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Christmas I remember best: Surprise in a shoebox


In 1933, Amy was left an orphan at age 8. Her father had died in May of that year and her mother had died in Amy's infancy. So her grandparents had to take over raising her.

Her father, Wendell, had always been so generous, jolly and fun with her and Christmas simply would not be special without him. The light-heartedness and mirth she had become accustomed to this time of year would surely be missing.

Young Amy had always known that her father had the power to arrange for her to receive exactly what she really wanted most from Santa since he had a direct link to the North Pole. Now, Amy was afraid the conduit was gone.

As Barbie dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo have been popular in more recent years, Shirley Temple was the absolute rage in 1933. Naturally, it would mean the world to little orphan Amy to have that doll. She realized that her grandfather and grandmother were very busy people and she was not sure they could perceive how much having that popular Shirley Temple doll would mean.

Amy knew how her grandmother, Grammy, traditionally procrastinated and would not plan to do any Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve. By then the dolls would be long gone. Amy was afraid Grammy would not get word to Santa.

Eighty years ago, in 1933, the United States was still in the depths of the Great Depression. Although Amy's grandparents had been fortunate to weather the storm, being of pioneer stock they had a strong basic ethic of austerity. Therefore, the standard gifts would include a simple toy, a game, a book and a puzzle. The stocking would be filled with a big grapefruit, apple, orange, nuts and a silver dollar. But there was always a surprise from Santa. Or so Amy hoped.

Finally, the anticipated Christmas morning dawned. Young Amy had to toss and turn in bed until 7 a.m., the designated time for the Christmas Day activities to begin. So Amy skipped down the stairs followed a bit more carefully by her elderly grandparents to see what Santa had brought.

The living room was filled with wonder, but Amy felt crestfallen as she looked around the room because there was no Shirley Temple doll.

Grandfather started pulling out the packages to distribute one by one, in turn, to prolong the fun and excitement.

Amy received the puzzle, a book she came to adore titled "The Really Doll," which she shared lovingly with her own daughters and granddaughters for many years much later on, and a brand new game Monopoly, which was quite the thing in 1933.

The presents were now unwrapped, and there was no Shirley Temple doll. Without her late father's conduit, Santa had failed her. There only remained an old, brown box, and it was Grandfather's turn.

Grandfather reached for the box, the shape and size of a shoe box, wrapped in bland, brown paper with a simple string. He exclaimed, "Oh, just what I need. A brand new pair of shoes. But wait, there is a card attached to this box. Why, this is not for me. It must be a new pair of shoes for little Amy."

He proceeded to pass the box to his now intrigued granddaughter.

She took the gift, cut the string, pulled off the plain brown paper, and opened the austere box. She beheld what had to be the most beautiful Shirley Temple doll ever created. Little Amy was absolutely speechless. The heartache of the loss of her father diminished as Santa was able to come through and provide one of the most heart-warming and wonderful Christmases a child could have.

Amy was my mother. Christmas 1933 served as a salve and balm to help alleviate her mourning and was the Christmas she remembered best. And through the years her Shirley Temple doll remained as a keepsake and reminder of the miracle of peace and hope the Christmas season brings.

Since Amy's passing in 1996, the doll, preserved and on display in my sister's home, continues to serve as a reminder of sweet generosity and wonderful Christmas magic.