Ruth Parker owned over two dozen dolls, and she knew every one.
“This is Snagglepants,” she’d say, holding up a Raggedy Andy with a torn pocket. She called her big Raggedy Ann doll Phyllis and the little one she took everywhere Roo-roo.
Ruth and Roo-roo were best friends. They had three tea sets between them, and if the other dolls were nice, Ruth and Roo-roo would have them for milk and cookies. “But you can’t have any peanuts because Roo’s allergic,” Ruth would remind them. Ruth lived with her parents in a big house on a wooded street.
Aside from Roo-roo, her best friend was the housekeeper, Lena. Lena was tall and her cheeks were very full. As she cooked and cleaned, she sang songs and made cookies for Ruth and Roo-roo’s tea parties, but she always told them she wasn’t supposed to. It was Lena who told her about Mr. Lilyfoot.
Mr. Lilyfoot lived under a tree at the end of the path in the garden behind Ruth’s home. He had a green cap, red overalls and a long white beard. He always smiled. On nice spring days, Lena would sit in the swing with something to occupy her hands while she watched Ruth play in the yard. When she had to go inside to answer the phone or change a load of laundry, she’d tell Ruth Mr. Lilyfoot would watch after her.
At first Ruth didn’t like Mr. Lilyfoot; he was stiff, not soft like her dolls. She’d hold her little Raggedy Ann up to Mr. Lilyfoot’s smiling face and say, “Roo-roo doesn’t like you!” But Ruth was a sweet child, and when she saw that Mr. Lilyfoot’s face was dirty, she asked Lena for a napkin so she could wipe it off because Mr. Lilyfoot’s arms were always behind him.
Lena laughed at her one windy afternoon when Ruth tied one of her father’s socks around Ms. Lilyfoot’s neck and took care to hide the other one.
“Mommie, it’s cold outside. Can Mr. Lilyfoot come sleep in my room?”
Janet Parker brushed her daughter’s dark hair. “Sweetie, who is Mr. Lilyfoot?’
“He’s in the garden,” Ruth said. “He’s wearing a hat, but I know he’s cold”
“Oh, honey, I don’t want that nasty thing in your room,” Janet said.
“He’s not nasty.”
“Ruth, he lives outside. He’s an outdoor doll.”
“He’s not a doll.”
“Well, not like your other dolls, but he’s still a doll.”
“Roo-roo says he isn’t. Roo-roo knows everything.”
Janet cocked an eyebrow at her petulant daughter. “And what does Mommie know?”
“I love you, Mommie!” Ruth launched herself into her mother’s arms and looked into the back yard through the window.
When Ruth awakened that afternoon, Mr. Lilyfoot, scrubbed by the ever-patient Lena and bright as a new penny, was smiling at her from the corner of her room. She and Roo-roo immediately arranged a high tea with hot chocolate and frosted cookies.
When Janet looked in on her later she found that Ruth had arranged her favorite dolls around the little table, with Mr. Lilyfoot at its head.
“Mr. Lilyfoot’s warmer now, Mommie. But Roo-roo’s tired,” she said, holding up the little rag doll.
“Well, let’s put her to sleep,” Janet said. She gathered her daughter in her arms, made sure her doll was with her, and put her to bed. She glanced at Mr. Lilyfoot smiling from the corner, lowered the shutters and closed the door.
When Janet brought Ruth’s tray upstairs that night, she heard her daughter laughing from the hallway. She found Ruth sitting up in her bed, clutching Roo-roo, and smiling.
“What’s so funny?” Janet asked.
“Mommie, me and Mr. Lilyfoot took Roo-roo to Magicland, and she had tea with the King!”
Janet tucked a bib under her daughter’s so very thin neck and began feeding her with a spoon. “Did Roo have a good time?”
“She was scared at first because the king was so high up and her legs are really short. But then the king asked her to dance, so she didn’t have to go so far up.”
“Did you dance?” Janet asked.
“No, Mommie,” Ruth said. “I had to help Mr. Lilyfoot make the band play. I’m tired.”
Janet tucked her daughter under the covers, kissed her, climbed onto the sagging cot next to Ruth’s bed and closed her sad eyes.
Ruth and Mr. Lilyfoot, with Roo-roo in tow, went everywhere.
The tea parties became a thing of the past. Instead, they took buckets to the beach where they collected shells. Another time they sailed the seas on a boat made of glass and rigged with silver, and once they found a mountain made of chocolate and topped with ice cream. The following morning they went to the moon and found big gold rocks that glittered under the smiling sun. That afternoon Mr. Lilyfoot rearranged the stars, and later they all skated on swirls of light through a sparkling tunnel into a warm, black night.
“Don’t be scared, Roo-roo,” Ruth said. “Mr. Lilyfoot will get us home.”
Ruth’s dreams ended. Lena boxed up the dolls for other little girls, and took Mr. Lilyfoot back under the tree at the end of the path.