Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Miracle of the Dolls- My Mother's Story

My mother's story of faith, courage, hard work, and determination is inspiring to say the least.  I lived this story with her; and from my perspective as a little girl, she-was-amazing!!!  My parents moved from Utah with all five of us children.  Very shortly after, cancer took the life of one of my older sisters.  My parents lost so much financially and emotionally- they needed a miracle.

The following are my mother's words from an article in the "The Ozarks Mountaineer" in 1984.  Guess what the name of the article was?  THE MIRACLE OF THE DOLLS!!  In reading her story, I believe you will be inspired, uplifted, amazed, and motivated!  My mother taught me by example that I can do anything I want to do!!  I pray that you will feel the same belief in yourself as you read…

Her Start... 1980

“Several years ago, my husband and I found ourselves in a big debt from business ventures and illnesses.  We did not want to go bankrupt so we told the many banks and people that we would pay them all back some way and as much as we could, as fast as we could.  Each month we tried to satisfy the many creditors with the money, but there was very little to live on, and it kept getting smaller and smaller.  For months there was only five or ten dollars left for food each week.  Then my mother reminded me that I could make cornhusk dolls.  She had done it and sold them many years ago and she had taught me how to make them.  But in the past few years we had only made them for gifts.

She encouraged me to make at least ten and try to sell them.  She had to twist my arm, because it was not the thing I was in the mood to do.  I had to make something for my family to eat out of nothing every day.  But with my first ten dolls for sale at $4 each, we headed for Silver Dollar City [in Branson, MO].  On the way, mother encouraged me to stop at a shop.  The owner quietly inspected the dolls on her counter for a while and my heart pounded.  Then she set two aside.  I thought to myself, "Oh, I'll bet she will buy those two and that will be $8 for groceries."  I was so happy! Then she put her arms around the eight remaining dolls and said, "I'll take these!"  My heart leaped! That was my first sale, and I was overjoyed.  That was the biggest $32 I ever saw!  We continued to Silver Dollar City and they bought the remaining two and sent me home with an order for 10 more.  That is how it all began.  

They sold quickly and I received orders for more and more.  I was so grateful to the Lord for the sales, and so grateful that I could do something to buy extra food.  Sales increased and I said to myself that if it would be at all possible, I would never turn down an order for a doll.  If the Lord was kind enough to get us the sales, I would do all I could to make the dolls.  I did not realize how hard that was going to be, but I would work long hours into the night to fill orders.  I cried over the paperwork that was so hard to keep straight.  My mother and husband and children and friends began to help.  Mother helped make heads, sleeves, and other items ahead for me.  The family helped sort husk into the right size for the right job.  They spent hours gathering and making the items which the dolls hold in their hands.  Friends helped with paperwork and purchasing materials needed.  Seeing the potential, a retired couple, Max and Billie Peterson, worked for over a year without pay to help this little business get on its feet.  Soon we were all involved in boxing, shipping, dying, and every aspect of the creation of the dolls.

People wondered how I could make so many dolls.  My family and friends had everything ready at my fingertips.  I only had to sit in one spot, and everything I needed was within my reach.  I would move my hands as fast as I could for eight hours, then nap for one or two, and work for another four to eight hours.  The family was very good to learn to do homemaking chores on their own.  They maintained well-balanced meals and kept a tidy home.  John was now teaching school, so his help was limited, but he took the children to and from the many activities they needed to attend.

The house became filled, every room, with doll makings, the half-done dolls, and finished dolls.  Someone would go to take a bath and discover the tub was filled to the brim with cornhusk in bleach water.  One would go to get a drink of punch from the refrigerator only to find it labeled "dye."  It was not stew brewing on the stove but a huge vat of husk dying.  When answering the phone, a child would say, "Mother can not come to the phone; she and grandmother are dying in the kitchen."  There became one narrow alleyway from the bedroom door to the bed.  The family room was the workshop and the living room was the sorting and the storage area, with narrow alleyways for walking.  

War Eagle Art Fair

War Eagle was a turning point for us in our financial crisis.  At our first War Eagle Fair in October 1982, we were prepared with as many dolls as I could possibly finish.  I only had two hours sleep the night before, but we went to work to get our booth decorated with some material we had purchased for fifteen cents per yard and some scrap wood.  Dear friends helped me decide how to decorate and at the awards assembly I was overjoyed to be awarded "Best of Show."  I was so thrilled just to be in this wonderful show, and during the first three hours, we were nearly sold out.  A strange thing happened also.  Since we sold so many so fast, I thought I would look at my watch to see how late in the day it was.  It actually felt like it was near four o'clock and since the show would end at five o'clock, I was anticipating seeing my watch say three or four o'clock.  To the surprise of us all, it was only 11:45 am. Our bodies were saying one thing, yet it was not even noon.

What a strange feeling it was, like being out of time and space.  We continued to sell all day and only had a few left to sell for the next day.  So, at five o’clock we all hurried home, which was one and a half hours away and finished the half-done dolls we had left at home.  The doll cannot be finished the same day the body is made, so there were plenty of partly-done dolls at home.  We all worked all night long, never sleeping one wink.  The children, of course, dropped off like flies at 3am, 4am, and 5am.  I remember Mikel, age nine then, coming up to me and asking a question so slowly and just staring, I had to send him to bed.  Seven in the morning came all too soon for those of us still awake, rushing as fast as we were still able.  John drove us back to War Eagle, still no sleep for him, while we all slept in the van.  But I was really beyond tired and too excited to sleep much of the way, anticipating this new day.  Back at the show, the same thing happened the second day.  The dolls were going fast.  There was a sea of faces in front of our booth.  I thanked the Lord.

Julie, my teenage daughter, and I worked as fast as we could as we sat on two stools facing each other, passing the dolls between us to finish more of the dolls which we were unable to finish during the night.  We looked up now and then to smile at the customers to show our gratitude, but we worked continually as fast as we could all day long, while our friends and my husband sold the dolls and the boys boxed them.  By five o’clock Saturday evening several of us realized we had had only two hours sleep since Wednesday night, but we were so thankful for a successful show.  The money earned at the show helped us to pay a man who had lent my husband money and now was about to lose his property unless he could get some money.  The whole show was a miracle to me.


We recently bought a building a few miles away in Verona, MO, as a workshop where we now go to work on the dolls, so the home is "home" once again.  Even though we are not in the home a great deal, it is a place to rest from doll creation.  Although I have made thousands of dolls, each one is still a joy to see as it comes alive.  I thank the Lord that I can work at something I love doing so much.  I am sure it has become almost an obsession.  In addition to buying extra food and items for the family, the little dolls have paid many of the debts.  

The dolls are a unique cornhusk doll made with love and made to express love in someone's home.  They do not leave my hands until they speak.  They need to say something with their bodies before I let them out into the world.  The mother must say, "I love my baby."  The cookie lady must say, "Would you like to have a cookie?'  They are designed to remind the owner of something special.  For example, the cookie lady reminds me to keep my cookie jar filled.  The baker reminds me to bake a pie from the blackberries I picked last summer.  The flower girl reminds me to take time out to just enjoy the simple things and beauties of life."

My Memories

People at the art fairs would ask to touch and hug my mother because they had been so moved by her art.

Through the years, my mother's doll business brought the attention of many prominent people throughout the country.  Hillary Clinton appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and displayed her six favorite Christmas ornaments- my mother's little cornhusk angel was one of those!  Hillary Clinton also featured my mother's dolls in the Family Circle Magazine.

Barbara Bush went to a big store in Illinois, and the only thing she bought in the entire store was one of my mother's dolls.  The store manager called my mother right away.  Everyone was so excited!!  President George Bush visited our small town growing up; and at the assembly, the city's most prized gift to him was another one of my mother's dolls.

I remember seeing a map of the world on the wall of my mother's doll shop with pins of where they were being sold... the pins covered the map!!  Those years were exhausting and difficult for her but also very rewarding.

My mother’s doll business continued to grow; and after 10 years of intense work, she sold her business and retired off of that money.  The blessings continued; for several years after she sold the business, my father continued to buy the dolls from the new owners and sold them at art fairs all over the East Coast.  My brothers and I grew up accompanying him on those trips.  Wow!!  I learned a lot from those experiences... but that's another story! :-)

This woman... my dear mother... was born in the East.  She called herself a Yankee.  When she moved to the west, she was chosen to ride in Salt Lake City's big parade on a float behind our church president, David O. McKay.  The float was entitled, "Girl of the Golden West."  Years later, with my father and all of their five children, they moved to Southern Missouri, and her talents soon represented the Ozarks; travel brochures in both Missouri and Arkansas featured my mother's dolls.

A woman like this blooms wherever she is planted because of her faith and courage.  I'm so very proud to call her mother for she has helped me to believe in my capabilities just as her mother taught her to believe in her capabilities.  

God puts greatness in each of us and guides us to those who will help bring that greatness out of us.  There were many angels placed in my mother's path to success.  God will give us those earthly angels if we are willing to move forward with the faith and courage similar to my mother's.

God bless you in your journey!!