Melanie Rorrer of Martinsville has loved Cabbage Patch dolls all her life.
Now she is bringing the love of those dolls to other women who might find joy and comfort in them. She has begun refurbishing the dolls to bring to women at Blue Ridge Village.
“Everybody wants to give kids a toy,” Rorrer said. “I thought about the (people in a) nursing home.”
Recently, she and her children, Katie, 10, Max, 7, and Lilly, 4, delivered 15 dolls to their new “mothers” in Blue Ridge Village. The dolls were arranged in a pram donated by the Junkbabies shop in uptown Martinsville and restored by her husband, Mal Rorrer. Melanie Rorrer was dressed as an nurse in a white coat and cap.
The dolls had cloth diapers with Velcro closures. The children picked out the cloth for each doll’s outfit, and Rorrer sewed it. They cleaned the dolls and wrapped each in a receiving blanket.
“We are trying to help restore them,” said Katie. “We have just loved them in every way we could.”
Blue Ridge Activities Director Julie Garcia and Admissions Coordinator Diane Lowery suggested women who would appreciate the dolls.
The dolls mean something different for everybody, Rorrer said, but the bottom line is enjoyment. She wants “to find somebody who would love them as much as I do.”
Rorrer, 35, a sixth-grade teacher at Martinsville Middle School, became hooked on Cabbage Patch dolls when she got her first one as a birthday present in 1984. She had wanted a Cabbage Patch doll for about a year, she said. That was the height of the craze, when the dolls were difficult to find.
Her mother, Hazel Duncan of Martinsville, had searched the city high and low for one. At Kmart, a clerk asked what she was looking for. When Duncan explained, the woman offered a solution. The dolls were sold out, but the woman had two on layaway. She offered one to a grateful Duncan.
That doll, called Marcell Birdie, still is at Duncan’s house in a place of honor.
Cabbage Patch dolls come in two styles, Rorrer said: with a soft-sculpted cloth head and with a hard head. The soft-sculpted head was the original style when the dolls started. When demand for the dolls hit a peak, the company switched to a molded plastic head. It can be reproduced much faster.
Rorrer often buys them used, and does not shy away from one that doesn’t look so good.
To clean a plastic face, she rubs it with an piece of Arm & Hammer Magic Eraser.
Stubborn stains are smothered with a paste of benzoyl peroxide acne cream. Rorrer covers the area with plastic and sets the doll in the sun for several hours. The blemish usually rubs right off when the cream is removed.
To wash the body, Rorrer removes the head and puts the doll body into a pillowcase which she ties closed. She puts it in the washing machine with some clothes or other fabric to run through the cycles.
The hair is a more complicated matter. When the doll’s hair is damaged, Rorrer takes off the head and removes the hair. She pulls a strand of yarn through each of the more than 100 holes in the head.
One doll she restored had a hairpiece instead of a fully threaded head of hair. In that instance, she punched holes with a large needle and pliers.
She also corrects all of the stitching, such as that which forms the toes and the dimples in the knees.
The dolls also get new outfits. When a used doll comes into her home, she removes its outfit and clothes it in a baby onesie or sleeper until its new outfit is ready.
Rorrer said she has about 100 Cabbage Patch dolls. She recently ordered another batch on ebay which she plans to refurbish for another visit to Blue Ridge Village.
She and her family recently took a trip to Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Ga., the headquarters of Cabbage Patch.
When people bring their dolls to Babyland, the dolls receive stickers saying “Visitor” so they are not confused with the dolls for adoption — which is Babyland lingo for “sale”.