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The Doll

By Donna Kilpatrick Stockebrand

Kilpatrick Family Pictures

I was 20 years old before I ever heard about The Doll.  I remember our mother telling me about a doll that she had left at our Grandma Ada Johnson’s (my dad’s mother) house; it had been in a trunk for 30 years in her shed in Markham, Texas (South Texas). Only after our mom “rescued” the doll from that trunk did I learn the story that was connected to one of her most treasured possessions.

When I was a child, our mother said very little about her childhood or about her family, especially her parents. When I was older, I understood why. Both of our parents were from Texas, so growing up in Northern California,  I was always curious about our family far away. Our mother, Winnie Lee Loyd, was born in East Texas in 1914, a beautiful part of the country---rolling land with red dirt, piney woods, abounding with rivers and lakes. Our Grandmother, Pollie Jane Howard Loyd, a very attractive brunette, who was a strong, independent woman with quite a sense of humor, married young to a philandering husband. Our mom was premature and only weighed one pound. Years ago, poor country people did not send for the doctor unless someone was on their deathbed, so our Great-Grandmother, Pollie Jane McCauley Howard, took care of our mom until she was out of danger. Our mom was so tiny, so her first bed was a cigar box! Our Great- Grandmother made an “incubator” of sorts by putting the cigar box, with our mother in it, on the edge of the open oven door. It was a woodstove, so in August, the Texas heat must have been nearly unbearable while our Grandmother and our Great-Grandmother took turns sitting next to the oven door, keeping constant watch on that very small baby.


When our mother was still an infant, our Grandmother learned of our Grandfather’s infidelities and told him to leave, then divorced him, which was quite a brave move for a poor uneducated woman in 1915. I have been told that our Grandmother was ahead of her time, especially when it came to her thinking and her actions. Our Grandmother somehow managed, with the help of her family, and then remarried a few years later to a wonderful man that our mom always called “Daddy.” Jesse Henry was much more of a father to our mom than her biological father.  Her real father did not help support her and only showed up occasionally to pick her up in his buckboard and take her into town and show her off.


Jesse Henry worked in the oilfields, so the little family moved to El Dorado, Arkansas. Jess and Pollie Jane later had 2 baby girls---Addie Bea, who died as a toddler, and Muriel Elizabeth, who was born in 1923. Our Grandmother had told our mom that she could name the second baby (Muriel), so our mom picked out the name Muriel Elizabeth. The name Muriel came from a picture of the pretty lady on the Muriel Cigar box. Our my mom picked Elizabeth for the middle name because she liked it and she thought the pretty name went with Muriel.


In 1924, our Grandmother told our mom that if she helped with chores around the house during the summer, she would give our mom a twenty- dollar gold piece to spend as she pleased. That was a lot of money back then. Our mom gladly helped out, and at the end of the summer, received her much deserved earnings. She held onto that money, and close to Christmas, she spotted a beautiful doll that she really wanted in a shop window. She consulted with our Grandmother, who agreed that the doll would be a wise purchase, so before Christmas, our mom went to the shop and bought the doll. There was no electricity yet in that part of Arkansas, so the Christmas trees had candles instead of lights. Before Christmas, the candles had been lighted, but the tree caught fire. My mom, who happened to be standing near the tree when it caught fire, knew that her doll was wrapped up under the tree (that may have been her only gift that year, I don’t know), so she ran to the tree, grabbed the doll and ran out of the house. The other gifts and the house were also saved. That doll was so important to my mom, and she took very good care of it. She didn’t realize how special that doll would become.


In June 1925, our Grandmother became suddenly ill from blood poisoning, and after 3 days, the family sent for the doctor. By the time the doctor saw our Grandmother, there was nothing he could do for her. Two of our Grandmother’s sisters had traveled from Texas to care for her, our mom and her baby sister. Our Grandmother knew she was dying and worried about her young daughters (our mom was 10 and our Aunt Muriel was only 2), her husband, and she also planned her funeral. Tragically, after 5 days, our Grandmother passed away at the young age of 29. She was taken back to East Texas and buried at Cedar Yard Cemetery near Center.


Jesse Henry later married my Grandmother’s niece; Bertie was 16 and Jesse was 32. Bertie was also our mom’s and our aunt’s first cousin. Muriel was only 3 and our mom was 11 by that time. Bertie and Jesse kept Muriel, but Bertie did not want our mom hanging around, so our mom was shipped off to take turns living with various relatives. Our mother was devastated---first, by losing her dear mother, and secondly, by being sent away from the only home she had ever known. Our mom took the doll with her every time she moved. It was a bittersweet possession reminding her of the happy times with her mother, but it also reminded her of how much she had lost.

One of our mom’s aunts, Penny Raye Howard Shaw, was like a second mother and was our mom’s favorite. When our mom wasn’t staying with her Aunt Penny Raye, she worked for a family (starting at age 15), cooking and cleaning so she could help support herself. Unfortunately, our Great-Grandmother, Pollie Jane, was poor and made the rounds staying with her daughters at different times.


Our mom told me that our Great-Grandmother gave up after our Grandmother died and just grieved herself to death 11 years later.


Our mom moved to Clemville, which was an oil-boom town in South Texas, to live with her “mean” aunt. It was at the Clemville School where our mom met our dad, Doyle Kilpatrick, to whom she was soon attracted. Our mom and dad starting “courting” each other, but they had to have a chaperone with them, which was usually one of my dad’s younger siblings. He was the eldest of 11, so there were plenty of chaperones to go around!  In 1932, when our dad was 19 and our mom was almost 18, they were married by a lady minister in Center, the first marriage that was performed in the new church building there.


The newlyweds bought their first house with a twenty-dollar gold piece that was given to them by our Great-Grandmother, who must have squirreled that money away for many, many years. The little one-room house in Clemville had been a cookhouse, so our parents added windows, linoleum, a roof and built on an extra room. This was during the Great Depression, so our parents were very lucky that our dad was employed in the oilfields, plus they owned their own home.  Since they lived in a rural area, they had fresh chicken, pork, dairy and produce.


A few years later, my sister, Alva Doylene Kilpatrick, was born in Bay City in 1935.


Our dad still worked in the oilfields, and after living in different parts of South Texas, our parents decided to move to California in 1942, during World War II.  The doll was left in our Grandma Ada’s shed in Markham.


Our parents moved to San Diego, then our dad was transferred to Fairfield, in Northern California the next year. In 1947, I was born in Vallejo. When I was eight years old, our parents starting visiting Texas during most summers. 


I was in heaven because I could meet my relatives, plus I had SO many cousins to play with! It was truly a wonderful experience for me.


In 1967, our parents went on vacation to Texas. I wasn’t able to go because I was working full-time at the telephone company. When our parents returned home, our mom showed me the doll that had been wrapped up in a towel and stored in a trunk for 30 years. The doll’s hair, eyelashes and dress had disintegrated, but the porcelain face and glass eyes were intact. Our mom re-wrapped the doll, put her in a box, and stored her under the bed in the guest room.


The doll wasn’t mentioned for years, until 1984, when our mom told me that she was having the doll restored. The restorer had painted eyelashes instead of gluing real ones on, so our mom wasn’t too pleased about that. Our mom had told me about a doll show at the county fairgrounds in the fall, so we went. The doll was wrapped up in a clean towel, naked and hairless, but a man came up to my our mom outside the doll show and offered her $1,000 for the doll!


Our mom told him that the doll was not for sale. We learned from the man that the doll was made by the Kestner Company in Germany, and since she was 28 inches tall and 60 years old, she was very valuable.


Our mom and I had a lot of fun shopping for the doll and dressing her up. First, we looked at wigs. We found one with long brown curls that looked just right. Then, we shopped for clothes. Our mom spotted a Victorian-styled dress made of  ivory-colored Swiss embroidery with a wide lavender sash, petticoats and a matching bonnet with the same lavender ribbon. She tried the dress and the bonnet on the doll and everything fit perfectly, as if they had been made just for our mom’s doll. The dress was expensive and I was shocked that our mom, a penny-pincher when it came to things for herself, actually bought the clothes. She told me later that she had been saving the money up for a long time to outfit the doll. The only thing left were the shoes and stockings. We found stockings and a pair of button-up kid leather boots that matched well with the dress. The ensemble was now complete.


When our mission was finished at the doll show, I asked our mom as we were walking out of the fairgrounds what she had named her doll, and she said, “Sarah.” I will never forget our mother’s face as she cradled the doll, looked at her and said, “You’re expensive, but you’re worth it.” I realized then how precious that beautiful doll was to our mom and how much she still loved her mother, even after 59 years of painful separation.


Our mom bought a very nice glass display case with an oak bottom and kept the doll inside so that we could all admire her. With the doll’s glass-blown eyes, she almost looked human. The doll had a problem with one of her legs, so our mom had taken her to a doll hospital to be repaired about three months after the doll  show. 


In December, 1984, our mom and her friend, Lucille, had gone Christmas shopping, but they never made it home. A drunk driver crossed over the median on the freeway and hit them head-on. Our mom died on the way to the hospital, and Lucille was very seriously hurt. Losing our mom was such a tragedy, especially for our dad. They had been married 52 years, and while our dad lived another 13 years, he never recovered from her death.


My sister and her family came out from Kentucky for the funeral; my sister stayed several weeks afterwards. We had so much business to take care of for both of our parents, including picking the doll up from the hospital. When we told the lady there that our mom had been killed, she found it so hard to believe. The weeks following our mother’s death was just a blur for me, as I was in shock. My sister and I performed the agonizing task of going through our mom’s personal belongings. We drew for some of them---the diamond wedding band, earrings, watch and the doll. I honestly didn’t want the jewelry, I only wanted the doll. I was overjoyed when I drew the slip of paper with “doll” written on it.


Yes, I still have the doll, and I will always treasure it. I think often of our mother and how much she and our aunt missed going through life without their mother. In 2001, I visited Texas for a week and stayed with my aunt, and her two daughters, Polly and Pat. While I had stayed in contact with my family there, and they had visited me in California and in Utah, I had not been to Texas for 32 years. We caught up on a lot of family history and I learned quite a bit about our aunt’s life. Her childhood was so sad, that she too, had not talked about it until her later years. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to spend time with our family in Texas. I was able to visit my Aunt Muriel for the last time in November 2005. We had a wonderful visit, talking about many things and we also exchanged a lot of old photos. My dear aunt passed away May 28, 2006 following several years of poor health.

My sister and I were very blessed to have had such a wonderful mother; she always put her family first, and we were always loved and cared for. Sadly, I lost my sister in 1992, so I am the only one left to carry on the story about the doll, Sarah. It is a story that lives on through generations

As I’ve always heard, love never dies. It really never does.



Copyright 2006 - Present by
Donna Kilpatrick Stockebrand
All rights reserved

Oct. 10, 2006
Oct. 29, 2006