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Home » The Vine

The Vine: March 9, 2012

Submitted by on March 9, 2012 – 10:32 AM26 Comments

It is entirely possible that I have managed to conjure the most bizarre Ask the Readers question in the history of The Vine. It is also possible that no one has an answer other than, "This is obviously the product of your crazed, pseudo-Faulkner/Tennessee Williams Southern Gothic family." And I'm okay with that.

When I was a little girl, my mom, her mom and some combination of aunts, great-aunts and older cousins told my brother and me a story one night while we were eating dinner. I was probably five, so my memories of the details are fuzzy. Essentially, they told us about magic people called Dummy Dolls who live in the woods. Dummy Dolls are very little people. They are very shy and they can't talk, but if you ever see one, they can answer all your questions by nodding or shaking their heads. You won't ever find one when you're in the woods, but sometimes, out of the corner of your eye, you may see one duck behind a tree. The only way you can ever talk to a Dummy Doll is to go outside at dusk and stand at the edge of the woods and invite them to your house by shouting politely, "Dummy Dolls, please come visit me!" and then when you come inside, there might be one hiding somewhere in the house. There may have been more to the back-story, but I don't remember anything else specific.

So, of course, my brother and I go flying outside to call the Dummy Dolls and lo and behold, when we come back inside, we find a Dummy Doll in one of my grandmother's dimly-lit guest bedrooms. Now, the secret of the Dummy Dolls was that while we were eating dinner, one of our teen-aged cousins sneaked into my grandmother's house and one of my aunts painted a face on the back of her hand. Then she made a fist, tied a doll bonnet on it and put a long doll dress on her forearm, with the neck at her wrist. When we went out to call the Dummy Dolls, she got under the guest bed and stuck her arm out, kind of like a puppet. Since the room was fairly dim, it all looked very real to a couple of pre-schoolers!

In retrospect, it's weird and creepy. That, however, hasn't stopped us from wanting to do it for my niece. However, as far as we know, the last time anyone in the family did it was 25 years ago, when my sister and second cousin were the pre-schoolers and I was the junior-high-aged, under-bed puppeteer. One of my aunts-by-marriage went through this whole "Magic is like Devil Worship" period and her kids weren't allowed to do it and it just kind of faded away.

We want to make sure it's tons of fun for my niece, but we can't remember the story that goes before the puppet-y part. There may not BE a story. I scoured the internet, but all Googling for "Dummy Doll Puppet Under Bed" brings up is nightmare-fuel pictures of ventriloquist dummies and an episode of The Twilight Zone. If there is a folktale or fairy story that pertains to this, we would love to have it to read to the Niblet before we do anything.

And also, I'm just curious to know if this is just one more example that most of my family may actually be monkey-banana-poo-crazy. The only pertinent information I have is that the whole thing has been floating around the fam for a loooooong time. The first Dummy Doll Hunt we know of was done by my grandmother and her younger sister for their oldest niece, sometime during WWII. (And then that cousin did it for Mom, who did it for cousin's kids, who did it for me, who did it for my sister and cousins!) Of course, it could be even older. Or I could just be related to people who are completely nuts.



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  • Dayna says:

    Wow! I think that sounds like something that was made up to entertain kids back when there wasn't a whole lot of other stuff. It was probably a family game made out of whatever was on hand. I'm old enough to remember (vaguely) when TV was 3 channels and nowhere near 24 hours a day. My brother and I used to play cowboys and indians or cops and robbers or World War II and since we didn't have toy guns, we used to clip two clothes pins togther, one vertical and one horizontal, and make 'pow! pow! pow!' sounds. I'd be interested to hear if, in fact, it is based on some sort of story or maybe a local legend.

  • Tylia says:

    I can not aid n the answering of this question, but I just want to say that this might be the single most awesomely oddball question I've ever heard of in my entire life. Good luck with your quest.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    No idea, but your family wackiness is much more healthy and entertaining than mine, which consisted of my grandmother convincing all of the grandkids that our grandfather (who had been dead for over 20 years) was in the cedar chest in her room. It sure as hell kept us out of her good linens, though.

  • cmcl says:

    Dummy Dolls sound a lot like shikigami (which I believe were those little weird mute head-spinning forest creatures featured in Princess Mononoke).

  • Bitts says:

    What an awesome question & an awesome family you must have, Sals!! I got nothin, except to say my family/neighborhood did something similar to where some of the adults dressed up as the sage/swami/genie Ugga Bugga and his loyal sidekick, Osteo. The kids are led into the darkened garage to meet Ugga Bugga sitting on his "throne." we could ask Ugga Bugga any question we wanted, and like the Dummy Dolls, he only answered with nods & shakes, along with grumbly utterances. Osteo translated, and often made the kids do silly dances, squirted us with water, or made us do something like Simon Says. It was a big production that only happened every few years, and it was a HUGE rite of passage when you got old enough to be part of the illusion. Good times. I hope you can figure out the Dummy Dolls enough to share them with this generation's kids. Good luck!!

  • JB says:

    No idea, but my aunt and grandparents once tried to convince me that I could communicate with Santa Claus by talking into the laundry chute. And by "tried to convince me" I mean "totally convinced 4-year old me."

  • blahblah says:

    I've never heard of it, but it reminds me of the stuff we used to make up at camp to entertain the campers. We'd tell crazy stories just off the top of our heads. Why don't you just talk to your mom & any other living relatives @ what they remember of the story, piece it all together add in your own creative twists and have a blast.

    Then, this time, write it down. It also might be fun, if you had enough living relatives, and if the stories were different/interesting enough, have each person who's gone through it write down their memory of experiencing the dummy dolls or telling the dummy dolls story. It would be a neat piece of family history.

  • ferretrick says:

    I'm not help, but just want to say Best. AskTheReaders. EVER.

  • Cora says:

    Sals, I think this is just crazy family wonderfulness — and please, if/when you get the story from your mom or aunts, please share.

    This is why I fucking LOVE The Vine: Dummy Dolls and RenFaire jackasses and multinational grammar issues and gay wedding etiquette and Seattle eighties public TV jingles and COREY CHALMERS HOLY SQUEE and girls who obsess for eight paragraphs over whether to leave a Rolling Stone on the coffee table.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    This was over the top. The top of AWESOME.

    Man, I thought my dad was being creative when he told me about meeting Ralph, the tree-climbing kangaroo, and Smedley, the skunk with no smell, at the hospital where he was interning. Oh, and Alice, the gorilla who lived on our roof and frightened away burglers. (She had Christmas Eve and Easter off so as not to frighten Santa or the Easter bunny.) Alice is comfortably retired now, but her niece has taken over roof duties for my sister and her family.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Cora, 1) ditto and 2) OMG Rolling Stone girl! I have to dig that one up.

  • Dayna says:

    Rolling Stone girl? How did I miss that one?

  • ElizabethA says:

    @Cora: this…
    "This is why I fucking LOVE The Vine: Dummy Dolls and RenFaire jackasses and multinational grammar issues and gay wedding etiquette and Seattle eighties public TV jingles and COREY CHALMERS HOLY SQUEE and girls who obsess for eight paragraphs over whether to leave a Rolling Stone on the coffee table."
    … may well be the greatest sentence ever created.
    @Sars: Rolling Stone Girl? Yes, please start digging. I have been a regular lurker for years, and this reference is completely unfamiliar to me.

  • Dayna says:

    8 paragraphs on Rolling Stone? I'm surprised you didn't bin it at the time. Heh.

  • Hoolia says:

    This sounds EXCELLENT. I am no help, however. It really sounds like the kind of thing that's just made up in the family or the community and never documented (until now!).

    Our version of this was at our annual church camp for teenage girls. There was an old abandoned cabin across the creek and up a dirt road from the camp, and one night each year, all the new girls would be taken on a tour up there, at night. It was deliciously terrifying. During the walk up, one of the older girls would tell the story of the family who used to live there, and how the man lost his mind and killed everyone and stuffed them in the woodbox and the outhouse. There were a lot of details to this legend which I don't remember now. Of course, a bunch of the older girls would have sneaked away ahead of time and hidden in the outhouse and woodbox and behind trees. Also, all the first-year girls' flashlights had been taken away. Imagine several dozen teen girls screaming and running through the woods and crossing a creek in the dark!

    Your version sounds much happier and safer :).

  • funtime42 says:

    My father's family legend featured Hobberknockers who specialized in moving scissors, leaving empty milk cartons in the fridge, and eating all the black jelly beans. In theory, if one hangs a bright shiny aluminum teaball (filled with things that rattle) in a secluded corner of one's house, the Hobberknockers will leave things alone while they try to get to the treasure.

    I'd give you even money that every sibling I have has one hanging in their house even now – mine is in my library…

  • jennie says:

    This reminds me so much of this hairpin story from Thanksgiving about Pinochle

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Oh, RSG, were we ever so young?

    (Seriously, if for no other reason getting older is great because, through no concious effort, I suddenly DO NOT care about a great many things that used to cause me anxiety and woe, and this kind of thing is one of them.)

    @funtime, you ought to write your family up for a New Yorker short story.

  • Kathleen says:

    RenFaires jackasses? Oh please, I would love to read that!

    Sals, um wow, creative and creepy. Interesting family. I personally would just find that a little tooo strange. But the stories gform older family members are probably prettty fun.

  • Kathleen says:

    Ok, you can just delete that last comment ( this in one too) I found the Ren Faire Jackass column ( I think – guy ordering chain mail wilst gf supports him?) Lots of jackass, not enough refaire! Ah well, nice to know the search engine works!

    Anhow, have a nice weekend Sars!

  • kategm says:

    That sounds like an awesome family tradition! I wish my family had something like that. Also, the Rolling Stone letter is still awesome.

  • Rachel says:

    @Jen S 1.0: Amazing! My dad told me he was friends with a porpoise named Herman. Whenever we went to the beach he would go out for a swim and tell me he was going to catch up with Herman. He would come back to shore with all sorts of stories about sea creatures, told to him by Herman of course.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    @Rachel, when I found out there really and truly was an actual species of tree kangaroo I called my dad in squealy excitement. Uh, at age 38.

  • Emma says:

    If nothing else, it's better than convincing the kids to go snipe-hunting!

  • Deanna says:

    Can your family adopt me? Because that is amazing. I think they created it from whole cloth, but they sound like some wonderfully creative and fun people (maybe a little crazy, but just a soupcon–like a dash of cayenne pepper to bring out the other flavors).

    My family just convinced us that putting our tongues on 9-volt batteries was "lucky." Ugh. GodDAMN, that hurt.

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