When I was a child, my favorite toy was a doll, a sailor about 8-inches tall that my aunt and uncle bought on their honeymoon cruise to Bermuda. His name was Chubby, although he was not chubby. I can only guess my aunt named him, but I never questioned it. Children accept anyone’s name without question, no matter how bizarre.
He was not a cuddling-type doll. He was a sailor, and I led him through all sorts of adventures as boys of a later generation did with GI Joe “action figures.” Chubby climbed our back yard willow tree, rode on my tricycle, stomped through the snow, and later dried out on the radiator along with my mittens.
He was famous for his often-repaired face that was expertly darned like a sock by my great aunt, a spinster who lived with my grandparents only one block away on Melrose Avenue in East Lansdowne. I was often asked to show him to visiting adults who always burst out laughing as soon as they saw him. He must have looked like a grotesque burn victim, but to me, he just looked like my friend Chubby.
I still have vivid memories when an obnoxious cousin tried to pull him away from me, tugging on one leg while I hung on to the other. Poor Chubby split up his blue velvet center, and white cotton stuffing poured out like gore. I ran to my aunt’s house in a panic and she quickly sewed him up as good as new while I nervously waited downstairs. I couldn’t watch. I was afraid she would tell me Chubby was dead.
Another time while I was there, my older sister and her friend came in and told me I should go home because Chubby was walking all over our bedroom. I ran all the way. My mother rolled her eyes at my gullibility as I raced past her, but Chubby was a sailor and I always assumed he had another life I knew nothing about. It was the only time my sister later apologized to me.
So, to bring the story up-to-date, I still have Chubby, but not the original. My wife bought my current Chubby for me long ago when we saw him in a store that I no longer remember. He was similar, but his face was very different with a scary, maniacal expression, so I was not excited about the find, and I stuck him away in a closet. But in a few years, he mysteriously aged to look exactly like the original I remembered, even to the worn-away nose, except not darned over and over.
Thanks to Google, I now know all about Chubby’s ancestry. He is called a Wellings sailor doll, named for Norah Wellings who sold them to cruise ships for resale as souvenirs in the early 1940s. The name of the ship was printed on the cap. She closed her factory in 1959 and another woman made similar dolls to fill the continuing demand.
Original Wellings sailor dolls have her label under the back collar. Some had cloth ears and bare feet with stitched-in toes as my first Chubby did, but today’s Chubby does not. I would not tell him, but today’s Chubby is not made as well. His tie seems to be carelessly attached upside-down.
The mystery of his face is over. The new dolls had prominent cheeks and noses formed with heavy sizing on the fabric, probably starch. They were never expected to last long, and within a few years, the fabric relaxed to the friendly egg-shaped face I much prefer. Maybe the original face looked chubby to my aunt.
We are signed up to go on our first cruise after Thanksgiving, and I am hoping to find a Chubby III in their gift shop, but I will still keep Chubby II when we get home. I will try boiling the new Chubby’s head to remove the sizing. I don’t have the time to wait.