The story below came to me in a Christmas letter from a dear family friend. This story is a true one from her childhood. She wrote it down for her own children about 15 years ago. She tries to share it with new people each year and this year included it in her holiday mailing.
It was early December in 1942 in a little copper mining town in Southern Arizona when my dad sat my little brother and me down tot ell us there would be very little money for Christmas gifts that year.
Our mom and dad had come to Arizona from Arkansas because friends from their hometown sent word that jobs were plentiful in the underground copper mines. That wasn’t the case in depression era Arkansas. So my mom and dad boarded a train that brought them to this mountain community, and my dad did indeed find work in the copper mines the very first day. But what he really wanted was to work in the accounting offices of Phelps Dodge Mining Company and applied for every opening. Each time he was passed over by someone with a college degree. He finally convinced Phelps Dodge to give him a chance. He offers dot work for 30 days for free and at the end of that time if they didn’t like his work, he’d go back in the mines.
Daddy began his trial run in the accounting offices on December 1st – and there would be no paycheck that month. He was understandably concerned about how he could provide for his young family that Christmas.
My brother and I assured him he didn’t have to worry about us. We’d written to Santa and we knew Santa would come through. My brother had asked for an Army Jeep – one you could sit in and drive – with a big silver star on the side. This was World War II every day we went outside and played War. And I wanted a doll with long blonde hair and a black net dress trimmed in pink ribbon – exactly like the one my mother wore to her meetings of the Order of the Eastern Star.
Easter Star was my Mother’s big night out. Once a month, Mama would don this beautiful gown and my brother and Dad and I would diet on our front porch on the side of the Bisbee mountain and watch my mother until we lost her from view.
I can see her still as she was then – a beautiful young woman, sweeping down the side of the mountain in that glorious dress. She had made her dress. Mama was a wonderful seamstress and since Christmas was coming she was at her Singer sewing machine constantly, crafting gifts for family and friends. My brother and I “helped.” He worked the pedal and I would turn the wheel that drove the needle as Mama guided the fabric.
My dad was busy getting ready for Christmas as well. He and a friend were meeting in the friend’s garage most evenings working on some book shelves that would be a surprise for our mother. My brother and I were sworn to secrecy.
Finally the preparations ended and it was Christmas. And when my brother and I walked into the living room that Christmas morning, it was just as we had known it would be. There beneath a sparkling tree was a little wooden Army Jeep with a big silver star on the side that my brother could sit in and drive. And right next to it was the most beautiful doll in the world. She had long blonde hair and a black net dress trimmed in pink ribbon, exactly like my mother’s dress.
It was a magical morning, and at one point my brother magnanimously offered to let me take my doll for a ride in his Jeep. So I gathered my doll and we settled into the little Jeep. I put my hands on the steering wheel – and froze. I knew that steering wheel. It was unmistakably the wheel form my mother’s Singer sewing machine. I sat there stunned. It wasn’t too great a leap to put this together with my dad’s carpentry project and realize our dad and his friend had built more than a bookshelf – they had built the little Jeep.
But that didn’t explain my doll – and I so wanted Santa to have had a hand in that. I thought I knew how to find out, so I marched into my parents’ bedroom and opened the closet door. To my great relief, there, hanging where it had always hung, was my mother’s black net dress. But something was different. The pink ribbon was gone and it had become a short dress. It was then that I knew how my doll’s dress had come to be.
I also knew what it had cost my mother. In that place and at that time – and perhaps still – you couldn’t attend a meeting of the Eastern Star in a short dress. This had been her only long one.
I try to share this story with someone every Christmas, for two reasons:
- It’s my way of honoring two wonderful parents who tried so valiantly to preserve the magic of a Christmas morning for their small children.
- It is a personal reminder to me of the profound truth I learned – that the most previous gifts are born of sacrifice. These gifts need no wrapping paper. They come wrapped – in love.
I was very moved by this story, that I thought I would share it here as well. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, in whatever way you celebrate it. With that, I will be on a blogging vacation for the rest of the year. I’ll be back sometime after January 1st with my thoughts and plans for the New Year.