This is the story of the joyful times we had at Christmas and how I found out the answer to a mystery.
It was December, 1942. Americans were completely absorbed with World War II. This Christmas would be celebrated with fewer gifts under the tree. Toys were in short supply due to the war efforts. My Mother saved her ration stamps for sugar and eggs in order to bake holiday favorites. A trip to our grandparents might not happen because there were no tires to buy and if the old tires would make the trip there might not be enough ration stamps for gas. Christmas tables would have empty place…husbands, brothers and even daughters were serving in foreign lands to keep our country safe. My aunt worked in a defense plant, wore coveralls, and was called “Rosy the Riveter “ in the news media. My Mother’s three brothers were serving in the military. Each one had a blue star in Grandmother’s window.
Everyone except the very young was involved in helping to win the war. I was only four years old this Christmas of 1942 but I still remember my parents listening to the radio for any news from the war front. My Dad worked in a defense plant and sometimes worked double shifts. I’m sure the evenings were long for my Mother but I never heard her complain. After my baby sister and I were put to bed I could hear the click clack of the sewing machine. For the most part she made dresses for herself and for me. Soon my baby sister would need dresses, too.
We lived in government housing built for workers at the defense plant. Families moved there from many miles away in order to find work. The Great Depression was still being felt in some parts of the country and these new jobs were sought after by thousands. Neighbors from different parts of the country brought new ways of talking, eating and worshiping. It helped me to understand early in life that even with differences we can be friends.
My Dad loved Christmas as much as any child. He grew up in his grandparents home on a tobacco farm, a hard life with little time for holidays and celebrations. Christmas was a one day religious observance with a special meal and a treat for the little boy. He usually received an orange and a few pieces of candy. As he grew older he heard of and maybe visited homes where there were beautifully decorated trees and brightly wrapped gifts. He promised himself when he grew up and had his own family they would have a tree and gifts and several days to enjoy the excitement of this special holiday. He did not fault his grandparents for not providing these kinds of Christmases. He knew they gave him the best gifts of all….their time and their love.
Just about two or three weeks before Christmas my Dad would start talking about Santa Claus and the gifts he would bring. We knew we were assured of getting at least one gift we asked for, if it were not too expensive. But I could tell by my Dad’s tone of voice that this would be a different kind of Christmas. Even at the age of four, I understood that Santa’s sack would be lighter this year.
A few evenings before Christmas Day my Dad was working the evening shift and my Mother was spending another evening alone. It seemed she put me to bed early that night and I lay awake for a long time listening to the click clack of the sewing machine. After awhile I became restless and as young children will do I got out of bed on the pretense of needing to go to the bathroom.
Quietly opening the bedroom door I tiptoed toward the bathroom. There was a large mirror in the hallway which reflected part of the living room. The light from a floor lamp next to the sewing machine sent out a beam of light directly in the mirror. My eyes were drawn there as if it were a movie screen. I saw my Mother sitting at the sewing machine. Whatever she was working on was not in sight. I was almost ready to speak to her when she got up from the chair and turned slightly in my direction. She was holding a doll made of white fabric with brown yarn for its hair. Afraid she would see me I backed up, entered my bedroom and crawled under the covers.
My heart began to race as I realized what I had seen. I just knew I would receive this doll for Christmas and it would not have been made in Santa’s work shop at the North Pole. I cried myself to sleep.
Christmas morning came and my Dad called me to come and see what Santa brought. There was the rag doll dressed in a beautiful blue satin dress and matching bonnet.
I kept the secret until it was time to put away my dolls. The special Christmas doll still looked new…she was too pretty to be just a toy.