The most memorable Christmas Eve of my youth almost didn’t happen. Let me start by explaining that I was the eldest of eight children. Being from a large and relatively poor family, meant that many of the Christmas gifts we were given were hand-made gifts. Luckily my parents were talented, so these hand-made gifts were quality gifts. Some scrap lumber may become a lovely child sized dish cabinet. A large empty laundry box, covered in contact paper might be re-purposed to become a wardrobe for a new fashion doll. Pretty much every year at least one or two of us got something made with a little more love than the gifts received by most of our peers. This particular Christmas Eve when I was half way through my senior year in high school was destined to become no different.
“I’ve found every single one of my gifts except one,” confided seven-year-old April to me as I was urging her to bed that night so that Santa Clause could come. It was no secret to any of us that April peeked at her gifts before Christmas. She would none-the-less act very surprised as she opened each gift Christmas morning.
“Oh,” I asked, my interest piqued, “what gift are you expecting that you haven’t found?”
“A doll like Julie got last year,” was her answer. After tucking my young sister into bed, I approached my mother with the sad news that Mrs. Santa was one gift short of her next-to-the-youngest child’s expectations.
Mama was alarmed. “I wish I had found this out a few days earlier,” she remarked, (but I could already see the wheels in her talented head turning).
We went to Mama’s store of fabric and she started rummaging through it. The year before, she had made a Raggedy-Ann doll for Julie, who was two-and-a-half years older than April. Luckily she was able to find enough red yarn for the hair of another doll. Between the flesh colored fabric left over from last year’s project and an old sheet, we had enough for the body.
“We will have to make the doll fairly large,” explained my mother. “We don’t have time to make it a dress too, so it will need to fit one of the dresses we already have.” Mama found just the right dress. It was probably even one April had worn as a toddler (before passing it down to our youngest sister Marvelee, of course).
“I don’t know what are going to stuff her with,” said Mama. “I will have to think about that.” I became concerned. I had visions of all my treasured stuffed animals being robbed of their innards. This was happening in Moab, Utah, after all. There were no stores open to cater to late night shoppers who needed just one more item. Then Mama hit on just the right stuffed toy. A large toy dog, which had certainly seen better days, was earmarked for extinction, (and it was not my dog)! I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing in my collection would need to be “sacrificed.”
My sister Marlene, who was two years younger than me, was enlisted to help. So it was that three of us set about to make one little girl’s Christmas dream come true.
We came up with a pattern (which mostly came out of Mama’s head), and began cutting. As the head was being cut out, Mama began threading a needle and set about embroidering a face on the doll. I sewed the doll as Marlene began stuffing the various limbs. I remember this Raggedy Ann somehow had the trade-marked stripped stockings and black shoes.
As the night wore on, we became giddy with laughter (which Mama tried to contain so as to prevent us from awakening the household). This was the most fun I had ever had on a Christmas Eve! As the dog, shrunk, the doll grew. We had just enough white fabric to fashion a pinafore and an hour or two before sunrise, a beautiful Raggedy-Ann doll was placed under the tree, and Mrs. Santa and two weary “elves” stumbled off to their beds.
We were awakened about an hour later by shrieks of delight as an excited little girl discovered her new doll. “I just knew I was going to get this!” exclaimed our little sister. “Now tell me,” she queried, “just where were you hiding her?”
“Santa brought her,” was the only answer that came to mind.