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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn E. Cook

Unforgettable People, One — Dorothea

We all have them, certain personalities who stay in our memories forever. We might have been friends for years or perhaps only spoke with them for three minutes while waiting in the grocery checkout. We may not think about them for long intervals.

Then something acts as a trigger and suddenly, there they are, mental images waving at us. The response is, “Oh, yes. I’ll never forget that one.”

They’re remarkable for all sorts of reasons. Maybe we considered them the cleverest individuals in our entire experience. Or maybe they spoke the right words of encouragement when we needed hope. Or maybe they were dastardly, teaching that we should never behave as they did.

My next blog series will focus on a few memorable persons I’ve known and not in any particular order. Some came along recently, some from the distant past, and some of them, in a slightly different arrangement, have become characters in my books.

Dorothea was an amazing woman that I encountered just once and for a brief fifteen minutes.

In the late 1980’s, I was a mash-up of June Cleaver, Carol Brady, and Caroline Ingalls, being a stay-at-home mom with four kids ranging from age twelve to age four. To supplement the family income, I designed and made artist dolls, then traveled to collectible doll shows to sell the merchandise. These shows usually ran for two days, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and when well-attended, hundreds of people were prospective customers. Over time, I developed a gregarious sales talk and engaged with every collector who stepped into my booth.

In the spring of 1988, I was working a show in Fort Worth, Texas, and was making a decent number of sales. At a certain point, a slim, older woman stopped to admire the dolls. Her gray hair was simply styled, parted on the side and held off her face by a bobby pin. I did my usual and struck up a conversation with her. She inquired about how the dolls were made and I explained the detailed process. Most people were satisfied with that much information and would either make a purchase or say, “Thank you,” and move on. Not this woman. She declared, “I’m Dorothea and I think your dolls are wonderful!” Then she wanted to know about me, where I’d learned artist skills, what did I contemplate as I painted the faces, and did I feel as if the dolls were almost real.

She told of her love for the arts, that she and her husband had donated a children’s chapel to their church. “It has child-sized pews and beautiful sculptures of Jesus with children and lambs.” As she talked, she spoke with her hands as much as with her voice.

Since my dolls were all attired from different historical eras, I told her of my idea to do a new line, Girl Scouts from past times. Dorothea liked that very much. She said, “You and I think alike. Our minds are always running. We stay active and busy. Do you know, I have friends my age who purposely remain in bed until late. They say it leaves them less hours each day that they have to fill somehow. Isn’t that sad? I’m seventy-four years old and I can’t wait to get up every morning and start doing things. Right now, I have so many interests and projects that I’d like to accomplish, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to them all. That’s the way to live life to its fullest.”

I acknowledged her positive outlook and noted that several women were examining one of my dolls. Dorothea noted this, also, and graciously said, “I’m taking too much of your time. You go on and talk with those ladies.” From my front table, she grabbed one of my cards and then strode away, on to the next booth. She hadn’t bought anything from me, but in those few minutes, she’d left me with a grand picture of a lively and energetic senior who held to a fine philosophy.

Almost a year later, an envelope addressed to me arrived in my mailbox. It felt a bit lumpy, as though that envelope contained an item thicker than a letter. When I tore it open, inside was just a 3 x 5 index card with scrawled handwriting and what was clearly a Girl Scout pin. But it didn’t look much like the pin I’d worn on my Scout uniform during the 1960’s.

I still have that card and pin, kept safely in an old jewelry box. Below are photos of the card, front and back, although Dorothea’s handwriting is rather hard to decipher. Here are her words:

When I die, this will get thrown away. My girls were Camp Fire Girls. I was a Girl Scout in 1925, 26, 27 in Milwaukee, Wisc. And went to Girl Scout Camp and then we moved and there were no scouts there. Why I’ve kept this pin all these years — I guess to give to you! Your “project” sounds good and I’m sure it will be.

Dorothea Engleman

May, 1988

Now it’s March 8, 1989 — I misplaced this — meant to send before this.

I was stunned at her thoughtfulness. Right away, I wrote and thanked her very much for this special gift, but didn’t hear from her again. As for her delay in sending, I like to think she was so busy with her many interests that the little card was buried for a while, but she followed through when it came to light again.

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