My daughter's birthday is Friday. The other day when I was looking for something else, I came across some columns I wrote about her when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Here is one published December 11, 1983.
The little heart that said "I love you" started it all.
How can one resist a soft, huggable doll that tells you constantly and faithfully that she loves you?
That first Raggedy Ann was given to her before she was born. It sat in a corner of her crib, smiling and waiting patiently for her arrival. After she came home from the hospital, it waited some more for her to get old enough to notice.
Raggedy suffered all the pats and pulls and teething tugs of the growing, exploring baby with undimmed eyes and complete softness.
When the baby was old enough to pull up, Raggedy was dragged along. She learned to walk holding Raggedy, and the doll's soft body even cushioned a tumble or two.
"Raggedy" was hard to say when she was learning to talk, and it came out "Neenie." And Neenie she stayed, long after talking was a perfected - and much used - skill.
Neenie was always around. She took her everywhere with her, dragging her along by the arm or leg, tossing her over a shoulder, putting her on a chair beside her at dinner, tucking her in beside her at night.
The soft round face got dirty with sticky kisses, and was even once stained with blood when she cut her forehead in a bad fall and I had to drive her to the doctor. She held onto Neenie and didn't cry. She was braver than I. But then, I didn't have a Neenie to hold.
Several times I had to sew Neenie's arm or a leg back on, and mend tears in her skirt.
New Raggedys appeared on the scene occasionally, usually at Christmas or birthdays, and they were much loved, too.
But Neenie was special, even when her yarn hair began to fall out, an eye came off, her nose wore through, and one foot tore completely off. (It was sewn back on, held in place with a plaid fabric that gave Neenie quite a jaunty air.)
The new Raggedys would be taken places, and would be included in games. One Raggedy was very big, almost the size of an red-haired 8-year-old. Her father carried it around in the trunk of his car for weeks before Christmas because there wasn't any other place big enough to hide it.
On Christmas morning, she discovered it under the tree and came running to tell me about the wonderful Raggedy that was just her size. This Raggedy sat on the window seat, smiling down at the gerbils in their cage, and occasionally cradling her head when she read a book.
Another was a handmade Raggedy bought at the Senior Citizens
Fair. It had a blue dress with lace on the hem, and brown hair, so it wasn't a "real" Raggedy. But it had that tiny heart.
We even had a Raggedy Andy, a sprightly little fellow who got pulled around on the back of a bike, and who rode on our border collie’s back in game after game.
We had Raggedy Ann and Andy books, and she had some Raggedy Ann and Andy bookends to hold them in place on her shelves. The Raggedys went on vacations with us, and even grandparents and uncles treated them with respect.
But Neenie was always the one. All the others were placed lovingly on the window seat at night. Neenie slept in the bed.
Neenie was the one wept upon during those horrible, deeply suffered tragedies of preteen years. When she was misunderstood, unfairly punished, or just generally mistreated by her obviously uncaring parents, she would shut herself in her room and tell Neenie how awful we were.
Neenie listened, and loved, and smiled.
Her smile was getting a bit crooked because some of the threads were pulling loose. But it just added character to her sweet face.
Neenie soaked up the tears of family changes, and cushioned her head when she flopped on the bed after that first date, ready to tell about her evening.
Neenie's other foot came off after being carried by her leg one too many times, causing instant remorse and hugs.
It got sewn back on with a patch of red fabric, which, with her plaid patch on the other foot, made her quite a snazzy lady,
The snazzy lady Neenie loved and lived with was growing up, and the room was changing around her. Dolls got packed away and posters went up. Toys were gone, and records appeared.
A stereo dominates the room. Pillows are heaped on the bed, and pictures of a special boy are everywhere.
Cats have joined the family and taken over some of the pillows. Stylish clothes hang in the closet (and in heaps on the floor. Sigh). Earrings and bracelets and necklaces and belts fill up spaces on the chest and the bookcases. Senior prom souvenirs and homecoming mums hang on the walls along with a treasured Outward Bound banner and certificate.
So much has changed. So much remains the same.
When that special boy makes her cry, Neenie still soaks up the tears.
When she's angry or upset, Neenie still gets hugged. When she's lying on the bed, reading, one hand almost unconsciously pats Neenie from time to time.
Neenie still reigns on the bed, smiling.
And the little heart still says, in slightly faded red, '”I Love You."
And I do too, sweetheart.