In October of 1966, one of my playmates named Mary received a “Pattaburp” doll for her seventh birthday.
The moment that sweet face emerged from the gift wrap I was in love.
Pattaburp was soft and cuddly with short brownish red hair, a fluffy pink dress, rosebud lips and big blue eyes surrounded by a fringe of thick lashes. She fit into the crook of Mary’s arm just like a real baby would.
Best of all when she was placed over Mary’s shoulder and her back was tapped a few times, she’d burp. Just like a real baby.
It was a healthy burp too.
As with most of her toys, Mary quickly tired of Pattaburp and tossed her aside like an old shoe. But do you think she’d let me play with her?
Not a chance.
“You are so selfish Mary Carter!”
“Get your own Pattaburp. I don’t want mine to get dirty” she sniffed.
I stuck my tongue out at her and fumed all the way home.
My parents never let on that our family lived paycheck to paycheck. From a child’s perspective we had everything we needed; a nice home, plenty of food and clothes. But there was little wiggle room in Dad’s strict budget for luxuries.
When I found Pattaburp in a department store catalog, Mom gently informed me that she was rather expensive; seven dollars. Santa might not be able to afford her.
“But he has a workshop. Maybe the elves can make one for free,” I suggested hopefully.
Mom smiled and patted my head.
Eager to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse, I raced into my bedroom and wrote a letter to Santa asking him for only one gift. Pattaburp. I didn’t need anything else. After reminding him that I’d been a very good girl, I sealed the envelope that Mom helped me address and popped it into the mailbox for its long journey to the North Pole.
Later that afternoon I foolishly told Mary Carter about my letter.
“I’ll bet Santa will pass right by your house and not even stop because you stuck your tongue out at me” she scoffed. “He knows when you’ve been bad or good.”
“You’re bad all the time, and you still get presents!” I hollered.
“He likes me better than you” she giggled as she shut the front door.
I wasn’t about to let her see me cry so I hurried home before the tears fell.
In spite of Mary’s dire predictions, Pattaburp (forevermore known as Patty) was patiently waiting for her new mommy under the tree on Christmas morning. I was overjoyed.
The next day, Mary rode by on her fancy new pink and white bike and saw me burping Patty on the front porch.
“Oooo, she’s really pretty. Can I hold her?”
“No. I don’t want her to get dirty. Go get your own” I coolly responded.
I clearly hurt her feelings because she looked ready to cry.
Then I felt bad. She was a brat, but I didn’t have to be one too.
“Well ok. You can hold her for a minute.”
Besides it was never too early to start racking up good girl points for next Christmas, considering I almost always lost ground when I was around Mary Clark.
In the years that followed, Santa brought me many other dolls. Adorable potential replacements for Patty.
But there was only one doll for me.
Eventually Patty began looking a little rough around the edges, as beloved toys often do. But I didn’t see it. She was always there when I needed her. She listened to my troubles, her cheeks were peppered with childish kisses, and I cradled her in my arms as I slept.
Inevitably every girl must bid farewell to the days of dolls and tea parties and turn her focus on makeup, boy crushes, fashion magazines, pool parties and after school jobs. I was no different.
Yet in spite of the forward movement of my life, I still held on to a bit of the old days. Each morning before I got ready for work, I’d regress for a moment, hug my precious Patty, and breathe in the fading scent of my childhood. Then she’d be placed against the fluffy pillows of my bed.
Years later after Grandma Helen passed away, Mom told me the story about where Pattaburp really came from.
Grandma sent her to me, with some help from the North Pole.
Like us, Grandma was also on a tight budget. When Mom told her how I badly wanted Pattaburp, she was frustrated because she didn’t have the money to buy her for me and pay her bills too. She had $6.00 spending money in her wallet. Not enough.
“I’m going to count it again. Maybe I missed something” she said, reaching for her purse.
Inside her wallet was an additional crisp ten dollar bill; enough money to buy Pattaburp and pay for the postage to mail her to me.
"Somehow the money was provided” she told my incredulous mother. “Perhaps Santa popped it into my wallet when I wasn’t looking. He must have. How else would it have gotten in there?”
Decades later, my husband and I watch our nieces and nephews during their Christmas Eve ritual of ripping paper from their vast array of gifts. It usually takes each of them about ten minutes to plunder through the pile; the amount of time it takes to eat a sandwich.
Afterward the floor is knee deep in gift wrap while the children shuffle through it in a daze, not sure what to get into next. Perhaps Santa’s extreme generosity is a bit too much for them to take in.
Grandma Helen once said “It’s harder to get excited about something that’s too easy to get.”
I believe she’s right.
Once upon a time, teamwork between a mom, grandmother and a big bearded man in a red suit gave me the one and only present I wanted that year. I didn’t need twenty additional gifts to make the day more special.
Cherished gifts that are given during leaner times are rarely forgotten; like my Patty that I I’ve loved for nearly fifty years.
And in case you were wondering, Patty still burps like a champ.
Michelle Close Mills ©