Christina Fernandez-Morrow remembers the morning she walked out of her bedroom and saw the Barbie house her father had made for her.
She was 9 years old, and it was Christmas morning. Waiting for her was a large white wooden dollhouse with six different rooms. Her mother had added flooring that looked like linoleum to the kitchen and used some of the family’s actual dining room wallpaper for the dollhouse’s dining room. There were curtains in the rooms, and her father, Jose Fernandez, had even built a porch and patio for one of the rooms.
“My mom spent the night accessorizing and decorating it, so when I opened it, it was all ready to play, and that’s the way I unveiled it to Ariana,” Fernandez-Morrow says.
Ariana, Fernandez-Morrow’s daughter, also received the dollhouse on Christmas morning. She was 8 at the time in 2011.
Fernandez-Morrow says she suspected her father was doing something for her because he was working in the family’s basement and she had heard the snippets of conversation, but she had no idea it was a dollhouse of that magnitude.
“He took no input; he just wanted it to be a surprise,” she says.
Fernandez-Morrow had a cardboard Barbie house, but she would occupy the dining room floor while playing with it and was always underfoot. The new dollhouse could store everything inside. Jose even added doors and a lock so Fernandez-Morrow could keep out her little sister. She was surprised to learn her parents had kept the large dollhouse, the dolls, the furniture and other items through the years despite a move from Chicago to Des Moines. Once the family moved to Des Moines, they told their then-adult daughter it was time for the dollhouse to come to her home.
Fernandez-Morrow and her husband, Warren, decided Ariana was ready to have the dollhouse when it got to the point their daughter’s doll playing spilled out into a larger area. They cleaned the house up, washed the curtains and Fernandez-Morrow added family pictures to the walls and new colorful flower stickers as wall décor.
“I was excited and happy,” says Ariana, now 9, when she received the dollhouse.
Ariana not only received the dollhouse, she also has the Barbie furniture and some of the Barbies Fernandez-Morrow also played with as a young girl. Fernandez-Morrow reminisces about the various pieces of furniture she had as a child, including a red bed that once belonged to the game Operation she started using for her Barbies once the game no longer worked. She also has a couch that someone from her childhood church made out of cardboard and covered with fabric.
“Almost every room has a mix of my furniture and some of the things she has gotten,” Fernandez-Morrow says.
Fernandez-Morrow says the dollhouse is great because everything can be stored inside and closed, and baskets and other items can be stacked on top of it. The dollhouse now sits in Ariana’s bedroom.
Mother and daughter occasionally play together, but mostly Ariana plays by herself.
“I’ll come and arrange things and comb hair and give her a story line, and then she plays on her own,” Fernandez-Morrow says.
Dolls are important memories in woman’s life
Rosemary Olds has two treasured dolls that represent key memories in her childhood while growing up.
Her first, a composition doll with a stuffed cloth body, still sits in her sewing room among other dolls Olds has collected through the years.
“I got her for Christmas when I was 5,” Olds recalls. “She had a very lovely set of clothes. I thought she was incredibly beautiful.”
The clothes are long gone, but the memories remain of the doll and the circumstances under which Olds received it.
It was 1941. Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. Olds’ father was in the U.S. Army Cavalry and the family lived in Manhattan, Kan. The Army base held a Christmas celebration for the soldiers and their families. It was designed to be a last send-off of sorts. Children received presents from the regiment. The doll was given to Olds.
“I don’t think I understood a terrible thing was about to happen because my father was about to go to war, and in my case, I would never see him again because he died in the war,” Olds says.
She also still has the last doll she received as a girl. Olds recalls she was 11 years old and attending Perkins Elementary School in Des Moines. She had wanted the doll, which came from the Younkers department store’s toyland, something that was very prestigious at the time. It was a Madame Alexander doll, and while it was a special toy that in some ways marked the end of her being a little girl, the doll was not played with, only admired.
The two dolls also are important to Olds because they are two of the only things she has left from her childhood. Olds’ mother also died when she was young, and the dolls had been kept in a trunk with items that were not sold upon her death.
“They are treasured remnants of a life I lived as a child,” she says.
Also among Olds and her husband John’s collections are a set of tiny tin soldiers like the ones John played with as a child (only his were not made from tin) and Olds remembers her father having.
“I remember not playing with them because my mother told me they were too old (to play with),” Olds recalls.
The Oldses’ tin soldiers are mostly Army soldiers from World War I. They also have a tank and many other tin and wind-up toys, as well as a Lionel train similar to the one John received for Christmas as a child, and Tinker Toys, which they both played with as children.
Woman keeps father’s toys, daughters’ rocking horse as keepsakes
Barb Haskins didn’t play with her father’s cast iron train while she was growing up, but it still carries memories for her and is a valued treasure.
Her father, Allen Hird, who was born in 1890, received the train around 1900 as a Christmas gift. He grew up in Manilla and had a twin brother, with whom Haskins assumes he had to share the toy.
“I lucked out and got it,” Haskins says. “My mother was going to throw the train away, and I said ‘Don’t throw it away. It’s Daddy’s. I want it.’ ”
The train sat on a shelf in the basement while Haskins was growing up — she wasn’t allowed to play with it because her mother thought it was junk.
After she was married, she received the train from her parents in the 1940s. It’s stayed with her ever since and has been displayed on a shelf in her home regardless of where she has lived.
“I love toys, and they were my dad’s, so I thought that was kind of special,” she says.
The train — an engine, coal car and a few other cars — is part of Haskins’ toy collection. She still has the rocking horse her two daughters played with as children, as well as an antique English touring car from the early 1900s her uncle gave to her. The car is special because it once belonged to Leland Stanford for whom Stanford University is named. Her uncle was friends with Stanford, from whom he received the toy. He knew Haskins had always enjoyed toys and decided to give it to her. She was thrilled to receive it.
Haskins says she has held on to toys throughout the years for many reasons.
“They’re happy, and it reminds me of when the kids were little,” she says.