The Black Friday Cabbage Patch Doll Fight
I watched my mother duke it out with other mothers for the popular 1983 toy.
Have you ever wondered how far a grandmother would go to get the hottest Christmas toy for her baby granddaughter? I didn’t until I witnessed how desperate my mother was to get a Cabbage Patch doll for my baby niece in 1983. A violent incident that changed my life forever.
We stood outside the Toy “R” Us store on a cold November morning, waiting for the doors to open early at 8:00AM. I don’t remember if this was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the first official day of the holiday shopping season. If it was Black Friday, I was still comatose from all the deviled eggs I ate the night before. Nineteen other mothers with their sleepy kids stood around for the doors to open.
My father waited inside the car to smoke his cigarettes and listen to the radio. He never came into a store with my mother if he could avoid doing so. My mother took forever to look twice at everything in the store, even if she was buying only one or two items. Not yet a rebellious teenager, I had no choice but to go inside with her.
When the manager unlocked the sliding doors, every mother grabbed their kids by the hand and ran pell-mell into the store. We flew across the worn white floor tiles without our feet ever touching them. Everyone arrived at a mountainous display of Cabbage Patch dolls that sat in front of the wall of board games, between the sports and video games aisles.
An impressive sight considering how difficult it was to get a Cabbage Patch doll that holiday season. The Internet, eBay and online shopping didn’t exist back then. If you couldn’t take physical possession of a Cabbage Patch doll inside a store, you were so out of luck.
Our mothers let go of our hands to leave us children huddled together as they assaulted that mountain of doll cuteness — and each other — like feral cats. Elbows went jabbing, punches got thrown. A Cabbage Patch doll got torn to pieces before my eyes. Limbs and stuffing flying in the air, the body trampled underfoot. I saw my mother punching and being punched by two other mothers while all three held on to the same doll. The mountain of doll cuteness crumbled under the maternal anarchy.
It was awful.
I wandered away into the video games aisle, feeling sick to my stomach. The other kids also wandered off to find a safe place to be alone. Not that Toy “R” Us was a safe place after what we witnessed. Our mothers were like the pod people from The Invasion of The Body Snatcher: they looked familiar but acted alien. This was not how mothers were supposed to behave.
My mother found me and grabbed my hand again. She held a Cabbage Patch doll under her arm like a football, ready to plow down anyone who got in our way to the checkout stands. We flew across the floor tiles.
The teenaged salesclerk gave my mother a funny look. Maybe it was the broken sunglasses, swollen black eye, smeared makeup, disheveled hair, and ripped clothing. My mother looked like a battered wife. Not a grandmother buying a special Christmas present for her baby granddaughter. The store manager looking at us had no clue of the mayhem that went down.
We were in and out of Toy “R” Us in ten minutes flat, surprising my father by our sudden reappearance. He didn’t expect us to come out for another hour. We were out of the parking lot and down the street when the police cars blared past us with lights and sirens.
A TV reporter for the evening news stood in front of the police cars that surrounded the Toy “R” store, explaining how a mountainous display of Cabbage Patch dolls got demolished by feral mothers. Black-and-white surveillance footage from different stores across the country showed feral mothers attacking each other for a Cabbage Patch doll.
My baby niece loved the Cabbage Patch doll that my mother gave her on Christmas Eve. My brother was wise not to have his wife’s family over until Christmas morning. The other grandmother got a hard-to-find Barbie doll that was the second hottest toy that holiday season. My baby niece loved Barbie more than the Cabbage Patch doll. If the two grandmothers had given their presents in the same room, even feral cats would have cringed from the ensuing catfight for a granddaughter’s affections.
Note: A shorter version of this essay appeared in Soft Whispers Magazine (November 2009).