Friday, December 9, 2016

A Christmas memory

When I was nine, my family moved from a small town in Saskatchewan to a big city in Alberta. It was pretty overwhelming for a country bumpkin who was used to wandering all over a tiny village by herself to arrive in a new neighbourhood with more people in four blocks than the entire population of the place where she grew up. And it was more than a challenge for her parents, too, who took on a big risk and a huge debt to buy their own business and a home.

The first Christmas in the big city must have been a tricky one for my dad and mom to navigate, as it may have been the first one we would have realized that Christmas presents came from shopping malls, and they didn't have very much money for putting gifts under the tree. When the Sears Christmas Wish Book came, it must have been hard for our parents to listen to excited little voices talking about all the toys we wanted for Christmas. So they asked us to pick only one thing. Which was fine by me, because I only wanted one.

Holly Hobbie. I'm not sure what it was about the little pioneer-girl rag doll with the blue sun bonnet that made me choose her above everything else in the world that Christmas. I hadn't yet heard of Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls-Wilder. Maybe it was Holly's soulful, painted eyes and the little smile that seemed to say, "I'll keep all your secrets." Maybe she reminded me of the one-eyed Raggedy Ann I once played with in my longed-for old brick school in Saskatchewan. Maybe Holly's patchwork calico dress spoke of solidarity to the country kid whose homemade clothes were made fun of by the city girls in her new Grade Four class. Or maybe I had just come to that place in life where I realized that I'd soon be too old for dolls, and I didn't want to grow up.

Whatever it was, my heart was set on Holly Hobbie. And when I told my mom, she sighed and said that $19.99 was a lot of money for a little rag doll (and for a couple starting a new business venture, it really was!) But Mom's words didn't make me want Holly any less. Anytime we went Christmas shopping, I somehow managed to find my way to the Holly Hobbie display. The Knickerbocker company that made them had already developed Amy and Carrie dolls much like Holly, and they all came in several different sizes. But it was the original fourteen inch Holly that held my attention. My parents had to pull me away from that display more than once.

I'll never forget that Christmas eve, and how strong was the hope in my heart that Holly would be under the tree. After early Mass, we lit the advent wreath and sang a few Christmas carols with Dad accompanying us on his guitar. Then Mom put Christmas music on the stereo, and it was time to open the gifts. I can't honestly say that I actually recall anything I received. But I do remember opening my last present, a box that could have been the right size to hold a Holly Hobbie doll, and discovering a pair of skates instead. My heart sank, and my eyes filled with tears of disappointment, but I blinked them back where they belonged, thanked Mom and Dad for the skates, and sat back to watch my sisters opening their last presents.

No Holly. I was prepared to put myself to bed with my disappointment and cry myself to sleep. How I longed for that doll. I would have gladly given my new nightgown, skates and all my Nancy Drew books for Holly Hobbie.

And then Mom said, "Oh, look, there's one more present we missed." My heart leapt, but she pulled out an odd-shaped flat package, not at all the size of the box that I knew Holly came in, probably a pair of slippers for dad. "It's got your name on it, Maria."

I prepared myself to be disappointed a second time, but there was a wee bit of hope in my heart, too. I took it from her and tore off the paper. What the heck? It was a rolled up copy of the Edmonton Journal. And inside it, wonder of wonders, was Holly Hobbie, of course! In my mind's eye, there's a picture of me in the Christmas dress that my mom spent hours making, and I'm hugging that doll, huge smile, eyes closed, thrilled beyond words. Now, so many years later my eyes well with happiness for that little girl, whose parents managed to give her her heart's desire -- far more often than once in her lifetime.

Holly Hobby still lives in my top dresser drawer, though she's a lot worse for wear, having been loved and played with by a much younger me. Somehow I can't give her away -- she's a sign of the love of my parents.

Thank you, Dad and Mom. You were and are still the best!


  1. Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece of memory. It was very heart-warming.
    Having grown up in tough times, I too recall with great joy and pride, the loving concern of my parents.
    God bless your parents and you too!

    1. Thank you, Vincent. Advent blessings to you and yours, too!

  2. Sweet memory! Thank you!


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