Long long ago (in 1886, to be exact), a man named Nathaniel Baker built a house in the town of Barrington where another four generations of his family would live, have families, and be visited by grandchildren, great and grand alike.
Today, the home looks like it could grace the pages of a whimsical fairy tale about a woman named Marguerite who becomes ill after her husband Leonard Hardisty (a descendant of Nathaniel Baker) passes away, yet miraculously re-awakens and gains her sparkle back with the helping hand’s of family and some fantastical rag dolls. Except, that is exactly what happened there.
The story begins while Marguerite was in a deep sleep in the hospital due to a mysterious infection, and was being kept alive with modern medicine. Then, to much surprise, she suddenly woke up, feeling normal, sounding as if nothing had ever happened.
While I am the narrator of this story, one of the main characters, in addition to Marguerite (also referred to as “Marge”) is her daughter, Mary Harnedy, who came up with a brilliant idea while Marge was recovering at home.
“Mom, why don’t you think of a little project we can do together?” She was hoping that they could get back into crafting together, which had brought them joy in the past. Week after week, Mary would return to the home and ask if she had come up with an idea. Finally, Mary arrived one day and was surprised to hear Marge say:
“I was thinking about a little kit I found.” They started to work on the little kit which was a Halloween witch doll used as decoration for a shelf. That was Mary’s in!
Mary remembered some ragdolls her grandmother (Marge’s mother) had made for her when she was a child and the ragdolls Marge had made for Mary’s children. Now that Mary had her own grandchildren, wouldn’t it be amazing if Marge made some more ragdolls for this third generation?
Together they began to set out on this mission. They began working on a prototype of a doll. At first, there were a few mistakes. For example, the thumbs were facing down which meant that the dolls wouldn’t be able to pray, which was important for them.
They crafted a pattern they were happy with and set off on a magical journey that became more than they expected. To date, they have made 22 ragdolls. Some have been sent to live with Marge’s 12 great-grandchildren across Rhode Island, Texas, South Carolina, and Minnesota. While the project started with just Mary and Marge, it grew to include Mary’s wife, Debbie Delfino, an artist who paints the doll faces, and Mary’s sister, Meg Lesieur in Texas, who makes the doll's accessories and joins them through a “portal” in Marge’s TV and when Mary visits in person.
The dolls have crocheted hair, all sorts of clothing (even army fatigues and wedding dresses!), shoes, and their own carrying cases with blankets and pillows to sleep with. Marge’s best friend, Joan Fox, who now lives in Connecticut, helped them to hand sew bridal veils and bouquets. The dolls even have their own dolls! “If you look too fast, you’ll miss all the tiny details.”
Handmade with hands and heart and shared with joy, they have united the family across every generation. The adults worried about the children not enjoying the dolls as much as they do, but instead have been met with awe. The project “brings out the little kid inside of us, that’s why we love it and have so much fun.”
The tale may have come to an end in the pages here but will continue indefinitely. When I met with them for the interview, I could see their eyes light up with the new idea of making their Halloween costumes. Within less than ten minutes they are pondering the options, like a dragon, witch, and a Raggedy Ann costume. They are “the gift that keeps on giving.”