87: The Christmas Doll

87: The Christmas Doll

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

The Christmas Doll

It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.

~Mother Teresa

The weary young woman lined up several cardboard boxes and tenderly packed each with socks, panties and clean mended outfits. School was about to begin and most of the children needed to be placed in other homes. The oldest, at ten old enough to help, and youngest, just two, would stay with her. The others would be going to relatives. The next two oldest, a boy and a girl, would go to their paternal grandparents. The middle child would stay on her husband’s sister’s farm, and her parents would care for the remaining two girls. They would all be placed in southern Alberta, over a hundred kilometres away from the city.

She and her husband had finally found accommodation in an older home within the city of Calgary. The basement was rented out in three sections. Two other families shared the space and all had access to one shared bathroom and laundry facilities. There just wasn’t room for all seven children, and there was no other choice. It was all they could afford. She prayed it wouldn’t be for long — that soon things would be easier.

The children excitedly clamored into waiting cars to embark on their new adventures. They were going on holidays! Waving excited goodbyes, they didn’t see the tears or pain in their mother’s face or hear her cry to God as her hands clutched her swelling abdomen. “Oh Lord, I can’t even take care of them. How will I be able to care for another?”

That young woman was my mother and I, the middle child. At six, I was too young to realize the hard times my parents were facing, but as weeks turned into months, I longed for my family. My aunt, uncle and cousins were kind, but it wasn’t the same. I felt like an outsider.

One snowy evening, my aunt drove me to my maternal grandparents’ home. It was Christmas Eve, and I was overjoyed when I discovered that Mom, Dad, my brother and all my sisters were there. What a commotion! A cardboard carton with Kellogg’s Corn Flakes printed on the side was tucked in beside a chair in the corner, and sweet cooing sounds emerged from it. I approached the makeshift bassinet and for the first time I saw my beautiful baby sister. What a doll! She reminded me of the baby in the nativity scene outside the church, where people quietly stood around gazing at Baby Jesus lying in a wooden box. Now I had my own baby in a box. I felt our family was special.

Before long we were sent off to bed. Four of us found our spots in one bed by alternating heads and feet. Giggles, tales of what was happening in our lives, talk of Baby Jesus and Santa Claus kept us awake for hours. It was good to be together again and we were content.

Christmas morning brought us scrambling to the tree to see if there were any gifts. For me there was the most beautiful doll I would ever own. She had a wood putty head with blue eyes that opened and closed and a cloth body attached to wooden arms and legs. There were scuffs on her face and some of her toes and fingers were chipped, but she was special. She was mine! I tenderly kissed her and promised to love her forever.

Relatives began to arrive. The smell of turkey roasting and festive goodies filtered through the air. We children packed ourselves into an old church pew that served as a bench behind the table and shared Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, all too soon it was over, and once again we went our separate ways with promises we would be together again soon. At least now, I had my Janet doll to love.

When I returned to my aunt and uncle’s home that evening they too had a present for me — a brand new doll with long blonde hair and pretty lacy clothes. She was a smaller version of my cousin’s new doll, but I never took her anywhere with me. All I needed was my Janet doll. I later learned that the city’s firefighters knew of my parents’ plight. The toys we received were used toys people had donated for the Calgary Fire Fighters to repair and distribute to needy families. They helped make my Christmas unforgettable. Never was a used doll more loved.

By the time Christmas rolled around again my family was reunited. Things were not always easy, but at least we were together. As time passed, we saw our parents extending help to other families in need, giving even though it made things tighter for us. Mom filled boxes with preserves, carrots, potatoes and even home raised chicken. Each of us would scamper off to find a jacket, shoes, sweater, outfit or toy that some other child might treasure. Dad would repair things on their cars, inspect our offerings and pack them into their vehicle before returning it.

Through the kindness of others, family, friends, and even people we didn’t know, we learned that love is about unselfish giving. We came to understand the importance of living our lives by helping others. We also learned that although Christmas is considered the season of love and giving, real love gives in all seasons. Over fifty years later it is not a lesson we have ever forgotten.

My precious Janet doll stayed with me into marriage until she fully disintegrated. Then sadly, I put her to rest, but I learned a lesson from her too. You don’t have to be perfect to be loved. We are all blemished and flawed. This lesson I later realized was also part of the true meaning of Christmas.

~Irene Bastian

Okotoks, Alberta

More stories from our partners