Sandra Zaslow

I never met Flora, my father's mother, because she died before I was born. I remember looking at pictures of her and thinking how beautiful she was, dressed in Edwardian-style clothes, with her hair swept up, and gloves and hat in hand.

When I had my twelfth birthday, I received a most special gift -- a beautiful bisque-head, kid-bodied doll that belonged to Flora when she was little. Flora's doll was the most enchanting thing I had ever seen, like a fairy-tale princess. My parents had kept her for me all the years I was growing up, until I was old enough to have Flora's doll and treasure her.

Since then, Flora's doll has gone with me everywhere -- to college, graduate school, Boston, Iowa, Montana and, eventually, home to North Carolina. She represents a connection with a grandmother I never knew, except through old photographs. I treated her with love and awe -- but I was sad that her head was cracked in several places and glued back together. I often wondered how she came to be broken, and thought that someone must have loved her very much, to re-glue the pieces of her head back together.

Her clothes were hard to take off and put on, but I marveled at the long-waisted dress, the lace and ribbon, her little locket, and all the layers of slips and pantaloons and camisoles. Over time, her dress has faded from a beautiful blue to cream, but her clothes, locket and other garments are still intact. I loved everything about her, except her hair -- it was such a mess! When I tried to comb through it, some of it came out, so I gave up and piled it on top of her head. Thinking I would help her appearance, I cut some long bangs around her face -- ouch!

I called Flora's doll "Darling," because that was the named inscribed on the back of her bisque neck. Actually, I think of her as "Flora's Darling," because she brings something of my grandmother to me.

When I was in college, my mother took Flora's Darling to a doll-hospital, to see if she could be "mended." Her head wasn't repaired, but she got some patches on her kid body, and new socks and shoes, and one replacement bisque arm.

For the next twenty years, I made numerous attempts to find out about her history and to see if she was repairable. This year, I contacted several highly-recommended doll restorers, but they all said the same thing -- too badly damaged and too expensive to repair. Just once, though, I would love to have seen her as she looked to my grandmother. Maybe someday I will find a doll restorer who can work magic and will tell me, "We can restore her." Meanwhile, Flora's Darling will have to live with her "cracks of love."

I think Flora's Darling is probably German in origin, and from the late 1800's, but I have not been able to find out anything about a doll-maker/manufacturer named "Darling." Perhaps someone who reads this will be able to help solve her mystery.

In her current condition, Flora's Darling is worthless as an antique doll. But she is incredibly valuable to me, and I would never part with her. She is family to me and precious beyond any price. Today, she sits gracefully, in all her cracked glory, in a beautiful carriage I found just for her. It has high wheels, an open body, and sides of wooden carved swan wings. The necks and heads of the swans complete the enchanting look of the carriage, as they bend down to form carved arm-rests.

Like Flora's Darling, her carriage is a mystery, too.