Cleolinda Jones (cleolinda) wrote,
Cleolinda Jones
cleolinda

The Good Witches of Petticoat Lane

So my mother apparently started feeling hugely guilty that my sister is getting this big expensive Global kitchen knife (remember: culinary student) and some hair-straightener-iron thing (Sister Girl has a slight waviness to her hair that she is determined to conquer), and all I'd said I wanted was books. So we're Christmas shopping on Friday and she turns to me and declares, "I want to get you a doll." O... kay. Granted, I do collect a few kinds of dolls--Genes, once upon a time, and the occasional movie character, like the Barbie Sleeping Beauty with the fantastic likeness, or the Toy Biz LOTR dolls or whatever. But the last doll I'd even thought about getting was the Galadriel last Christmas (see icon), I didn't really have anything in mind, and... it was just such an abrupt statement, you know? I appreciated the thought, but I was sort of at a loss as to how to help her out with that.

So we went looking for this awesome little store called the Enchanted Cottage we'd seen a few years back, and... it doesn't exist anymore. We went to Smith's Variety in Mountain Brook, which we generally drop by at least once a month (the owner used to be the music teacher at Pilgrim Day School and remembers me by name to this day), and... they don't sell dolls anymore. Nothing more than a perfunctory case or two of Madame Alexanders, and I used to stare at the shelves of collectible dolls with laser intensity when I was younger, so this was an unpleasant shock. Does no one in Birmingham sell dolls? No one?

"Well, there's Mary Charles' Doll House on Petticoat Lane," one of the girls working there said.

Petticoat Lane. I mean, seriously. It's so perfect I can't stand it.

Where is Petticoat Lane?

"Turn at the Sneaky Pete's there, across the street, and it's across from nothing but woods."

This pretty much describes most of Mountain Brook, which is a slightly uppity, yuppie-genteel suburb liberally marked with small pockets of woodland. Like, just big enough, here and there, to be ornamental, and a little like saying "Turn left at the Starbucks. No, the other Starbucks" in a bigger city. We were halfway to the zoo before we turned around and went looking on the other side of the neighborhood, and finally we found Petticoat Lane, a little one-way street (which we nearly entered from the wrong end) within walking distance of Smith's, with four or five shops counterproductively hidden from the world. The first three weren't the Doll House. And then I saw a cotton-candy pink house with a turret room.

Turns out it's been there for thirty years, and the shop was buzzing when we got there. I don't know how people find the Doll House, but they do. A middle-aged couple was already there when we got there, and I think two or three other women came and went while we were browsing (one of whom did, in fact, walk over from Smith's with one of the Doll House ladies feeding her directions over a cell phone). There are, as far as customers are concerned, three rooms: the front, with circular racks of vintage doll clothes and glass cases of dolls; the back, with more dolls and cases of tiny, tiny doll furniture; and a smaller room hooking off that one to the left, with even more tiny furniture. That's a simple description of the layout; what you have to imagine now is that there's a narrow shelf running around the ceiling of each room, and each shelf is packed with mint-in-box Barbies, shelved side-first like books. Probably not exclusively Barbies; I know I saw a Buffy the Vampire Slayer doll at one point and a few Disney dolls as well, but you get the general idea. There are piles of dolls and tables of dolls and cases of dolls and God only knows what. I mean, you can tell they've been here for thirty years, and that they're packed to the gills. And by "they" I mean three middle-aged ladies--seriously, I want to call them "little old doll ladies," although they were not necessarily little or old. It's just--they reminded me somehow of good Christmas witches, like La Befana: happy and helpful and full of esoteric knowledge. And toys.

So I looked through what they had, but I didn't really see anything I wanted, so I'm wandering around kind of aimlessly (which is hard, in a tiny doll-cramped shop. You start turning in circles after a while) knowing that my mother wants to find something really special, which is so sweet, but I just... can't think of anything. And then she turns to the youngest of the three Good Witches and says, "Do you have any of the Madame Alexander Little Women dolls that came out a few years ago? She loved those."

Madame Alexander has put out a number of Little Women dolls, but these were unusually tall, and were more the Cissy/Cissette sculpt than the usual eight-inch numbers they put out. "Oh, those were really nice--I have all four at home," the Good Witch says, beaming. "They didn't offer them for very long, just a year or so."

"She really wanted Jo," my mother is saying. I'm standing right next to her, by the way. Every time my mother says something, the Good Witch looks at me for confirmation, and I just nod with cheerful stupidness.

"Oh, everyone wanted Jo," says the Good Witch. "She was the most popular. She's really hard to find now. It's too bad they didn't produce that line longer than a year or so. We do have Meg, Beth and Amy, though," and my jaw drops.

Two of the Witches run upstairs and root around in their secret doll stashes and produce a small brochure, three dolls, Beth's and Amy's winter cloaks and bonnets, Amy's bed, and a red Christmas dress belonging to someone, they don't know who. "THAT'S JO'S!" can be heard ringing out from my general direction. By the time we leave, Meg (and Jo's Christmas dress) go home with us, and the Amy and Beth dolls go on layaway for some happy, distant day--if nothing else, so that no one else will snatch them up. Next Christmas, maybe. My mother is glee-struck at the success of the enterprise.

Later that afternoon, the Good Witches call her. They've looked through "their warehouse" (they have a warehouse?) and found the other three Christmas dresses, the ones I wanted more than any of the others. "And they said they could tell how much you loved those dolls," my mother reports back (if my fascination with Meg's hair didn't tip them off, I imagine the aforementioned shrieking did), "so they're going to try to find you a Jo."

I told you they were Christmas witches.

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Tags: best of, christmas, dolls, pirates of the caribbean, teh kraken
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