Grandmother on a Winter’s Day

I’ve been digging around on old drives again. Look what I ran across.


I remember drawing this and at the time, I didn’t think it was too good, but now it seems quaint.

This illustration started with a poem, a yellowing clipping of which was framed and nailed up in my mom’s kitchen. Someone had painstakingly typed it and decorated it with tole-style hearts and birds. I thought it was written by my grandmother, who died shortly before I was born. At least, family lore said that my grandma had sent the poem to my mother when Mom was a young bride. Here is the poem, typed in Courier to resemble our clipping:


In our kitchen’s version, my dad’s awkward handwriting completed the story with two final stanzas: “She worked like h*** every day. At 28 she passed away.”

One day something out of the blue reminded me of the poem. I had such fond memories of standing by the big Monarch stove reading it that I decided to illustrate it. I made one picture (above) and promptly gave up. Apparently it didn’t look good enough to me to continue. Or maybe the task of doing all those scenes seemed daunting. (I guess the message of the poem didn’t quite take root in me, regardless of the many times I read it.)

Later, I decided to use it as the subject of a paper doll. This was during my brief, exuberant and ultimately ill-fated “Draw and sell paper dolls for money” period. (That’s post- “Paint on second-hand furniture” and pre- “Make vintage fabric greeting cards,” for those of you keeping track.)


I do love paper dolls!

Don’t, by the way, challenge me or any of my sisters to a paper doll cutting smack down, because any one of us could kick your butt without breaking a sweat. We grew up practicing paper doll cutting as if it were the only path to a secure future—the way girls in Jane Austen books practice painting and playing the pianoforte.

We know all the secrets: We honed our skills selecting strategically posed underwear models from the Montgomery Wards catalog, then cutting their outfits from the fashion pages of the same issue. We learned to intentionally lengthen the tabs on commercial paper dolls, to make dressing go more smoothly.

When our dolls’ heads got floppy, we fashioned cleverly concealed neck braces from Popsicle sticks and Scotch tape—or glued Dolly down to a scrap of card stock and re-cut her: better, stronger than ever. Sometimes there were tiny accessories, not really intended to be cut out, but if you were really motivated (which we were) you could cut them out, adding your own tiny tabs as you went. After all, what is a woman without her purse, her lipstick, her compact, her sunglasses, her Yorkshire terrier on a leash? It’s not like we were just going to crumple up those valuables and throw them away!

As the youngest doll cutter, I remember my chagrin when I’d accidentally cut off the tabs. Sure, you can tape them back on, but there’s a certain shame to it. When one’s paper doll is less than perfectly cut, others notice. (Plus, Scotch tape was a rare and precious commodity in our household. My mom guarded it jealously and meted it out sparingly.)

Some paper dolls came with a big wax crayon that you could rub on the clothes to make them stick better. That wasn’t for purists though…plus, they tended to pick up carpet fuzz.

But I digress…

GoodmanpaperdollMy “Grandmother” paper doll sheet is nothing compared to the fabulously detailed, multi-layered outfits that we played with. But it’s kind of fun if you need a little something to do on a winter’s day.

(Here’s a printable version of my Grandma paper doll for download purchase on Etsy.)

By the way… It turns out that my grandma didn’t write the poem. Its origin is hazy, but Snopes cites an instance of it appearing in an Ohio newspaper in 1926. Apparently it was quite a fad to send it to people in the 50s, and it was common to see various iterations of it in magazines, attributed to “author unknown.”