When she was a little girl, 81-year-old Peggy McCallie had baby dolls with molded plastic hair. Today's dolls, by comparison, have synthetic mops of locks.
"I always got a new doll for Christmas," said McCallie, a retired Birchwood School secretary. "I kept most of them until I wore them out.
"My hands are crippled up with arthritis now, so this really helps me keep them loose," she said, trying to coax the blonde hair on a Barbie-style doll to stay in place.
Try as she might, though, the hair seemed to have a life of its own, popping back up and arraying at odd angles. Bad hair day, one supposes.
McCallie, a resident of Morning Pointe Greenbriar Cove Assisted Living Residence in Ooltewah, is part of the "Doll Squad," a loyal circle of seniors there who refurbish dolls for the Samaritan Center.
The Samaritan Center is a Seventh-Day Adventist Church community service organization with a Lee Highway thrift store and toy store. The toy store features donated items, such as dolls, games and puzzles that are sold to provide aid to the poor and sick in the Christian tradition.
Originally, volunteers at the Samaritan Center repaired the donated dolls, but several years ago Morning Pointe leaders offered to organize the Doll Squad to create a senior citizen assembly line.
It dovetails with Morning Pointe's goal to provide activities for seniors that span generations, said Morning Pointe executive director Jennifer McFarland.
"It's perfect for them," she said of the residents. "They know it's going to benefit children. It lets them step back into time and remember what it was like" when they were younger.
Samaritan Center volunteer Loranne Grace is responsible for transporting the dolls to and from Morning Pointe Greenbriar Cove. She said the dolls refurbished by the Doll Squad sell in the Samaritan Center Toy Store for as little as 75 cents or as much as "$30 or $40" for bigger collector pieces.
At Morning Point, Grace starts the process by cleaning the dolls with nail polish remover, soft-scrub soap and "elbow grease," she said. Then she passes undressed dolls off to Patricia Beaman, another Samaritan Center volunteer, who rummages through tubs of doll clothes to find appropriate attire.
"It looks like we have a lot of clothes, but sometimes it's hard to find things that fit," Beaman said. "Unfortunately, doll sizes are not standardized."
Beaman then passes the dolls to the Morning Pointe residents who serve as hair stylists. They use containers full of rubber bands and multi-colored ribbons to harness the hair.
McCallie said that when she was a child, little girls used bonnets and hats to dress up their baby dolls.
Meanwhile, Carrie Sue Yerbey, another Morning Pointe resident, smoothed the hair on a doll and remembered her girlhood growing up in Red Bank.
"We didn't have much money," she said. "I had one doll. It was very small."
McCallie said today's dolls are much different from the molded plastic dolls she grew up with.
"Today, they want long hair and big eyes," she said.
What's more, the stranger a doll looks, the quicker it sells at the toy store, the Samaritan Center volunteers say.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645.