Louise Jensen

(Part 2 in the series about Jessie's Collection)

In early December of 1998 my sister called with the news of our mother's death. During the months that followed, my brother sorted through her estate. He offered me what was left of her collection as my inheritance. I did not hesitate to accept, not so much that it might include valuable dolls, but more because I wanted to see what she had collected over the years.

My mother had moved from our big old house into a small apartment during the middle 90's, storing most of the collection in a lock-up unit at the edge of town. The collection had been significantly reduced from its original size. It seemed she was trying to sell it off completely, since her living space was so greatly reduced.

There is significant distance between New Mexico and Southwestern Michigan, so I invited my friend Eleanor to accompany me on a train trip back home. Eleanor is a dealer in antiques, though not particularly interested in dolls. However, like me, she is always up for an adventure and agreed to come along.

We boarded the train in Albuquerque on a Thursday afternoon, embarking on a 24-hour journey. We slept through the night. Well, not slept so much, since the train was terribly behind schedule and the engineer was trying to make up for lost time. No restful clackety-clack and swaying to and fro -- the train traveled as though driven by Matt Kenseth in a major NASCAR race. Even so, we were too late arriving in Chicago to catch our connecting train to my home town. Amtrak provided coaches to deliver passengers to their final destinations. We arrived at our motel well after dark on Friday evening.

After a big breakfast Saturday morning, we walked to the U-haul dealer to pick up a 26-foot U-haul truck I had rented to transport the collection back to New Mexico. The agent had a difficult time finding a vehicle with an automatic transmission. He said he did NOT want two women traveling such a distance with a manual gear box (??!?) He thought it was a MAN reserving the vehicle.

Once we acquired the truck, it was time to head for the lockup. Both of us were nervous about what was in store. We picked up the keys at the front office and drove round to Jessie's unit. It was a rainy day, punctuated with intermittent solid downpours, so I backed in as close as I could to the doorway.

Then, with a deep breath, I turned the key in the padlock and slid the door open. The unit was FILLED with boxes -- my brother had provided a "map" of the lockup, along with Jessie's notes about what each box contained. There were also dressers full of dolls. Eleanor and I were like two school girls squealing with delight as we carefully inspected the contents of each box. In all, there were 800 dolls left in the collection, as well as 250 or so stuffed animals, lots and lots of children's books, old magazine covers, and other miscellaneous items. There was even a Shoenhut child's piano with bench, from the early 1900s.

It took most of the day to pack the truck. Eleanor was meticulous about wrapping the breakable dolls and re-packing them in their boxes. She was a master at loading a U-haul, stacking the boxes so that nothing would fall or shift during the journey back to New Mexico. The collection was every bit as interesting as I had hoped it would be and I was anxious to get on the road.

We set out early Sunday morning. Our route took us through Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and finally on to New Mexico. There were many interesting sights along the way, as I had never traveled through any of these states before. The roads in Missouri were DREADFUL -- full of twists and turns and hundreds of potholes. We worried that the breakable dolls were getting damaged.

Late Wednesday afternoon, we pulled into my driveway, exhausted from the trip. But not one doll was damaged on that long journey home.

To be continued . . .