The Birthday Blotches and the Bride Doll

Submitted into Contest #28 in response to: Write about your most unique experience at, or in, a wedding.... view prompt


Creative Nonfiction

I don’t know if this memory really fits the bill or if I’m trying to smuggle it in and hoping nobody will notice that I’m pushing my luck.

     Still, so far as I’m concerned, this definitely counts as a wedding recollection for me, even though I never left my house and no legal vows were exchanged.

     I’ve never had much of a sense of timing, but in this instance, I wasn’t to blame, or only unwittingly by my choice of playmates.

     Everything was going to be lovely. That was the idea! For the first time in my life I was going to be on holiday while I celebrated my birthday – it was my 5th. True, it did occur even to a childish mind that it meant two “treats” were combined, instead of being separate, but delayed gratification has never been my style (I’d never have got the extra sweeties in that famous test they did!). The disadvantage was that there’d be no party, but I sometimes thought birthday parties were over-rated anyway. In any case, it was worth forgoing one for spending my birthday by the seaside. Later on, I lived by the seaside, so it lost its novelty, but it hadn’t then. The seaside was a place where you went to the aquarium and there were machines that could grab you a giant teddy if you were lucky. I also looked forward to doing an activity that my Mum and my Gran referred to as “Dipping in the Rock Pools”. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but liked the sound of it. I also had a distinct conviction that there were more flavours of ice cream at the seaside and that, especially if it was your birthday as well, the normal rules about rationing them didn’t apply.

     And then I got the measles. At first, they hoped it was just a “bit of a rash” and a “bit of a temperature” but it wasn’t. It was most definitely and unequivocally the measles. I realise now it could have been a lot worse. You’ve no need to tell me that measles can be a horrible and serious illness, and that it’s a thoroughly good thing that most kids are vaccinated against it now. But I was one of the lucky ones. I felt miserable and poorly, but I was never in any danger, and nor were any of my senses. But of course it meant that the birthday holiday was off. A holiday centre is no place for a sick (and infectious!) child. And I was pretty visibly infectious, too. I had blotches all over me. Gran said that was a good thing, and that if the spots “came out” it meant you would get better more quickly. 

     Well, I was inconsolable. I had this childish notion that if you could persuade adults that if you REALLY REALLY wanted something and it wasn’t just being spoilt or making a scene, then, especially if they were nice adults (as, of course, my parents were) they wouldn’t be so cruel and wouldn’t want their child to be unhappy. But on this, they would not give in. It goes without saying I realise now they could not, and I suppose that part of me knew that they were right. I felt ill and tired and itchy and hot. And it meant my birthday was ruined, too. I tried to console myself with the thought that it could have been worse, I could have missed a chance to be a bridesmaid at a wedding. Ever since my cousin Gillian had been (and she was terribly superior about it and though I liked her well enough, I was glad we didn’t live that near to each other!) and had shown me her mauve and turquoise floaty dress and her little floral headdress, I was convinced my life would not be complete until I had been a bridesmaid at a wedding, but as Mum told me, she couldn’t see any more weddings in the offing. I was about to ask her what in the offing meant, but worked out for myself that it was any time soon.

     Anyway, my birthday came. I was starting to get over the worst of the measles now, though I still felt sorry for myself. I went through the motions of looking at my cards (I can’t remember now who it was that sent me a get well card and wrote AND HAVE A HAPPY BIRTHDAY  underneath GET WELL SOON but I do remember I said something that would have earned me a sharp telling off if I didn’t have the double “alibi” of it being my birthday and my having the measles. 

     I had some lovely presents. Even at that age I loved my books and could already read, and I had a lovely new selection – as well as a musical box with a twirling ballerina that played Fly me to the Moon. I wished it didn’t have a mirror in it, though! I still have it now, though the tune fell silent decades ago, and the ballerina is decidedly arthritic. But I looked at them with, at best, polite indifference.

     “Well, good morning young lady, and a happy birthday to you,” Gran had come into my room, and she was bearing a present. I had already learnt I could rely on Gran for a decent present. I had also already learnt that she expected good manners. “Thank you, Gran,” I said, unwrapping it. I had already guessed it was a doll. Even when in a box and wrapped, there’s a feel to dolls. I liked dolls, but I wasn’t really in the mood for one. I don’t know what I was in the mood for.

     And then I saw the doll. It wasn’t one of those fashion dolls with their unnatural bodies and simpering smiles, but a solid sort of doll, with curly brown hair and eyes that opened and shut and ALMOST looked as if they had real eye-lashes. It was a bride doll. But to say that is like saying that Einstein was quite good at science. Child that I was, I realised at once that this doll hadn’t been bought in her bride’s outfit, and that Gran hadn’t bought the outfit either, she had made it. Now I know this sounds awful, but sometimes dolls’ clothes made by loving and well-meaning Grans push even the most polite of children to the limits. Barbie just isn’t meant to wear knitted brown trousers! My Gran, though, was a different matter. She had been a professional dressmaker, and she knew her stuff. This doll was dressed in an outfit that would have done a Princess’s mini-me proud. I don’t suppose, looking back, that her dress actually was real silk, but it wasn’t cheap and nasty either, and Gran had carefully sown in little lace ruffles, and little pearly beads, and the veil had the tiniest blue roses. “Well, it’s not just to look at!” she said. A little later on she told me that though her own parents had been generous, they had often given her toys of the “look, don’t touch kind” and she always thought there was something sad about a toy you weren’t supposed to play with. 

     But she hadn’t finished yet. “Gran’s bag” was a bit of a family legend – she had made it herself, and though the patchwork pattern had faded a little now, it was as sturdy as ever, and there always seemed to be room for something else in it, no matter how full it was or how many things had already emerged.

     There were bridesmaids’ outfits that, almost as if by magic, fitted two of my other dolls perfectly. They weren’t of the same material as Gillian’s bridesmaid dress, but I think that even if she’d been able to get hold of it, Gran would have realised that it was better to have something original. They did have hints of that turquoise colour I loved in it, but combined with soft crimson, and with a little shimmer that Gillian’s dress didn’t have! 

     In case you’re thinking the poor bride (whom I had decided to call Adrienne, which was currently one of my favourite names) wasn’t jilted at the altar, nor was it a same-sex wedding, though I’m quite sure Gran wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at the thought. There was a smart jacket and bow tie and pair of britches for my favourite teddy, and even a miniature carnation. 

     Gran had commandeered the portable cassette player from downstairs, and put in a cassette that played a piece of music I hadn’t heard before, but I knew just HAD to be the wedding march. As it turned out, and I was educated on the subject later, she had both the Wagner one and the Mendelssohn one – and a couple of her own favourite songs too, for the happy couple and their guests to dance to. 

     There had to be a wedding feast, of course, and it consisted mainly of little cakes. I had begun to get my appetite back and they slipped down very easily. I held the cakes to the lips of the wedding party, to humour Gran, though of course I knew by now they couldn’t eat them. They’d probably have their own feast later.

     Well, there you have it. A wedding day I’ll never forget!

February 14, 2020 08:02

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