Long before Barbie and Ken, with their hard, angular bodies and outrageous wardrobes, there were soft, cuddly, unpretentious rag dolls which crept into the arms and hearts and beds of little girls all over the world. And for that matter, into those of their mothers before them.
One such mother is Alta Pretorius, a resident of Fisherhaven, who has never lost her love of these little creatures, each with its own personality. She could tell her doll all her secrets and in turn, the doll would regale her with tales of her own breath-taking adventures.
In the fullness of time, Alta herself had two little girls (and a boy), each with a rag doll, and on long road trips to the sea for their holidays, Alta would keep them spell-bound as she recounted these stories. A journalist by trade, story-telling came naturally to her and she was able to reel off one escapade after another.
But, as children do, her girls grew up, one eventually settling in the UK and the other in New Zealand and they, in turn, had daughters of their own, too far away for Granny to take them on road trips, but she could make each of the two little girls in England a rag doll of their own.
By that time, Alta herself had had many adventures in the media and business worlds, far removed from rag dolls. After a stint managing the Cape Coast Business Chamber in the Mother City, she took a high-powered job at the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Johannesburg, and at last, when she and her husband ‘retired’ to Hermanus, she ran the local Business Chamber, followed by the Hermanus Tourism Bureau.
Yet, through all these years, somewhere at the back of her mind, those rag dolls and their stories still lurked and when she retired ‘for real’ to her little cottage in a magical garden in Meerensee, they suddenly popped out of hiding. She had always enjoyed sewing (in fact, in her day, she had won several awards for her skill with a needle) and realising that her grandchildren were growing up very quickly – the ones in New Zealand were already teenagers by then – she decided to make the little girls in England, Emma Rose and Robin, a rag doll each. As she says, “I exchanged my lap top for a lappop.”
Then, based on the joy the dolls were bringing her granddaughters, she thought, “Perhaps there are other grannies wanting to give their grandchildren the pleasure of owning a rag doll, so I just started making one and then another and another…”
And as someone who had been involved for so many years in the stimulation of entrepreneurship, she made a point of buying all her materials locally. Each doll she made had its own identity and personality and as she worked on them, they told her their names. After a doll was completed she put a photograph of it on her facebook page and not only did they fly off the page, but she received orders, too, even one from America.
But then something else began to happen. As the dolls took shape in her hands they began to tell her not just their names but their stories as well. So, why not write them down for her grandchildren and perhaps for other children to read as well? Alta’s daughter, Jeanette, in London produced the lively, brightly-coloured illustrations and in June this year, Rosy Ragdoll in Deep Water (Rosie Lappop in Diep Water) saw the light of day.
Self-published by Alta, the 68-page story written in rhyme in both English and Afrikaans was named after Emma Rose, her granddaughter (with a nod to her own maiden-name: Roos). So excited was eight-year-old Emma Rose that she immediately took it to school and read it to her whole class. Not to be outdone, her three-year-old sister has already insisted that the next story must bear her name.
And the next adventure is already buzzing around in Alta’s head. It will include a boy doll as well, and will be set in the Kruger National Park. Like the first book, it will be aimed at children between the ages of two and 10. The books, ideal gifts for that special child, can, as with the dolls, be ordered on Alta’s facebook page, but, in addition, they are available at the Book Cottage in Hermanus, where one of the dolls is selling them. Alta has a book for adults knocking on the door as well, but for now, she says she is thoroughly enjoying playing with dolls again.