In the fall of 1969, eight-year-old Dawn Howard stared at the display of dolls in a Montoursville department store. She and her siblings were not encouraged to ask for things as children. But the black button eyes, red triangle nose, and thin black smile wouldn’t let go. Dawn asked for the Raggedy Ann doll on display.
“Maybe Santa will bring it for you,” her mother told her.
Eight-year-olds can be impatient sometimes. Dawn didn’t want to wait for Santa.
Yet, the doll remained on the store shelf.
That Christmas, Dawn received the best gift of her childhood. It had red and white fabric stripes across the legs and black fabric shoes. Her hair was made of twisted flame-red yarn, and her dress was white with tiny blue, pink, and lavender flowers and partially covered by a white apron. To avoid sibling ownership issues, Dawn wrote her name and the year above the cotton pantaloons and across Raggedy Ann’s back.
Over time, the doll acquired the usual signs of love and wear, a stained face, a worn hairline, frayed shoelaces, and the scars of an untrained surgeon attempting to repair a semi-detached arm. Raggedy Ann was Dawn’s favorite. Unlike the other dolls in Dawn’s collection, the doll felt like a real baby with soft skin, unlike the hard plastic.
As happens with most children, the fascination with Raggedy Ann wore off, and the doll was added to the collection of unused toys.
As Dawn was going into eighth grade, several years later, the family moved to South Williamsport, PA. Dawn’s mother oversaw the packing and, having a large family and many belongings opted for only what was necessary. Besides, the doll wasn’t getting much attention. Dawn’s mother figured her teenager was beyond playing with toys and gave the doll to one of Dawn’s younger friends. The lost Raggedy Ann was forgotten for quite a while.
But not for good. Dawn began the search for her 1969 toy. Mrs. Howard felt bad when she realized how much the doll meant to her daughter. She found a Family Circus cartoon she cut out and shared with her daughter. It showed a little girl retrieving a dearly loved and nearly lost Raggedy Ann doll from the curbside trash. Dawn talked to the friend who had received the doll. Raggedy Ann probably traveled to Florida when the girl’s family moved there, but Raggedy Ann no longer lived with her second family. The functionality of the World Wide Web was yet to be available, and the search ended for a season.
As we grow older, we tend to return to the former days, linger for a while in happier memories, and wonder if we can pass our simple joys onto the next generations. One day, Dawn searched eBay for a photo of an old Show and Tell record player to show her son how she had learned years ago. This was a new venue for Dawn, and the idea struck her of searching for a special gift for her granddaughter’s first birthday. She remembered her precious doll and began searching for a new Raggedy Ann.
After skimming through about seven pages of Raggedy Ann merchandise, including dish sets, books, and hand-made replicas, one doll caught Dawn’s eye. It had the same familiar flowery print dress, the same black smile. After checking all five photos of the item, she found a picture showing black felt marker on the doll’s skin-colored midsection that declared “Dawn 69.” Grandmother Dawn recognized the stain on the doll’s face, the raw edge on the hairline, the stitching on the top of one shoe, and the arm sewn back onto Raggedy Ann’s shoulder, a task young Dawn had done herself.
It was almost too much to believe, the original toy available on e-Bay. Dawn found her old fourth-grade spelling notebook, one borrowed by her father to record his tax and coin collection earnings. She compared the spelling book version of her name and the year 1971 to the Raggedy Anna signature. The letters D, A, N, and the number 9 were a perfect match. Dawn says, “I just knew in my heart it was mine.”
Dawn asked her husband what price he thought was reasonable for buying the doll on e-Bay. He suggested ten dollars. Dawn thought a million dollars was a fair price, she says with laughter. In the end, Dawn paid $3.50 plus a few more dollars in shipping and handling for her best childhood Christmas gift. Dawn says, “I feel the Lord had his hand in it if only to whisper in my ear that he knows me and loves me.
Dawn tells people that the lost Raggedy Ann hasn’t stopped smiling since she got home.
As told to Deb Richmond by Dawn Howard Guerrisky