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Technology replaces the simple joys of childhood

Published Sep. 16, 2005

It occurred to me one Sunday as I was carefully cutting coupons from the Sunday paper that I missed paper dolls. Cutting out coupons takes on many forms. Some people randomly tear them out, some use the fold-and-rip approach, but I am one of those who carefully cuts them, following the dotted lines with great precision. I suddenly realized that this is a throwback to my paper-doll days.

Paper dolls were a big part of my life as a little girl. No matter how poor you were, if you could amass the fortune of a nickel, you were in business! At the age of 5, I was entrusted with the responsibility of walking many blocks from my grandmother's house to downtown Syracuse, N.Y., to what was then considered to be a true five-and-ten. After spending time studying the many treasures for sale there, I found my way to the paper-doll section and had to make the big decision as to which book I would buy that day. I always walked home much faster than I had left, anxious to take scissors to my newly acquired book.

As you may recall, it took many hours to cut out properly the various articles of clothing and accessories for each doll that carefully had been pressed out of the cover.

I had little patience with my friends who carelessly cut, leaving ragged edges (and sometimes cutting off an essential tab). My paper dolls were works of art. Each set carefully was stored in a shoe box that miraculously would appear. Looking back, this probably was the beginning of my compulsive organization skills.

When I was 6, I had a friend by the name of Audrey. Her mother had saved uncut paper-doll books from her own childhood. Audrey and I were allowed to use these books, which reflected an era when hair and clothing styles where markedly different from our own. We thought we were the luckiest kids in town.

Time can be very cruel. Since the days of my childhood, we have lost that wonderful institution we knew as the five-and-ten and, along with it, our paper dolls. Progress has brought discount stores, cold and impersonal, where nobody knows your name. The toy department is alive and well, but it is impossible to find those toys that were near and dear to my heart. I guess I am still a little girl at heart and will never grow up.

When my daughter, Katie, who is now 29, was a child, her paper dolls took the form of pieces of clothing that would stick to pretend people made from the same material. There was imagination but no eye-hand coordination involved. The work was done for you. They came in their own box. It was strictly an exercise in lift, peel and press. She enjoyed this, because there was no other choice.

I have four granddaughters now. One is an infant and two are toddlers. "Miss Rachael," as I refer to her, however, is at the age where she should be playing paper dolls with Grandma. Instead, she is in a generation caught up in computer games and television. I find this very sad.

Stored safely away in a drawer, I have a coloring book and a brand new box of crayons. These are not for the grandchildren to use _ these are mine _ a reminder of a wonderful age that I call my childhood.

Is there anyone out there who could add a book of paper dolls to my memory drawer? I promise to take good care of it.

_ Joyce A. Liberty is a freelance writer living in Largo. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which are not necessarily the opinions of this newspaper.