What I Learned from Barbie

I spent a lot of timing playing by myself as a child.  Many of my weekends were spent at my Grandmother’s house.  Now Grandma taught me how to cook, how to clean, play cards, Yahtzee, dominoes and exposed me to the arts via The Lawrence Welk Show. She secretly had a penchant for Soap Operas, The Brady Bunch, and Planet of the Apes movies, so there’s that.

On a typical Saturday – after morning cartoons, I would play with my Barbie dolls in the living room while Grandma sat in her rocking chair.  Today, I’d like to invite you into my Barbie Community, because as I reminisce about my playtime, I realize how much my life reflects those early days of imagination.  To be honest, I think Barbie should get some credit in my upbringing.

Let me start with some introductions.  My Barbie family actually started with some hand-me-down “Tammy” dolls.  There was of course Tammy, who was a bit stockier than Barbie and had a weird shoot of long hair in the center of her head,  There were Tammy’s parents, who I affectionately named Frank and Dorothy after my own parents.  Tammy had 3 younger siblings, Wendy, probably about 15 because she never drove, Pepper, who in my mind struggled with her weight and had bad red hair – maybe 13 and her little brother Salty, maybe 8.  Now there was also Bob, who sometimes was Tammy’s older brother and sometimes her boyfriend.  (Hey ,the population was limited, so think Biblical times, and his won’t seem so scandalous).  As time progressed, I added the Barbies:  I had dark-haired Midge who was strong-willed, smart, but not quite as pretty as her blonde sister/friend Francine, who had a collection of hair pieces.  There was of course, Barbie who had it all.  OH, and there was Misty who had really bad hair (older doll that had white hair you were supposed to be able to color with special markers but it didn’t take long for that to go south). Now Midge, Francine, and Barbie were always trying to help Misty look better because she often played the role of the cousin whose parents died, so she had to come live with them.  And of course, there was Ken who all the girls fought over (poor Bob was always second choice).  Now you’ve met the cast of characters.

Almost every Saturday I would pull out my cases and boxes of dolls and clothes and set up the house on the small, oval rug in front of Grandma’s gray plaid sofa. The sofa became the second story of the house. I kept a lot of the clothes in an old wooden silverware box that I always placed on the right.  It served as a dining room table, a dance floor (when we threw the ball)  and the stage when we had the talent shows.  Frank and Dorothy always slept in the plaid case downstairs, Wendy, Pepper and Salty’s rooms were in the east wing on the floor and the older girls slept upstairs.  Once again Bob sometimes stayed in the house (on the top of the back of the couch a/k/a the attic), but Ken only visited unless he was sleeping over, in which he would stay in the aforementioned attic.   One more important caveat:  Since I only had a blue plastic boat for transportation, the family lived on an island and my Grandmother’s carpet was now the sea.  There were harbors available underneath any chair in the room, but you had to be VERY careful around the rocking chair, lest you get crushed.

Okay, I think you’re up to speed.  I can genuinely say that the many hours in this world of imagination played a key role in the adult I became.  Go ahead and laugh but consider these facts:  I think I always saw myself as “Tammy”, a little overweight, a little weird and never fully accepted by the pretty girls.  Yet Tammy always overcame the obstacles at the end of the day and got to wear the prettiest dress.  Please note that she was always the one who helped the cousin with the bad hair (Misty) by being accepting of her and finding her the perfect outfit.   Oh yes, let’s talk about the clothes.  The Barbie family were ALWAYS changing clothes and I had a massive amount of Barbie clothes and accessories.  Now, in real life, I love clothes – my closet is like a giant silverware box, I have outfits for every occasion and again, note I loved dressing up my own daughter Grace so much that she is now in the fashion industry.

Okay, moving on:  If the Barbie family wasn’t having a formal ball where EVERYONE, except Salty, got dressed to the hilt (Salty only had one outfit so he always had to go to bed early), then they were putting on a talent show (Salty was welcomed at this event).  The talent show was a huge endeavor because I had to create an act (not to mention costumes) for all the participants. This is where I learned my production skills. Reality check – just who ended up in Community Theatre?  However, since I absolutely love throwing a good party, I think the balls played a major part in my hospitality skills, and to this day, I enjoy spending hours getting ready for an event.

I learned a lot about important things like relational conflicts as Midge, Tammy, Francine and Misty tried to get along with Barbie.  There was always a lot of apologizing after long afternoons of conflict.  I learned that even though Ken rarely looked Tammy’s way, Bob was really the better guy.  After all Bob was always the clown in the talent show because Ken’s legs were too rubbery to get the clown costume on.  Who doesn’t love the “funny” guy?  And even though Bob couldn’t bend his legs, who wants a guy with rubber legs?

I learned a lot about adventure as the Barbie family loved to strike out on the boat…sometimes on trans-continental excursions to the bedroom.  There were romantic dates and shipwrecks.  There may be danger lurking but you could always count on another family member to save you in the plaid dingy a/k/a Frank and Dorothy’s bedroom.  Family is always there in the rough times.

What I most want to thank the Barbie family for is the gift of imagination they so generously gave me. They got me through some lonely days and they were faithful to teach me an incredible life lesson:

“It always works out in the end…as long as you keep playing”.

A couple of questions that creep me out a little:  When I was caught up in all of my Barbie world drama, did I talk out loud, or was it all in my head?  Did Grandma sit her rocking chair and listen to this every weekend?  Hmmm…maybe that’s why she loved having me stay with her.  There were no soap operas on Saturday.

Hey, how about commenting and sharing some of your Barbie adventures???

-Lori Klickman


4 thoughts on “What I Learned from Barbie

  1. I related to this post! I do see glimpses of my Barbie world in my adult life. Creativity, order, relationships, and even sewing. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I had two daughter three years apart and they played ‘
    Barbie for hours; I thought their make believe was good for them.

  3. Beautiful memories of life with our special Granny & Grandpa! Remember well Lawrence Welk and the man with the sing along’s (Mitch Miller). Her banana bread, German potato salad,creamed peas and fried bologna sandwiches were some favorites. Kathy and I were 6-8 yrs old and she was more mobile when they lived downtown. Remember walking down to the neighborhood bakery with her for fresh bread and of course we got gigantic sugar cookies. One day she took us for a walk down State St. and we were treated with sundaes at the Kresge’s soda fountain. I thought I was in a palace with the large mirrors and all that brass. On the way we walked by the Buster Brown Shoe Store and they had painted foot prints out front on the walk and we had fun walking in them. Grandpa would come home later and we would pile into his 54 Ford and take a ride to the A&W for a gallon of root beer and get our free baby beers. After supper would be learning how to play rummy and 31 with a root beer float to round off the night, 🙂
    PS: We had the original Barbie dolls. They were fashion models and very independent! Ken had not arrived on the seen yet.

    Thanks for the memories!

    Cousin Barb

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