Tulip O'Brien didn't often change her mind about anything. But over breakfast with Gran the next morning, she reconsidered her view of paper doll cut-outs. As she spread home-made strawberry jam on her toast with the crusts cut off, she nonchalantly asked Gran, who was at the stove, “Did you say that lots of girls used to play with paper dolls when you were my age?”
“Not just girls who couldn't affordÉI mean who didn't have real dolls?”
Gran continued to scramble eggs and shook her head. “Not at all. Why I had lots and lots of dolls. I just liked cut-outs better, I guess.”
“Better? Are you kidding? Really?” asked Tulie as she took a big bite of toast and washed it down with a swallow of chocolate milk.
“Yes. I had two best friends, and we played paper dolls together every Saturday for years and years. My, we used to have fun.”
“What do you mean, you played paper dolls? What exactly did you do? Don't you just cut them out and put the clothes on them? Then what?”
Gran laughed. “I can see why you would think paper dolls are boring if that's all you can think of to do with them. I must say, I'm surprised at you, Tulip Mae O'Brien, really I am! I thought you had more imagination than that.”
“I know you can make clothes for them and that takes imagination, doesn't it? In fact, I'm the one who showed Freddie how to draw them and I helped Brenda and Winsome choose colors to crayon them. That was fun. Oh yes, that was all my idea!”
Gran put a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in front of Tulie, sat down and took a sip of her tea. “Yes, making clothes for cut-out dolls is fun,” she said. “But we used to have all sorts of gamesÉlittle plays, I guess they were. We would each pretend to be one of the dolls and we would dress them up to go shopping or to parties or on trips someplace, pretending it was us doing all those things. You know, the sort of things we imagined fashionable ladies did then, back when everybody changed their clothes every five minutes instead of wearing blue jeans all the time. I think it was more fun to be a lady then, though Lord knows, nobody has that kind of time now.”
Tulie crunched on a piece of bacon and considered the idea.
“Well, maybe the idea of using the paper dolls for a play might be kind of fun. We'd need costumes for the paper dolls. Freddie could draw them.”
“Of course he could Tulie. I remember last year when Freddie wanted to design costumes for your school play.”
“That didn't turn out too well, though. Mr. Housmann, our drama teacher, said Freddie's designs looked like he thought the Pilgrims landed in Las Vegas, not Plymouth Rock. Of course, I'd tell Freddie exactly what to draw and then I could tell Brenda and Winsome what colors to use, couldn't I?
“Don't you think your little friends might like to do some things their way?”
“Of course not! They want it to be perfect, don't' they?”
Gran grinned and shook her head. Tulie drank the last of her milk, wiped her mouth and jumped up from the table. She couldn't wait to tell the kids about her brilliant idea.
* * *
Brenda's dad drove the four friends to the Buckeye Center Mall and they agreed to meet him in three hours for their ride back home. Tulie, Brenda, Winsome and Freddie stayed together for the first walk around the mall so that they could enjoy each other's reactions to all the Christmas decorations. Slowly, they made their way from one end to the other, from J.C. Penney's to Bannister's Department Store where the glass-roofed atrium soared three stories high. They stood gazing up, way up. The mall boasted the biggest Christmas tree in the whole county.
“I think it's even better than last year,” sighed Brenda “I just love the way it sparkles.”
“It looks bigger this year,” Freddie said, leaning so far back he nearly fell over.
“Nah, I think it's a little smaller,” Tulie stated.
“The decorations are so big, it must like, be an awful hard job trimming a tree this tall,” said Winsome. “Dangerous too, I bet.”
“Just imagine what a job it must be cut it down and get it here to Garfield all the way from Oregon,” said Tulie. “That's where the tree comes from every year. But you know, I think they shouldn't cut down trees this big. Just think how long it takes it grow and then we have it here in the mall for a couple of weeks and it's gone.” Tulie prided herself on her firm pro-ecological views and thought it was her duty to save the forests, the dolphins and whales and Polar bears and a whole lot of other things.
“That is kind of sad,” agreed Brenda, without much conviction.
Winsome, said, “Maybe we could like, start a petition to get an artificial tree next year.”
“No fake tree is going to ever be this big,” Freddie stated. That put an end to the discussion because even Tulie couldn't imagine Christmas without the biggest tree in the county right here in her own hometown.
Each of them tried to guess how many ornaments were on the tree, but there was no way of knowing who was right.
“I think there must about a zillion,” Freddie guessed.
“I think that's a little high, Freddie,” said Tulie, carefully scanning the tree from top to bottom. “I think there are 1,750 ornaments and 5,000 lights.”
“My guess isÉ” Winsome began.
“Don't bother guessing,” interrupted Brenda. “Tulie will just insist her guess is closest.”
They went over to Santa's throne and enjoyed watching the real little kids cry when they had their pictures taken with Mr. Bowden, the school janitor who had the job of dressing up like Santa Claus at the mall every year. But they soon got bored with that. So they synchronized their watches and agreed to meet for lunch in the Food Court at 1:30.
“I want to find a bracelet to give to my sister,” Brenda announced. “But I'm not going to buy it at Bannister's. Everything there is too expensive.”
“I may as well tag along with you,” said Winsome, adding, “I can always use some more bracelets myself.” Off the two of them went to look at the stores that had clothes and accessories.
“Tulie, do you want to come to the music store with me and see if they've got any new CDs of Broadway shows?” asked Freddie.
“No thanks, I'd rather wander on my own,” Tulie said, and that's just what she did.
She thought that she knew every store in the Buckeye Center Mall by heart. That's why Tulie was so surprised to see a new, interesting looking little shop sandwiched between the GAP and Pottery Barn. “Collectibles Corner” drew Tulip O'Brien like a magnet. It was new but it looked old-fashioned, like something from London long ago, a shop in a Charles Dickens story. The window had lots of tiny panes and a window box planted with poinsettias. When Tulie got closer to inspect the window, she could hardly believe what she saw.
There in the window was the doll! The very doll of her dreams. The red-haired doll in the pale blue velvet gown. The doll in the catalogue. The doll like Katherine Bannister's. Right here in Buckeye Center Mall. There were lots of other things in the window. An autographed baseball, a jukebox, a lamp that looked like a matador, a grandfather clock, a very fancy birdcage and an old-fashioned dress form wearing a sailor jacket with lots of gold braid on it. Tulie had eyes only for the doll.
A bell tinkled as Tulie opened the door and went into the little store. It looked a lot like her own attic at home, that is, if all the stuff in the attic had been dusted and arranged on shelves with neatly hand-written little price tags attached.
“Hello there, miss,” said the bald old man behind the counter as he peered at Tulie over funny little eyeglasses that looked they were about to fall off the tip of his sharply pointed nose. “Anything special you're interested in, or just having a look Ôround? Either way, take your time, take your time. There's a whole lot to see in here, yes sir-ee.”
“I'm just looking, thank you. Um, wellÉI am interested in a doll.”
“Oh, dolls is it? I got some real nice dolls over there in that case. Some are real old. Genuine antiques, some of them. One's Victorian, you know what that means? Was made when Victoria was Queen of England and that's a long time ago, miss, yes sir-ee. It's oh, maybe a hundred years old. You can look, but don't touch that one.”
“I was really looking at the one in the window. The one in the blue dress.”
“That's one of them new collectibles folks are buying these days. I picked it up over in Doylestown a few weeks ago. Some lady there collects a whole lot of stuff, buys a lot of it on TV I guess, on one of them there home shopping networks. Got so much stuff that it's crowding her right out of house and home, so she sold some of it to me. That there doll, for one thing. It's not an antique though, no sir-ee. Don't want you to think it is. That wouldn't be right.”
“I don't care about that. How much is she?” Tulie asked, her heart beating fast with hope. If only it cost less than $23. 48.
Tulie wasn't surprised that it was still more money than she had. The man wore a badge that said, “My name is Herb and I love to haggle.” So Tulie also wasn't all that surprised when the man spoke again.
“Too much for your pocketbook, huh?” Herb peered with shrewdly narrowed eyes as he rubbed his chin like he was thinking really hard. “I might see my way to coming down a bit, seeing as it's almost Christmastime. What would you say toÉoh, about fifty dollars? But not a penny less, though, no sir-ee.”
Tulie said she'd still have to say no, but Herb just shrugged his shoulders.
“Go ahead and have a good look Ôround anyhow. Maybe you'll see something else that takes your fancy. Got some real nice paper ephemera over there on that table in the back.”
“What's paper whatchacallit?”
“Ephemera, ephemera. That means old magazines, books, paper dolls, that sort of stuff. You'd be surprised what people are collecting these days. Stuff they used to just throw away. Maybe some of Ôem are actually buying back stuff they threw away themselves,” he said, chuckling.
Tulie sighed, thanked the man and left the shop. She lingered in front a while, looking in the window. Well, even if the doll wasn't coming home with her today, it was a whole lot closer than a picture in a catalogue.
The Food Court was so crowded that when the four friends met for lunch, they had to stand, holding their trays until a family got up from one of the tables. They raced to get the seats. When Brenda saw that Tulie only had a soft drink on her tray, she offered to share her super-sized French fries and triple-decker cheeseburger.
“No thanks, I'm not really hungry,” Tulie fibbed. She thought that Brenda shouldn't have to give up part of her lunch just because Tulie was saving her own allowance for something far more important than food.
Freddie had a big slice of pizza and Winsome had a platter of stir fried vegetables and rice.
“Winsome, don't you get enough of that stuff at home?” asked Freddie as he pulled a long string of cheese off his chin.
“It's not real Chinese, it's just fast food and I like this better than my mom's cooking,” Winsome replied, then quickly added, “But please don't tell her!”
While her three friends ate, Tulie took advantage of the fact that they couldn't talk with their mouths full and she revealed her plans. She expected the three of them to be excited. They weren't.
“Who would want to come see a play starring paper dolls?” asked Freddie, now trying to get sticky cheese off his fingers.
“We don't have any boy paper dolls and it would look silly to have girls playing the parts of boys even if Freddie drew boy's clothes for them,” Brenda said with a frown.
“Men played girls parts in Shakespeare's day, so why can't it be the other way Ôround?” Tulie countered. She could tell by the expressions on their faces that her friends were not getting the idea. Not at all. “Look, it doesn't have to be a show that we put on for people to watch. It would just be usÉplaying! Don't you think that would be fun?” she pleaded. Tulie was beginning to think they had absolutely no imagination at all.
Then Freddie's face seemed to light up just like a Christmas tree. “I see what you mean! We'd just pretend. Then it wouldn't matter if we only imagined some of it.”
“So we'd still be able to change the clothes lots of times, wouldn't we?” Brenda chimed-in, sounding very pleased. “That's the most fun, anyway.”
“But we still don't like, have any boy paper dolls,” insisted Winsome.
“Who needs boys, anyway?” Tulie huffed. “There are plenty of stories and plays that don't have lots of boys in them.”
“Name one,” challenged Winsome.
It took Tulie only a minute to come up with a suggestion. “Little Women!”
They all started talking at once.
“I just love that story!” exclaimed Brenda.
“Oh, so do I!” echoed Winsome. “What a good idea. I want my paper doll to be Beth. She's like, so tragic. I always totally cry when she dies.”
“Hoop skirts!” Freddie cried. “Hoop skirts. I'll draw big hoop skirts for them all.”
“Jo has always kind of reminded me of myself,” Tulie boasted. “But I'd never cut off my hair and sell it like she did.”
“Who would want to buy that old orange mop of yours, anyway?” Freddie teased.
Tulie ignored him. But for a minute she wondered if anybody would pay fifty dollars for her hair. Then she realized it was a silly idea. Instead she started thinking about how a big cardboard box with one side cut off could be turned into the March family's house. There were a couple of old wallpaper rolls in the attic and maybe she could find pictures of antique furniture in a magazine, cut them out and paste them onto cardboard. Ideas kept popping into her head and she shared every one of them with her friends who finally became every bit as excited and imaginative as Tulie.
Even though there were people in the Food Court waiting for their table to become empty, the four of them kept on talking and planning, hardly noticing they had finished their lunches. After a while, they got up and walked back to the atrium for a final look at the big tree before meeting Brenda's dad for the ride home. Instead of visions of sugarplums dancing through Tulie's head, her mind was spinning with even more ideas for playing ÔLittle Women' with the paper dolls.