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The Only Gift I Remember Is the Last One I Received

Our final family Christmas




Enraptured with the gift I’d asked for, I held the doll close. 


Do I remember her because she was the most desired Christmas gift I’d received in my childhood?


Or is it seared into my memory banks because it was the last time my family celebrated anything together ever again?


At fourteen years old, you’d think I’d have asked for something more ‘grown-up’. Make-up maybe? Or a neon yellow turtleneck with matching scrunchy socks that were all the rage in 1986.


I’d first laid eyes on this porcelain doll in the Sears catalog and although I don’t remember playing with dolls at this age, this golden-ringletted one endeared herself to me somehow. I circled her photo with a thick red marker and scrawled ‘Julie’ below as if my mom would mistake which of her four kids would want that delicate doll wrapped under the tree.


No other presents come to mind when I recollect my childhood Christmases. Not one. We never had a lot but my parents always made sure there were a few special presents under the tree for each of us. 


Christmas Eve was gift-opening time at our house, Christmas morning was for opening stockings and going to church. We were usually a part of the play or the choir or whatever the kid's ministry had prepared for that year.


This holiday was different though. We’d only just moved to a new city a few weeks ago. New school, no friends, and certainly no part in the church play.


But wherever my mom and dad, older sister and younger brother and sister were, was home. We were used to this moving thing. This was move number seven and school number six for me. 


I felt safe and happy and had an understanding that things would work out. 


They always did. 


The continuous change had made me adaptable and it was becoming second nature to put myself out there in new situations.


All that moving prepared me for things I would have never wanted it to prepare me for. 

That Christmas, lights twinkling from our beloved fake tree (the kind with the color-coded branches. We all took turns sticking them into the wooden ‘trunk’ of the tree), I opened my gift. 


She was perfect. Golden locks and rosy cheeks. Her creamy silk dress, all poofed out thanks to the three-layered crinoline underneath. She was so very elegant. Surely I desired her because she was a sophisticated treasure, one I could hand down to a daughter of my own one day.


Thanks, Mom, I love her!


Of course, I hugged both my mom and dad but, just like in my household now, most of our kids’ gifts are surprises to my husband as they get unwrapped on Christmas morning. 


That doll was a gift from my two biggest gifts.


My parents filled our childhoods with love and laughter. We were safe and secure. 


Until we weren’t.


None of us could have foreseen that less than two months later, we’d have buried my mom and been making regular visits to my dad who lay comatose in a hospital, the result of a treacherous car accident.


He died soon after she did.


That doll sat on my bed or a shelf in my bedroom for years. The four of us kids were shuffled around from house to house, from this relative to that, and ended up in a completely different city. At each new ‘stop’ I brought her out as a constant. 


A reminder of a happier time.


I don’t know if I ever named her. Girls name their dolls. All of her porcelain features are clear to me, but her name? It’s vanished from my brain’s files. 


Sadly, I don’t even know if I still have her, my connection to that last true family Christmas. 


I’m sorry, dear doll, if I gave you away thinking I no longer needed you. That I was too old to hold you. 


Perhaps to look at you pained me.


She could be packed away in a storage box somewhere. What a treat it would be if I found her in a box in a dark corner of our house.


I’ll look as soon as I get home.


Thank you, Mom and Dad.


I loved your gift. 


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