A Christmas Remembrance

That's me posing with Shirley and my brother, Rafael, too.

That’s me posing with Shirley and my brother, Rafael, too.

Note:  I first posted this two years ago when my readers were few and far between.  Thanks for reading, and may your holidays be happy and warm!

Each of us has moments in our lives that we’d like to recapture. For me, one of those moments was the Christmas I received Shirley. I was seven and the excitement of the season was still fresh in my heart, beginning with the signal from my mother indicating it was time.

Time to venture down to the basement and rummage through stacks of boxes until we found the right ones. My mother would pretend not to see them, allowing me the thrill of spotting the boxes first. Worn from years of use and handling, they were filled with fragile, shiny ornaments and treasured decorations. Out came the large red Santa boot, made of Styrofoam, red paint and glitter, which we’d hang on the front door. Nestled in another box, we’d find the plastic reindeer that would spend each Christmas watching over us from its perch on the hi-fi. Meanwhile, my father would take my brothers to purchase a tree from a nearby lot. Once they returned, we’d open the box with the delicate ornaments. We’d peel away the tissue paper to uncover each gleaming object in hues of red, blue and silver.  As we decorated the tree, Andy Williams and Perry Como records serenaded us with such classic songs, as “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

A few days before Christmas, my mother would take my brothers and me into the city. There, we’d move swiftly and purposely through the snow dusted streets, where the warm scent of chestnuts roasting in the vendors’ carts filled the cold, biting air. First, we’d catch a matinee at Radio City Music Hall, not so much to see the film, as to see the Radio City Rockettes perform in their Christmas show, always a spectacular sight. Afterward, we’d cross the street to Rockefeller Center to gaze upon the enormous Christmas tree, ablaze in lights in the dusk of a New York City evening, and watch the skaters glide gracefully across the ice. Before taking the subway back to Queens, we’d make one last stop at Macy’s on Herald Square.  Riding the elevator to the 8th floor, the anticipation of seeing Santaland made my heart beat faster. For the entire floor it seemed had been transformed into Santa’s village, replete with fake snow, starlight heavens, miniature buildings and a wooden bridge you’d walk across as you headed to see the man himself, Santa Claus.

We’d open our presents on Christmas Eve, which in our family was even more important than Christmas Day. The gifts were modest and simple as my parents couldn’t afford more than that. One year I received a plastic set of checkers. Another, a Dr. Ben Casey doll that had been purchased with S&H green stamps. In fact, green stamps were used to purchase many of our gifts.

But this year was different. This was the year that I was given Shirley, a flaxen-haired, blue-eyed doll in a pink dress and crisp pink and white striped pinafore.  She was absolutely breathtaking! Shirley, whose name my mother had chosen because the doll reminded her of Shirley Temple, was the most beautiful doll I’d ever laid eyes upon–and she was unattainable through green stamps. No ordinary doll, Shirley was a Madame Alexander doll, purchased at the most prestigious, high-end toy store in New York City, F.A.O. Schwartz. I hugged my new doll tightly, breathing in the smell of brand new plastic. In my delight, it didn’t cross my mind to ask how my parents were able to afford such a doll.  Too excited to even sleep that night, I just didn’t think about it. During the night it snowed. In the morning we’d all go sledding. But tonight I had Shirley. This was Christmas for me.

It wasn’t until later that I learned how a number of relatives and close family friends had pitched in to help my parents purchase Shirley for me. I learned how my parents made the decision to not give each other gifts that year, so that I could have Shirley.

Throughout my childhood, I received other dolls, but none compared to Shirley. The other dolls, for the most part, are gone now, but I still have Shirley. She is safely stored in a cedar chest, which I sometimes open at Christmastime, for one more look, for one more touch of my old, dear friend.  For when I hold Shirley, I am surrounded again by my parents’ love, their real gift to me.

So, how about you? What are your best holiday memories?

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36 thoughts on “A Christmas Remembrance

  1. Mostly I’m a cheap date – both as an adult, and as a child. The doll I really, really wanted was a Raggedy Ann doll, because you could see her heart stitched? printed on her soft little body. I got her – and was thrilled, but I know she wasn’t a pricey kind of doll.

    I did want something expensive once – when I was about 8, my mother had been very sick with pneumonia, and I had been pawned off on the next door neighbor for some weeks after school while she was in the hospital and at home, resting. They had a play-by-numbers electric organ that I got to play on, and I *wanted* one. My parents told me, no, too expensive, couldn’t have it – and then they got it for me for Christmas, after all.

    • Bev, I remember the Raggedy Ann dolls. My sister had one, and I just loved the stitched heart. It was so touching, like finding this hidden gem: a doll with heart. What memories. You must have been over the moon when you got the electric organ. How lovely for you!

  2. It makes me wonder why they went out of their way that year for Shirley? Why did they save. Had they seen her and work to attain her, or had they dreamed her into your life? Merry Christmas my dear friend!

    • Because they loved me. Because at the time, I was their only daughter. Because they new I loved dolls. Because we had visited FAO Schwartz so many times before, just to look and never buy. We had friends who’d visit from Latin America, and who were wealthy enough to make purchases there. So we’d go along and look, while they made purchases to take home. And my heart ached for one of those beautiful, amazing dolls, so when I finally received Shirley, she was truly a treasure to behold. 🙂

  3. The story behind that very special gift is worth telling many times, for everything it evokes. Wishing you a wondrous holiday and a New Year filled with light. Speaking of snow, my daughter is hoping for just a little when she comes home. Kind of goes with the territory 😉

  4. Another great post, Monica! In my mother’s journal she recalled how much I had wanted a nurse’s uniform for Christmas one year – and how over-the-moon happy I was when I opened my special gift on Christmas morning. I can still remember how much I loved wearing the blue cape over the dress and the nurse’s cap. Years later I went on to work as a psychiatric ward attendant and got to wear the cap for real – and the real kicker is, somewhere along the line I must have decided that i didn’t want to be a nurse. Instead I married one!

  5. Monica, I’ve said it before but it bears repeating–I love, LOVE, LOVE your childhood stories! I confess that I feel this type of writing–where your heart seems to spill out onto the page and your pen flows with nostalgia, love, and emotion–is your forte. I’m captivated from the get go and really, is there anything better than writing about memories? I don’t think so. They are what many times gives my life purpose, meaning, hope. This piece is excellent! Would you believe I collected Madame Alexander? I still have all of mine! I was moved by your story and the efforts your parents made to get you Shirley. My sisters and I also received Madame Alexander dolls for Christmas, along with horrific Barbie, (which I hated but my mother loved) and all her furniture, camper, houses, clothing, and even shoes. I remember stuffing Barbie and all her accessories in a box and simply staring at my Madame Alexander dollies. Each Christmas we would get two or three different countries. My first one was from China. I was in love with her little blue kimono and parasol! I loved this post so much! I’m so happy you posted it again! Happy holidays, chica! Besos y abrazos! (Hugs and kisses) 🙂

    • Oh Bella! I’m beaming with joy at your words! Thank you, thank you. I actually love telling these stories and writing in a style that tugs at the heartstrings. It is my favorite, but takes more time than writing other posts. But you’ve inspired me, so I will try to write more of them in the coming year. Merry Christmas to you, the SO, the son, and, especially, sweet, adorable Roxy. 🙂

  6. A wonderful memory Monica. Thank you for sharing such a precious moment. I am sure that many parents made sacrifices to make sure that Christmas was always special for their children. Merry Christmas Monica.

  7. What wonderful memories Monica. I had a doll just like Shirley, her name was Tina. She had dark hair and was the most beautiful thing I ever owned. You filled my heart with joy, as I read your story. It also made me think back to all my Christmas memories, we didn’t have a lot either, but we had books. Every birthday and Christmas, my brother and I got new books. I treasured them so much and I even have some of my father’s books, which I hold close to my heart, as his name is written inside the flap, reminding me of how often we would sit and read together as a family.
    Have a wonderful holiday with your children. I know having your son and daughter with you is the most wonderful gift. I send you hugs.

  8. Thank you for this Monica, it is priceless in more ways than just your memories of Shirley. The love and care, the memory of your parents, friends and extended family. All priceless. I needed this today I think.

    • Val, thank you for saying that. I’m glad I was able to convey my message well. My parents were devoted to their kids, and made a lot of sacrifices for us along the way. Hope you’re holiday is truly special.

  9. Monica, how simply beautiful! Your blog brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of so many wonderful days of Christmas through the years, in downtown Atlanta with all its animated windows, to Germany where one year we went to Garmisch for Christmas and iceskated and my father played the piano in the lobby and people gathered around. I, too, had a special doll, Princess Karina, tall with long blonde hair, I loved that doll, and later marionettes and a dollhouse, but Princess Karina was always special. And those great days at my Aunt Dollie Lee’s and Uncle Henry’s in Atlanta where Christmasses were so special for our family. I’ll never forget their wonderful piano, even its yellowed keys were magical as were the sock doll collection of my cousin Delaine and the coming of age of our handsome cousin Henry Junior. Always the great fruitcakes and music and the Southern sweet tea, and laughter. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end. Your blog, Monica, was priceless. Thank you!

  10. Growing up I’d think this is the best Christmas ever, how can they get better, but one stands out for me.. It was the year both my husband and father made it out of the hospital in time to sit around the table. Both were recovery from surgery and looking worse for the wear, but we were together as a family and celebrated life and the joy of family.

  11. I love this story. Merry Christmas and thank you for pulling me into memories this morning about my childhood. I’m enjoying my coffee that much more….

    • I know, Becky. I’ve been feeling so sad, too. Then I watched the NRA press conference and was baffled by their suggestions for dealing with school shootings. Guns in schools. Let’s fight guns with more guns. Anyway, glad I could make you smile.

  12. Glad you reposted this one. It’s a great Christmas story. It seems like you were given Shirley twice. Once as a child and again when you found out how much it took for your parents to get her for you. Thanks for sharing the love.

  13. *** There, we’d move swiftly and purposely through the snow dusted streets, where the warm scent of chestnuts roasting in the vendors’ carts filled the cold, biting air***

    Ooooh, this was magical, beautiful.

    Do you still have Shirley? Priceless Shirley.

    Thank you, Monica, for filling up my heart. Xxxx LOVE

  14. What a super blog Monica.

    We all receive something one Christmas that we treasure, your doll being a great example.

    For me it was a Grundig radio I got when I was ten years old, on it I discovered I could hear Radio Amateurs or Radio Hams as you call them over there. That stared for me a life long love of Amateur Radio and47 years later I still get a kick out of communicating around the globe, though the hobby has taken a back seat to my business for a few years I still have some equipment and dust it off from time to time. Some years ago I remember speaking to an Amateur in New York on Christmas day, we used Morse code and chatted for over an hour about nothing in particular, he was living on his own and the radio he was using he had built himself and I was his first contact on it. That chat quite made my Christmas.

    Presents don’t have to be expensive, Sue my wife and I just spend £10 each on a simple gift for each other, we buy each other enough during the year, so we just buy a simple silly present.

    Have a great Christmas Monica and thanks for your Blog, it brightens my day when i read it.

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