Green Machines, Purple Ultra-Suede Suits, and the only Barbie Doll I ever owned: Christmas as a Tomboy Debutante
Like many middle-class families in the 70s and 80s, Christmas was a time of security, warmth, and happiness. Cookies were baked, carols sung, a tree trimmed, the Grinch watched/recited, eggnog was imbibed, copious food consumed, and presents unwrapped.
Oh the presents. The unwrapping of presents is never a truly joyous part of Christmas for me. And I suspect it’s this way with all TBDs, because never is the struggle between what you want to be and what the world demands you to be brought into such sharp focus.
For me, this is represented in my memory by two particular gifts, from two different Christmases: the Purple Ultra-Suede Suit and the Barbie Doll.
Firstly, everyone has that family member who gives shitty gifts.
If you don’t know who this is in your family, check yourself. It may be you and there are interventions and therapies you need to explore. The THIRD RING of TBD HELL includes Shitty Gift-Givers.
In our family, QTip and DB sucked most at Christmas gift-giving. Shocker, right?
Not just the gifts, but the food too. (But the food we’ll save for another chapter. BookMark that. )
DB and QTip always gave us presents that did little more than prove to us that they didn’t know us at all. And often had the added bonus of intentionally attempting to show us how they thought we OUGHT to be.
Ultra-Suede is a fucked hybrid fabric that someone in the 60s (?) invented so that fashionistas in Atlanta could wear hide-looking clothing without sweating like the animals from which the hide came . And all the ladies between the ages of 35 and 65 were wearing it, so it of course, this is what I got for Christmas one year. Just what every 13 year old girl- who wants nothing more than to fit in with all the other 13 year olds wearing Coca-Cola sweatshirts at school- should get for Christmas. Awesome.
It was my personal version on of the Bunny Suit from A Christmas Story.
It was dark purple *and it was a SUIT, as in a skirt that landed well below the knee, and full conservative (box-cut) jacket. The skirt flared slightly and was unflattering, even on my skinny-ass size 2 self. In addition, I was forced to wear this with a pale pink shirt with ruffles; together with my short cropped Molly Ringwald haircut , I looked like Flight Attendant on Your Plane to Hell.
This one can be purchased in the VINTAGE section of eBay for about $80.
And like the Bunny Suit, I was forced to model it right then and there. Welcome to flight 672 to Hell, with stop-overs in thinly-veiled disapproval, and demented attacks on your self-esteem. I’ll be coming through with your beverage cart in about 8 years. QTip gushed over how mature and lovely I looked, commenting on how I should take care to choose appropriate shoes, DB adding and “do something” with that hair. Qtip stuck with mature and lovely as her only adjectives and she said them over and over when I later wore the suit to church, showing me off to her friends.
But time was on my side. In less than a year, my training in the pool made my shoulders too big for the jacket, and the SISTERS bloomed to full C-cups; no amount of creative alterations could make those puppies fit into that horrid pink blouse. (Damn.)
But let’s go even further back to BARBIE, shall we? To My All Time Favorite Christmas Gift.
Not because I liked Barbies. I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t like dolls in general. I had an over-sized Ragged-Ann and Andy doll set someone gave/made me that sat in a rocking chair in my room. I stuffed them in the closet every night before bed to avoid any possible horror movie scenarios involving them. No Strawberry Shortcakes, not even Smurfs for me. I did not embrace the Cabbage Patch Kids craze. ** And sock monkeys still scare the Be-Jesus out of me.
This is a sock monkey my Cuz Fergie gave me this year. He put it on the hearth, because even Meth-Lab-Mix Otter Dog knows all sock monkeys are evil and should be burned. Good Boy.
I was 6? 7? Iwanted Action Figures from Golden Boy’s comic books, like Spiderman and G.I Joes. I desperately wanted a Stretch Armstrong (which was under the tree BTW because my parents Kick Ass). But mainly I wanted outdoor toys like footballs, Frisbees, and before bikes, Big Wheels, and the oh-so-coveted Green Machine (which arrived at some point as well). According the Hurricane, we literally wore the plastic tires off the Green Machines and Big Wheels we got every birthday and Christmas for two solid years, racing down the street and driveway, locking up the peddles to do Evil Knievel controlled spins.
Actual 70’s Commercial for The Coolest Ride a Kid Could Ever Have.
But let’s talk about Barbie, shall we?
Barbies are both wrong and right in so many ways. You don’t have to go very far these days to find articles explaining the evils of Barbie; she is the root of many a plastic-surgery addiction and evidently single-handedly responsible for millions of eating disorders in America. I agree that she is a horrible message on many levels to little girls about who they are, who they should be, and how they should get there, but responsible for your teen’s self-esteem problems and bulimia? I think that’s over-simplifying a very complex and disturbing problem, and avoiding accountability, which is the single worst problem in America, to my mind.
Barbies don’t raise little girls, parents do.
And my parents were not exactly excited about the Barbie gift, but willing to admit that it’s JUST A FRICKIN DOLL. Later in his life, in fact, Dad actually told me that DB had called him and asked him about it. Asked, did I play with dolls? All the granddaughters of his friends loved them; they all wanted Barbies, didn’t I want one too?
Dad had told him that comic books and records would be better. I had discovered MoTown. We had my dad’s college record player in the den that was being worn out by me and my Smoky Robinson 45’s. He never told me DB’s reply to this, but I can only imagine he berated my father for not raising me more properly. I was a girl, after all. I should want a Barbie; therefore I was being given a Barbie.
This is the Barbie I got. The boa went MIA that very day. The following summer, mom and I gave her to a little girl in our neighborhood who loved dolls and was so excited to get her.
I faked happiness, poorly I am sure. As an adult I have virtually no filter, so I can’t imagine I had one at all as a child. But I was not a brat. I gave kisses and hugs and thank yous *** and after lunch took Barbie outside to play. Christmas in North Carolina is often sunny and warm, and this year needed little more than a light jacket.
Golden Boy had gotten the coolest gift from mom and dad, a Boy Scout survival kit, complete with all sorts of awesomeness, including a magnifying glass and real knife. We were most interested in the former, since the sun was out and this meant we could start fires.
We were in the back, on the pad of cement that connected the garage to the back patio. We started with leaves. Then graduated to ants. One particular ant was wiley, so we were having to shift and move where we sat to continue aiming the sunbeam just right to roast his little ass. We didn’t notice really when he tried to hide under Barbie, who lay on the ground beside me.
I don’t know what Barbie’s hair is made of, but that must be the most flammable substance on earth. Seriously, does our military not have a use for this stuff??
Before we could even comprehend what was happening, her hair was GONE.
In a quick flash (literally) I had CHEMO BARBIE.
It became one of many Christmas secrets we’ve come to hold dear, like the year the tree almost stayed forever, the year the neighbor’s Bull Dogs ruined Hurricane’s pantyhose, the year a 6 year old thought my dad was Santa at the mall, the year Frosty became Holly and we sang her song up to Easter, the year we ordered pizza after Qtip tried to poison us, the year dad slipped in grease at the shelter and another EggNogged volunteer lit his ass on fire… Ah the memories.
And guess what DB & QTip got me every year after Barbie?
It’s like you know us so well already.
Every year they traveled to exotic locations; two weeks in China, a month in Australia and New Zealand, a three week tour of the Holy Land and Middle Eastern destinations were all common. Instead of getting us cool souvenirs, sharing photos and exciting stories, they smiled and told us that one day if we invested well we could travel and experience these things on our own. And that was that. And the souvenirs? These items were stored in a guest room, wrapped, then delivered on Christmas day as the Lamest Gifts Ever.
An example of Dolls from Around the World.
Lamest. Gifts. Ever.
By the time I was in high school, I had a doll from 35+ countries and 5 continents. They lived in a secretary at the top of the stairs, perfectly frocked with vacant looks in their eyes, locked away like girls sold into the sex industry or methed-up fashionista POWs.
And all I ever wanted to do was set them all on fire.
If I could give one piece of Holiday advice? Unsolicited wisdom during this Yule season? Know the kids you give gifts to. And if you don’t, have the common sense to ask (and LISTEN) to what their parents tell you about what they want for Christmas, what they are in to, what they are interested in. It doesn’t mean you have to buy them frickin ponies or everything on their demented bratted-up lists. But what they receive should be about making them happy, not making you happy. And never about making them into something you wish they would be. Something they are not.
Not all girls are Barbies. Not all boys are G.I.Joes.
These days, if you want to make me happy? Think Grey Goose Vodka.
And because I am a child of the 70s and 80s? Think Darth Vader ice cubes trays.
I promise you’ll get a sincere hand-written thank you note sometime in January.
Happy Christmas TBD fans!
For your viewing pleasure? Barbie makes RV’ing sexy. Check it:
**I consider the current American Girl doll mania the karmic reward for all little girls who played with Cabbage Patch dolls, especially those who were brats about them. Fighting, whining, pitching fits in the aisles of retail stores for them. May you all have daughters that drive you insane for custom American Girl dolls and gear. This is my Christmas Curse on you.
*** I would write formal thank you notes later, at Hurricane’s insistence, to everyone, including grandparents, learning early in life the value of thanking someone for time and energy and love and not lying about loving Shitty Gifts. It pains me to see young people today without this skill; to not send such a missive to your Uncle Dan or Granny Smith is more than simple Lack of Respect. It’s laziness and implied arrogance, usually I notice, with a healthy sense of entitlement attached.