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Cabbage Patch Fever: 25 Years After

At recess, I would ask to hold a friend's Cabbage Patch doll, with its squishy, pudgy legs and subtle baby-powder scent and some hideous name that sounded both Biblical and medical.
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Whenever I see a Cabbage Patch Kid slouching naked on a shelf at a thrift store, yarn hair pulled out of her former fat pigtails, I think about how far her value has fallen.

In the Christmas season of 1983, Cabbage Patch Kids were America's most wanted dolls. They were nearly impossible to find selling at their $30 retail price, with the black market values going to $75 and beyond into triple digits. The dolls were ugly, each one was unique, and each had their own ugly unique compound name, like Eunice Grismelda or Archibald Jehosephat.

I was 9 going on 10, edging up on being a little old for dolls, but I was not immune to Cabbage Patch fever. Most of my friends already had them, some even had more than one (NOT FAIR). My wish for a doll coupled with an even more urgent desire to not be left out. I knew it would take more than a letter to Santa to acquire one of these. It would take lots of begging.

I was good at pestering my parents until they gave in; I persuaded my father to quit smoking by drawing him pictures of black lungs and refusing to kiss him goodnight if he smelled like smoke. For this campaign, I drew at least ten pleasant Cabbage Patch Kid scenarios including a Cabbage Patch nativity, and stuck them on the fridge, hoping they would convey the desired message to my parents: your daughter needs one of these dolls. I tried bargaining: even if you guys--or Santa--don't get me anything else, just get me a Cabbage Patch Kid. Pleeeeeease?

But it wasn't that simple. My mom was not the type to muscle into a frenzied crowd at Toys "R" Us as a new shipment unloaded, beat another mom over the head with her purse, and grab a doll out of her hands. My mom was the kind who bought presents when they went on sale at Sears, while my dad was working overtime at the phone company. In 1983, no Cabbage Patch Kids made it to discounted status at Sears.

The more unattainable they seemed, the more desperate I became. At recess, I would ask to hold a friend's Cabbage Patch doll, with its squishy, pudgy legs and subtle baby-powder scent and some hideous name that sounded both Biblical and medical, like Hepsabeth Cornelia. Those fleeting seconds were as momentous to me as if I were holding the Holy Grail.

Outside of news stories about the unprecedented demand for Cabbage Patch Kids, showing zombielike throngs of parents surrounding some poor toy store employee on a ladder or a loading dock, I had seen exactly one Cabbage Patch doll new in the box, for sale at a flea market. The reason it was still sitting on the shelf unmolested was because the price sticker read $100. I knew it was a lost cause, but I still had to ask my parents to buy it, and got the expected "N-O spells no."

My daydreaming in math class was overtaken by fantasies of a magical hole in my bedroom floor, which would deliver a never-ending supply of brand-new Cabbage Patch Kids. I would pick the best ones for myself and give the rest to poor and deserving children around the world. I would also sell some for $100 each.

Christmas Day arrived, with no cabbage-related prize under the tree. Maybe they were saving it for later that night at Aunt Annie's, I hoped. There, I received something called a Pumpkin Patch Baby. I pretended to be happy, but it wasn't the same at all. I couldn't bring this thing to school. Come to think of it, I wasn't sure what I would even do with a real Cabbage Patch Kid if I got one. I was an artsy-craftsy bookworm; I never really knew what to do with dolls anyway other than change their outfits.

Eventually that summer, I did get a real Cabbage Patch Kid, Ashley Wendeline, thanks to the intervention of Aunt Roseann, who knew a guy (it was New Jersey; people knew guys). She and my mom returned from their secretive errand bearing a redhead with blue eyes. As they presented it to my cousin and I, I said "That's nice," with my lower lip trembling in despair that somebody else was getting yet another doll, until they told me she was mine. I was thrilled.

As the dolls became more available, I added a Preemie named Pollyanna and a Koosa (which could best be described as a Cabbage Patch catlike creature) named Tiger to my Cabbage Patch collection. I didn't do too much with any of them, other than arrange them on my bed and put some official Cabbage Patch Kid-brand diapers on Pollyanna.

I learned a few lessons that Christmas of 1983 about fads, supply and demand, and the classic, "Life's not fair." But whether my desire for the doll was really about the doll or about keeping up, I'll never forget that Aunt Roseann went the extra mile to help give me an unexpected Christmas in July.

In memory of Roseann Ammeraal, 1944- 2007