Shortly after arriving in this country, someone – probably my parents – gave me my first doll. She was Chatty Cathy, a large size hard plastic doll with a pull string in the back of her neck, blond wavy hair, unreal blue eyes and a fixed smile.
My greatest joy was that Cathy spoke to me personally, in my language. When I pulled her string, I became convinced that among her many utterances, she stated in a clear loud voice, “Que rico Colombia!” (loosely translated to “How wonderful is Colombia!) I look back now and realize the complete nonsense of my belief. There was no way Mattel was going to personalize Chatty Cathys for homesick immigrant girls.
I know I ran around pulling that string like crazy, demonstrating to anyone who would listen how brilliant my doll was that she was able to know where I came from and how wonderful it had been there. My parents humored me and nodded with what I assumed was melancholy for the homeland but was probably pity for their clueless child.
There were naysayers, well meaning folks who’s greatest desire was to educate me who were quick to point out that Chatty Cathy was American and therefore only spoke English, that she could only repeat 11 English phrases, that I needed to listen carefully and so on.
And so I did.
Eventually. I pulled the string over and over, listening closely to Cathy’s message to me and it suddenly dawned on me that no matter how many times I pulled the string, she was no longer saying “Que rico Colombia”.
She said “I love you”, “Take me with you”, “Can I have a cookie” and other meaningless phrases, but she no longer said what I needed to hear.
I remember that evening undressing Cathy and without my parents knowing, took her in the bath with me. A strictly forbidden activity because of her talking mechanism. I’m not sure what I was thinking or if it was intentional. But that was the night I silenced Cathy.
For a few days afterwards she gurgled a bit when her string was pulled, but eventually she just smiled silently at me. A little mockingly, I believe.
Chatty Cathy was relegated to a shelf in my room. At one point I took her down and with a marker scribbled something on her forehead and put her back on the shelf.
I never had another doll again.