Although the Christmas fondest to my heart was long ago - 1931 to be exact - I recall it clearly. I was 8 years old and yearning for a new doll. After all, I'd played with dear old Betty for three years, and she was much the worse for wear. But there would be no new doll for me that year, and I knew it.

Anyone who lived through the "lean '30s" will understand. My parents were by nature neighborly people, ready to help anyone in need. But my father's income as a clerk had been reduced so low that there was nothing left to share. My mother's worried look began to haunt even me. There would be few gifts under our tree that year - certainly not a doll!Then, all unexpectedly, I had reason to hope, just a little. On a wintry family walk around town, we happened by Spenser's Drugstore.

"Daddy, look!" I tugged at his hand. There in the tinsel-decked window was a marvelous array of dolls - from a gorgeous Eaton's Beauty in a fur coat to an adorable baby doll in a flannel nightgown - but not a one was for sale. "Daddy, Spenser's is going to give them away - read the sign!"

Indeed, the enterprising druggist had thought up a winning sales scheme! The purchase of one item from the store would register a child's name on the chart. Then anyone in town could add one star to any child's name on the list for each dollar spent. Already several names were posted; already several stars appeared.

My little ray of hope faded. "There's Dorothy Blake's name first on the list," I moaned. "Her daddy's rich - she's sure to win the big doll. Well, I don't really care anyway."

But of course I did care. I cared so much that I cried myself to sleep that night. Childlike, I blamed my father. It was his fault we were so poor. Mr. Blake had money to buy whatever Dorothy wanted! The Eaton's Beauty doll was as good as hers!

Dorothy was of the same opinion. At school the next day she made it clear that she expected to win first prize. As the days of early December passed, I tried not to think of the contest.

But my parents understood. One afternoon, Mother was waiting for me as school let out. "I have to get a few groceries," she told me. "I thought you might like to see the beautiful Christmas display downtown."

On the way we passed Spenser's Drugstore and, although I tried to hurry along, Mother stopped abruptly. "Ellie," she cried, "look at the last name on the list!"

I couldn't believe it! There in block letters was my name - "Ellie Simms." "Who put my name there?" I asked, my eyes wide with wonder.

"I surely didn't," said Mother. "Thank goodness none of us has been sick - I haven't had to buy any medicine."

I looked up at her hopefully. "Scarlet fever's going around. Maybe I'll catch it!"

"Ellie - for shame! Don't wish any more burdens on your poor father!" she hurried me to the grocers.

Dorothy's daily report at school assured us she still had the most stars. So, I made a point of playing each afternoon with my old doll. Of course, I still loved Betty! I was reminded of all the fun she'd brought me. "I don't care if that dumb Dorothy does win the Eaton's Beauty," I told Betty secretly, hugging her tight. "You're the best doll I ever had."

I'm sure Mother was pleased to see my renewed interest in Betty. Together we cleaned her up, curled her hair and made her a new dress. She was hardly as good as new, but she was greatly improved - and I was content.

Thus it was that all of us were completely surprised by what happened on Christmas Eve. Mother was in the kitchen making mince pies for Christmas dinner. Daddy was in the living room trimming our beautiful little tree and singing along with Christmas carols on the radio. I was upstairs peering through my frosted window, praying that the blizzard raging outside wouldn't keep Santa from finding our house. Suddenly, the doorbell rang!

I ran along the hall and peered over the bannister rail to see who was down there. Mother hurried toward the front door. Daddy was already there, talking with some man I didn't recognize, so bundled up was he against the cold and snow. He handed a shoebox-size package to my father.

"Come in, Mr. Spenser, come in!" Daddy was saying. "Why, I had no idea Ellie would - I only bought one thing - to get her name on the list. It was all I could . . . "

"I would say, Simms," said Mr. Spenser, "that you and your wife have a few friends in town. You've helped a good many people when they needed it. In my business, I hear about these things! This isn't the Eaton's Beauty doll - we all knew who would get her. But I think Ellie will be happy with this one!"

"You look half frozen, Mr. Spenser!" said Mother. "Do come in for a cup of hot cider! Imagine you out there on such a night!"

"Thank you, Mrs. Simms, but I still have a couple of deliveries to make. Had to get the horse and cutter out - too snowy for the car! A very merry Christmas to you all!" He disappeared amid a jingle of sleigh bells.

"Daddy," I cried, sliding down the banister, "did he say it's for me?"

"That he did, Ellie. And I don't have the heart to make you wait until tomorrow to open it. Here, come sit by the fire - Mother, too."

All of us were delighted over the lovable baby doll with her dimpled cheeks. I remember laughing with happy surprise as I lifted her from her tissue wrapping and she said "Ma-Ma." It was love at first touch! Although I'd hardly noticed her in the store window, now she was mine, and I learned there was room in my heart for both her and Betty.

Sixty-three years later, I still have that baby doll. My grandchildren hold her gently while I tell them how I discovered that "giving love" is indeed the Christmas spirit. I want them to know that their great-grandparents often "cast their bread upon the waters" - and that it came back to bless my childhood with a precious memory.


Edna S. Browne

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Edna Browne, originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, attended BYU and recently celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary.

She is the mother of seven children and currently lives in Provo. Browne is an aspiring author, and her first novel, "Haven," is soon to be published.

The Brownes have lived in nine different states but finally settled in Utah. "The local seagulls help subdue the yearnings I still have for my native province by the sea," said Browne.

Browne hopes her true story of her Christmas doll will pluck a responsive note with Deseret News readers.

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