Blue Baby

“Where’s Blue Baby?” I asked rubbing my eyes and following the smell of burning biscuits downstairs.  I found my brother sitting at Grandma’s kitchen table helping himself to still-sizzling bacon served right out of a cast iron pan. I eyed his bowl of Cream of Wheat with its square dollop of butter forming a perfect yellow pool. I hated being the last one awake.

“Grandma’s almost ready for Sunday school. Better hurry up, ” he said, licking his spoon.

Grandma was humming Amazing Grace from behind the bathroom door.

“But I can’t find Blue Baby.” Panic prickled my skin. I knew I had gone to sleep with her because I did every night.  My arms didn’t feel right without her tucked inside them.

I became Blue Baby’s mama when I turned two.  She had the perfect blue gingham dress– just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.  I loved her more than any person alive, but my Grandma was my favorite alive person.

Without looking up my brother mumbled, “Grandma put her in the burning can.” I knew Blue Baby had an enemy in Grandma, because Baby Blue had bald spots on her head.  Grandma asked me why I pulled her hair, and I told her the truth: “Because I loved her so much.”

I was the only one who still thought she looked beautiful. Because she was.

My beautiful Blue Baby (36 years later)

My beautiful Blue Baby (36 years later)

I knew I was on Grandma’s list of favorite people, ranking somewhere after Jesus who did miracles, like bringing my daddy home safely from Vietnam.  I also thought she loved my cousin Susan more than me because Susan knew a lot about the Bible, and she lived in California so Grandma got to fly in a plane to visit her.

I didn’t believe my Grandma would put my doll in the burning can, the place where country people light their trash on fire.  Sometimes Grandma let me strike the match, but I wasn’t supposed to tell my mom or dad.

That morning, my brother wouldn’t look at me. I got scared he was telling the truth.

I ran out the door as fast as my bare feet could carry me. I saw the rusty barrel where just the night before we had taken turns setting trash on fire and marveling as flames devoured our dinner scraps.

I wasn’t tall enough to see all the way inside even standing on my tippy toes. I ran to the kitchen to grab a stool.

Once I steadied the stool in the grass, I climbed up and could see all the way inside the barrel.  I saw Blue Baby sleeping on ashy ghosts of burned newspaper pages. Her dress was covered in fine black dust.  I grabbed my baby and held her sooty body.  I whispered in her ear that I would never let her go.

“Grandma must have had a good reason for putting you there,” I assured her.

“She must have had a good reason.”

read to be read at


84 thoughts on “Blue Baby

    • I know; she’s no longer with us, but I will ask her some questions when I see her in the Great Hereafter. The greatest moment of my life as a daughter came 6 months ago when my sister told me that my dad yelled at her for that. I didn’t know he had my back like that, especially when I was up against his mama. Never too late to get a hero.

    • Oh my god, you have no idea how much that would mean to me. She’s been naked for about 3 decades–no kidding. She needs all the TLC she can get. I will get you those measurements for sure. Your kindness breaks my heart.

  1. I am crying big, shameless tears right now at all of this. The world ought to be thankful I work from home. You had me at “Blue Baby” but then? The comments in this thread? Shut the front door, there is some real heart in this world. And your dad? Oh, he did me in, that one. Wow oh wow.

    • Me too! I can’t tell you how often I wondered who the F was looking out for me when someone BELOVED was trying to burn my treasures. Now I can almost understand that she grew up dirt poor– third grade education, rural Texas hard life– the works. So to her, to see my mangy doll felt like a slap in the face. She didn’t want her granddaughter running around with a doll that looked like something shameful. She offered to buy me new dolls all the time. I hated their pink cheeks and their pristine, shallow prettiness. (I was a very deep 3 year old.) Anyway, I can understand today that it was her deep shame about poverty and not about hurting me. That only took about 40,000 dollars of therapy. At least my therapist has a boat now. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  2. I’m with Melisa – your responses to the comments are almost as amazing as this post. Your writing is captivating – the details make this story really come to life. Your voice as a young child is spot on. Anyone who doesn’t cry when you ‘couldn’t reach with your tippy toes and had to run and get a stool’ is a heartless human being. Fantastic story.

    • Thanks. I definitely didn’t follow the directions, because it’s not spare and I didn’t work on my blog look, but what the hell. I think I snuck in some emotional healing, which is always good for me. Thanks!!

    • That’s funny! I actually think they worked together, but I forgave my brother long ago because he told me about it before someone struck the next match. I definitely like your style, though. I was probably too fixated on eating food instead of seeing it for what it could have been: a weapon.

  3. Oh, goodness! Grandmothers should know that you never get between a child and his/her lovie! I can’t tell you the number of times my mom stitched my teddy bear’s nose back on because it got loved so much..

    • Pretty sure it was because she looked like a doll for a poor person, which was upsetting to someone who survived the Depression in very tenuous circumstances.

  4. Grandma’s got some ‘splainin’ to do! Holy smokes (well, almost). My own beloved grandma was fond of taking my baby when I wasn’t looking to give her a bath (i.e. throw her in the washing machine), which was traumatic enough. I can’t imagine had I found her in the burning can. Gah. So glad you still have your blue baby. Her appearance is just a testament to how much she was loved.

  5. I can smell the burning can right now, mixed with the smell of the honeysuckle bush under the bathroom window and I am tearing up because you hit the nail on the head with your reason why your baby was burned. Ever wonder why there were about a hundered baby dolls in her house? Each lovingly saved at a doll hospital or from Souls Harbor. Lots of them had their nails painted. It breaks my heart to know that she treasured those dolls so much because she never had any growing up. Lots of her decisions were clouded with the fears of being poor but I guess that is what made her have such a big heart.

    Sorry about your baby doll but if you would like a porcelain one she had I got you covered…. I saved a lot of them myself. 🙂

    • Oh! I remember the porcelain ones. I hope my parents still have the ones we got. It’s so weird to get it now after all these years. I definitely miss her! And you.

  6. By the way I just looked up the full lyrics to the Bob Dylan song and I didn’t realize the lines “Strike another match, go start anew, And it’s all over now, Baby Blue” Extra level of meaning there. I love a post that keeps speaking to you hours after you’ve read it.

  7. Oh my god. Great post but I burst into tears when Nancy wrote that she’d make your baby blue a new dress.

    Oh Grandmas. I think they live so long they forget how much inanimate objects mean to people, especially kids. My grandma was the same way. “Why would you want to keep a dirty old thing like that for, good grief child!” I see her point now. LOL. But she turned me into a minimalist.

  8. Wow, you’ve outdid yourself here. This is your best work I’ve seen thus far. It’s a wonderful story, written nicely from the child’s perspective. It could be part of a short story or novel. It really is that good. I remember in an earlier post you said you wanted to be a writer. I agree with your therapist — you ARE a writer.

  9. This is awesome.

    I had a grandma like that.

    And, I had a Winnie-the-Pooh that I loved so much, I pulled out all its fur.

  10. LOVE had me at Blue Baby. My sister once had a large doll aptly named Big Doll. Are you sure your brother didn’t have something to do with her disappearance?

    • I am pretty sure his hands are dirty. But he did fess up and I think he moved a sack of potatoes do I could get the step stool. So he is forgiven through the march of time.

  11. Holy cow. My mouth is still gaping open about the size of the state of Utah. I’m speechless. You wrote a great story. I’m sorry you lived it…but I’m sure your Grandmother thought she was doing what was best for you.

    • Thank you. And I know that’s true. To her it wasn’t a beloved doll, but a symbol of shame and degradation. I empathize with her impulse to incinerate that symbol.

  12. I read some of the comments and I can relate to your grandma’s generation not wanting their grandchildren to look poor. My mom bought me a bathing suit at Goodwill (I know, kind of gross, but you had to see it. It was the coolest thing ever.) and when my grandma found out it was used she gave my mom such a shaming. After that I was only allowed to wear it around the house.

    This post reminded me of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which doesn’t end as well, I’m afraid. I like your version better.

    • I can’t believe this, but I actually don’t remember a thing about the Velveteen Rabbit. How is that possible? I am putting it on my summer reading list.

      And it’s hilarious you had a bathing suit from Goodwill. I am picturing polka dots with a flaired skirt.

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  14. I still sleep with my Goodfeel. It’s a blanket that I’ve had, literally, since birth. When I named it, I was two-years-old at the time. And by the way, you are not the first person to call me Linus. 😉 That Baby Blue of your’s is BEAUTIFUL. There is something so special about those childhood memories.

  15. My grandmother hid my beloved Blue Blankie one time while I was staying at her house. I was torn up about it for a long time. Now that I have kids, I understand she knew it was time for me to let go of Blue Blankie. At some point she gave it back to my mom to keep because my mom presented me with Blue Blankie when I had my first child. It was a little too ripped up to use but I have it tied around a teddy bear’s neck.

    • THis makes me cry. I hate the thought of you losing your Blue Blankie. And I concede there may be no easy way to do this with kids. Plus, lots of grandma’s are old school and can do things our moms were afraid to do. I love the thought that you still have a piece of the blanket still today.

  16. I had a doll JUST LIKE THIS ONE named “Sal-la.” I think I was actually trying to say “Sally.” My mom took her to this lady that put a new head of hair on her. She was never the same after that. Beautiful portrayal of attachment from the eyes of a child.

  17. as a mama who still sleeps with her two baby blankets while her children 4 and 6 have none, i tell you, this spoke straight to me. the beauty found in those worn, frayed edges…you can’t replace that. such a beautiful telling here! truly beautiful.

  18. Best post yet! Sweet and sad and perfect.

    Also glad to hear that I’m not the only one who occasionally sleeps with a childhood love (in my case, a blanket). What a great community you have made here!

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  20. My mom threw away my pink elephant when I was at my grandma’s for a sleep-over. I may never forgive her for that. Which may explain why she has never gotten rid of any of our childhood toys since. I still have my pink Bitsy Beans doll and a couple of others. You have now inspired a blog post for me about the day I threw my baby dolls away. It has become a bit traumatic for me and maybe writing about it will help me heal.

  21. Oh my gosh, I, too, had a Blue Baby! I still have her, as a matter of fact. Thank goodness no one ever tried to burn her, though…sheesh!
    Now I feel this need to go get her out of the storage box 🙂

  22. Oh Lord. This was incredible.
    Everything about it was so great, and I think that all of your other commenters have covered everything I could possibly say about your story. It was perfect.
    I do have to admit that I don’t think I could ever come up with as wonderful lines as you do! My favorites were “I loved her more than any person alive, but my Grandma was my favorite alive person” and “Sometimes Grandma let me strike the match, but I wasn’t supposed to tell my mom or dad”. These ones are what brought me to your level in the story and really helped me see the world that you saw at that point in time.

    You rock.

  23. WTF, grandma? That’s just bald-ist.

    I am glad you retrieved baby blue. I was picturing a Velveteen Rabbit type situation. I really enjoyed this post.

  24. Thank GOD your brother told you. I had a doll like that. Her name was blue eyes. Her hair was blonde and patchy. And she was only one of two favorites. My other favorite was a wooden doll who was falling apart. I literally loved that doll to dust. And I would have never ever forgiven a parent who did that to my favorite dolls.

  25. just coming to this now…but I’m with those who think that Brother maybe accidentally tossed Blue Baby into the trash w/out Grandma’s knowledge…my brother hid my sister’s precious, precious pacifier & it was never found (sending my sister into years and years and YEARS of therapy) – Bro says he intended to be the hero and “find” the missing paci, but er…forgot where he hid it. Hate to cast aspersions on your brother but…

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  27. WOW….. You have just made me recall a story My Grandma told me… She was also very, very poor growing up. She only ever had one doll: a china doll in a blue dress with dark brown ringlet curls. Her brother, who was quite cruel to her, smashed the doll. RIght after that, their mother died, and she was past around from family member to family member. She never had a doll or a play thing. She bought me my first doll (which I still cherish) and then later, she started a china doll collection for me. She would have been from the same generation as your Grandma. Amazing the significance the dolls carried. This story and the follow- up are just wonderful, and definitely make me want to read more.

    • It’s true. My grandma had a huge collection of porcelain dolls. They were all over her house and I can imagine being so deprived when she was younger fueled her doll craze.

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