy

by Wanda Bridgeforth

I must have been a really good girl in 1927 because Santa left an ironing board, electric iron, sewing machine and the Effanbee “Rosemary Doll” all of my friends and I had asked for that year.

Her curls and eyelashes were natural hair. Every time I sat her up or laid her down she opened and closed her eyes and said, “MA-MA!!!” That was enough to melt a little girl’s heart. Without hesitating I named her Geneva, after my Mama.

In late spring 1928, Dad’s company closed their chemistry lab and he was laid off. Mama and I moved into a bedroom with Aunt Gert and Uncle Larry on 51st Street and Dad went to live with Uncle A.S. and his wife at 42nd and Vincennes. Mama showed me how to wash and iron Geneva’s dress, panties and bonnet.

Mid summer, Mama went to work “in private family.” I abandoned all of my toys except Geneva. She became my confidant and bedfellow. I guess you could say she was my security blanket. I took her everywhere. The kids began to tease me and called me a “big baby,” so, when I left home I hid her under the pillow on my bed.

Every Tuesday after school I washed her clothes so she would be nice and clean when Mama came home on Wednesday, her day off. The three of us would sit at the kitchen table and exchange the events of the week. Geneva’s clothes were almost faded white.

Christmas 1931, “Cousin Sugar” the lady I was staying with made Geneva a new outfit. Mama and Cousin Sugar assured me the new clothes did not need weekly washing.

Some of my friends boasted about their dolls made of rubber that could drink milk or water from a tiny bottle with a tiny nipple on it. I looked at Geneva, her mouth was open and she had a space between her lips. I bought a tiny bottle with a tiny nipple on it from Woolworth’s 5 & 10 cents store and fed Geneva.

After a while Geneva developed a horrible odor and her body became damp. Cousin Sugar and Mama cut a slit in her body. The straw stuffing had mildew and mold and her plaster body had melted. Only her head was intact. I didn’t realize her straw insides absorbed the liquid instead of passing it through like the rubber dolls did.

I was inconsolable. Geneva was DEAD!!!

I decided she must have a funeral. Mr. Brunow, the janitor, dug a grave in the far corner of the back yard. Dressed in our parents black clothes, my friends and I marched behind the Radio Flyer Wagon lined with black crepe paper.

We sang a hymn and sent Geneva, My Favorite Toy, dressed in her Christmas Outfit to live with the Angels.

Lauren On October 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Melts me ol’ ‘eart! How sweet!! I had Donna, who cried…until my sister got mad at me and threw her down. Magically, that Christmas, Donna appeared on a new Schwinn bike, along with a new wardrobe. And she could once again cry (though she sounded a bit like a cat)! I had a mama who was clever and resourceful–remember those little cylinders that sounded like different animals when you tilted them? Mother surgically inserted one into Donna’s abdomen, and voila! When you lay her down she could cry again. Thanks for stirring up a fun memory:-)

bethfinke On October 15, 2013 at 8:30 am

Makes me smile to hear that Wanda’s story of her own Mama stirred up this sweet memory about your mama, too, Lauren.

srshoemaker On October 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Love this, thanks, Beth! (In case you’ve wondered why I’ve not pestered you to be interviewed on WILL radio lately, I retired from the show in August after 14 fun years. The archives are still available at: (No “G” in keepin’ –and no apostrophe!) Blessings on you & your writers , Steve

Steve Shoemaker 1148 County Road 1500 E Urbana, IL 61802 217-621-3796

bethfinke On October 15, 2013 at 8:32 am

You know, I *was * wondering why you had quit pestering me about that! Thanks for the update, Steve.

Pamela Berman On October 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Beth, I’m not sure of the proper way to respond to your blog, but I hope this gets to you. Please tell Wanda I loved her story…it’s so sweet and touching.

Warmly, Pam

bethfinke On October 15, 2013 at 8:34 am

Congrats, Pam, you did it! Wanda follows my blog, so I’m sure she will see your comment. Just not sure *she* knows how to leave a response, though…!

beth urech On October 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm

My favorite “toy” was a little suitcase: some sort of cardboard with a red handle and two metal clasps that made a nice noise when being opened or shut. One day I packed my suitcase and left home. I walked slowly as this was my first big adventure. I only got as far as the corner because I wasn’t allowed to cross the street. Upon returning, I knocked on our front door. By now my father was home and when he answered the door, I announced, “Hello, my name is Bridget and I’ve come to live with you.” He invited me in and I enjoyed being Bridget for the rest of the evening.

bethfinke On October 15, 2013 at 8:35 am

Aha! So you’ve been a storyteller since childhood, eh, Beth?

Nancy B On October 14, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Great story Wanda! Especially the funeral w the wagon and the black crepe paper! Wish I could see a picture of that.
Makes me think of my brother. He had a teddy bear and wanted it not to be naked. Mom or someone made an outfit but he thought it was a dress and that would not do. So our great Aunt Annie made a proper shirt and pants w cowboy pattern and that was acceptable. That must have lasted a long time because I remember him still being around, in his pants and shirt, when my brother was a teenager and I was little.

bethfinke On October 15, 2013 at 8:38 am

Another student wrote a piece about her own teddy bear with outfits. Really fun to hear the stories/memories this assignment conjured up. Thanks for sharing this one, nbolero.

Catherine Rategan On October 15, 2013 at 10:29 am

Thanks for sharing that beautiful memoir! What wonderful visuals Wanda paints.

Robin On October 15, 2013 at 10:51 am

as a very young girl I had a rubber doll I named “ger-lane-dis-is” I have NO idea where the name originated nor did my parents. I had Gerlanedidis for many years thru the mauling of a Great Dane and her unfortunate rubber meltdown one particularly hot summer. None of my subsequent dolls ever received the same level of love and attention despite being much fancier and doing all sorts of wonderful babylike things. She was my one and only.

Anne Hunt On October 15, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I wrote about the love of dolls in both recent generations and those of my mother and aunt. Someone in our group said she had never liked dolls — she preferred playing with things that were living. I’d say Wanda’s doll had a wonderful life and a sad, but peaceful death — her spirit will live on for many years!

bethfinke On October 16, 2013 at 6:09 am

Yes, these memoirs keep stories like this alive, don’t they — It was interesting how many dolls came up in essays this week, and surprising to hear a number of people mention they absolutely did *not* like dolls when they were young. Enjoyed hearing a few essays about paper dolls, too.

Audrey Mitchell On October 15, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Wanda write so well. She puts you right in middle and you kind of feel you are part of her story.

Carla On October 16, 2013 at 5:51 am

This story about Geneva had better be in the Xmas collection of stories…’s priceless!!!! I really enjoyed reading it.

bethfinke On October 16, 2013 at 6:03 am

You know, when I was putting this blog post together I was concerned it might not work as well on paper as it did in class. Wanda did some work in the theater in her younger days, and it shows when she reads her essays. Wanda was oh so so playful when desribing the way Geneva said , “MA-MA!!!” And then so solimn at Geneva’s demise.
As Wanda read aloud in class we cried tears of joy – and some sadness, too.
From your comment, and the other responses above, it sounds like Wand’as essay comes off well in print, too.

Benita Black On October 16, 2013 at 8:26 am

Charming and bittersweet story. Kudos to Wanda and her teacher.

Wanda On October 19, 2013 at 6:59 am

This is Beth, conveying a message from Wanda (she had trouble figuring out how to comment on her own): Please tell everyone who replied with such nice comments how grateful and happy they have made me.

peuterey españa On December 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Abajo, en el relleno, el más común es el ganso y el pato, tanto por el color, se puede dividir en cachemira blanco y terciopelo gris. Abajo, en el mercado de acuerdo con el precio, más o menos: ganso blanco> Grey Goose> pato blanco> pato gris. Puede verse afectada por precio o menos, mucha gente podría pensar que este tipo de cachemira es cierto en términos de calidad, no lo es. A lo largo del estudio teórico y los aspectos prácticos de la experiencia, creo que el color y la calidad de la chaqueta no es muy buena o mala relación, ganso y pato en el grado cálido, suave y esponjosa o menos.

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