My fondness for Barbie baffles my daughters

It had occurred to me that the remnants of my past could have any value beyond my childhood memories - like my Barbie stuff, long forgotten and left behind in my mother's house until the day she decided to move. She cleaned out her closets and insisted I take it all. I tossed the lot into a box and shoved it into the corner of my own closet.

A few years later, when I thought my two girls were old enough, I bought them two new Barbies, clad in neon-orange bikinis, and dragged the box from its hiding place.

"And these were my Barbie clothes," I told them proudly.

They weren't impressed.

They examined the box's contents, pulling the clothes out one by one and staring at each garment in disbelief before tossing it aside in favor of the next one.

I watched the pile on the floor grow: the long black sequined evening gown. The turquoise-corduroy poodle jumper. The royal-blue party dress with the flared skirt and white polka dots.

"These are what your Barbies wore?" my girls asked, incredulous.

They looked at each other, sharing something unsaid between them. It was that generation thing. We all felt it.

They were spared the original Barbie doll, whose whereabouts remain unknown. But under all those outdated clothes was her little sister, Skipper, and her boyfriend, Ken. Both turned out to be in less-than-mint condition.

Skipper's tangled tresses may have been salvageable, but there was no hope for Ken. Back in the 1960s, when he was dating our first Barbie, my sister and I had colored over his crewcut with black shoe polish to simulate long hair and sideburns.

"Hey, we wanted him to look cool," I offered as explanation to my girls.

I didn't offer my recollections of the long, cold, New York winters spent indoors dressing those dolls for imagined picnics and dances and dates.

Even in the summer, when we children should have been outside, I'd carry my Barbie case full of dolls and clothes across the street to my best friend's house. We'd spread everything on the floor and entertain ourselves for hours in the coolness of her front porch.

On days when no one else was around, I relented and played with my younger sister. Those were formative years, when our illusions of being a grown-up were as plastic as the dolls themselves.

It is a time both firmly and fondly implanted in my mind.

That's what I was attempting to share with my daughters that day, that fragment of myself. I wanted to pass along those hours of pleasure and somehow forge a link between my childhood and theirs.

In an attempt to rouse even minimal interest, I bought them some new Barbie outfits, and they did spend a couple of months mixing and matching the new clothes with the old, creating some wild, eclectic attires.

But, all in all, their Barbie phase didn't last long and, one day, everything was stuffed back into that box and returned to the closet, never to be taken out and played with again.

I suppose that those old Barbie things would have been forgotten forever in my closet, a wrinkled mass of clothes with four half-naked dolls strewn on top, if not for our visit to the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

There, displayed behind a thick protective plate of glass, was the complete collection of the original Barbie wardrobe.

The clothes in the museum were not coated with an oily residue from years of handling, and the fabric was not so thin and worn that you could see through the dresses in spots. The snaps were not hanging by threads, the buttons were neither broken nor missing, and the sequins were all firmly attached.

And every one of those outfits, save one, was crammed into that box on my closet floor.

It is a strange feeling to see the playthings of one's childhood exhibited as a relic of history.

Along with the regret for not having foreseen their collectible potential, I felt a stronger sense of nostalgia and an excitement I tried to share with my girls.

They said nothing, just raised their faces to the glass in a gesture I mistook for mild interest, until I caught the reflection of their glazed-over, glassy-eyed expressions, that look of utter childhood boredom.

They still weren't impressed.

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