It was the year that everyone in the universe decided they had to have a doll with a rubbery head, simple yarn hair, and a cloth body. They came in boy and girl models, so all the boys and all the girls wanted one. They did not light up, walk, talk, or connect to our computers. (This is probably a good thing, since in the mid-80s, all computers really did was play Pong and maybe give you dot-matrix printouts on computer printers that we had to load with special paper with perforated sides with holes in them.) Cabbage Patch Kids were decidedly low tech. We wanted them SO BAD.
Parents and other grownups began appearing on the TV at night, in dire stories featuring mug shots taking after the latest fight. In one story, reportedly, a woman in a babushka aimed a flying roundhouse kick at an off-duty police officer buying ice cream for his Little Brother, and a scuffle ensued, with a huge fight in the middle of the store aisle. I'll never forget the images from the news that night as they dragged that nun away, screaming "You'll never get my orphans' cabbage patch kid!" while the firefighters hosed everyone in the vicinity, gleeful that the dolls were finally theirs.
My parents solemnly sat us down and explained that they would not be joining those adults on TV, and they would never fight other people for a toy, and we would not be getting a Cabbage Patch Kid.
Christmas Eve came. As a child with Portuguese heritage, Christmas eve meant three things: we always went to church, we always ate codfish balls, and we always spent time with my mom's side of the family. Those were great nights.
But then came a big surprise: my brother and I were told that we could have one present from Santa... early!
We were both given a large box, which we naturally immediately destroyed. Inside the destruction, we both found... a Cabbage Patch Doll.
Terror rose swiftly in both of us. We had seen, first hand, the shame of children who went to the playground with fake Cabbage Patches. There were signs of real-ness which were essential to avoiding playground shame, including the doll's belly button and the signed butt. We had both seen the bullies who exposed button-less-bellies of "fake" dolls, and to this day, I'm not sure those children have ever recovered from the shame.
My brother rammed his hand down the nightclothes of his doll, longing, fear, anticipation all etched on his face until his little hand found the belly button. "He's REAL! He's REAL!" he started screaming. I was busy seeking my own doll's bottom to look for the cursive writing, because everyone knew that real Cabbage Patches had signed butts. I've got some speech issues, so I'm not sure how coherent I was in that moment when I found the writing and knew finally that the dolls were real Cabbage Patches.
|This is Melissa.|
|This is Melissa's bellybutton.|
The real Christmas miracle that year was learning that we had parents who knew how to bend the rules and to get around the unimportant stuff to thrill their kids with what was really essential.
Dolls with belly buttons and cursive writing on the butt.
I didn't post a picture of the doll's tush, where you can still see the writing years later. That's partly because posting a doll butt just seems too weird for the internet, and partly because the writing includes real names and the year of 1985, and I try to keep real names private.
In 1985, I was 6. You see, at that age, neither my brother nor I could read cursive. All we knew was that the squiggly writing was important.
We got our real dolls, with the belly buttons and the signed butts that night.
It would be a few years before we'd be able to read cursive and would learn that the writing on the butt was our mom's own name. She'd found a kit somewhere and stitched them together secretly in the late nights. But we didn't know that then... all we knew was the our dolls had a belly button and cursive writing on the butt.
Best. Christmas. Ever.
Oh, it was pretty great that neither of our parents had gotten arrest for fighting while Christmas shopping. That would have embarrassing.