A Doll for Christmas

Little girls and their dolls have always been the best of friends.

My dear friend and Minnesota “sister,” Donna Gilbertson, shares this story just in time for Christmas. Thanks, Donna!

“I was born during the Dust Bowl years, while Daddy and Mom were ministerial students at Wessington Springs, SD. Just before graduation, Mom became very ill with a neurological disease. They left school and returned to Iowa where Daddy took any job he could find so he could take care of me and my helpless mother.

The Christmas I was eight, my friends were all hoping for baby dolls that cried ‘Mama’ and opened and shut their sparkling glassine eyes. I, too, wished for a doll like that.

On Christmas Eve, I hung my stocking near the evergreen branch “tree” tied to our stair banister, even though Daddy told me Santa wouldn’t bring much this year because times were tough all over the world, not just at our house.

In the morning, I awoke early and slipped down the stairs to see if my stocking was full. It hung from the banister just as limply as when I’d hung it there. Sadly, I turned to creep back up the stairs. Just as I reached the top, Daddy called from the bed in the living room where my parents slept: ‘Donna Mae, maybe your present was too big for your stocking. Maybe you should look around better.’

I went back and looked toward their bed. Nothing there. Nothing on the dresser at the foot of their bed. I pivoted to face the stairs again, silent tears running down my cheeks. Mom’s wooden wheelchair sat beside the stairway, near my stocking. In the wheelchair sat…my doll!

She had hair, and eyes that opened and shut. When I picked her up and turned her over, she warbled a week ‘Ma..Ma.’ I wiped my tears away on the sleeve of my nightie and took her over to my parent’s bed. They made room for me between them and there I cuddled, perfectly happy and content.

My doll’s hair was not perfect, her dress didn’t fit too well, and one arm was a little loose. Her eyes were no longer shiny and the eyelashes surrounding them were gone. That didn’t really matter to me. She said ‘Ma..Ma’ and that was enough.

Later I learned that my daddy had walked up the railroad tracks in the falling snow to reach Riceville’s dry goods store before closing time. There he had found my doll, a reconditioned toy contributed by some family, and purchased it for one dollar. In those days one dollar might be a day’s wages when he cut wood for someone’s fireplace.

That’s why, when people said, ‘You were the apple of your dad’s eye,’ I could really believe I was loved. My daddy died of cancer in December of the year I turned ten. A year later in December my mom died of the disease which had attacked her when I was a toddler, and I went to live with an uncle and aunt. My doll became one of the most precious possessions I owned.”