During the Christmas season of 1958, my family was going through some pretty rough times. It had been a very difficult couple of years for my parents. In 1955, polio had rocked our world, followed by the loss of my fathers business and our family farm.
In the late summer of 1956, our little family farm, as well as my fathers furniture business, had been sold at auction to pay off my family’s considerable debts. My father had never blinked nor considered the cost, which would be necessary for me to overcome the crippling effects of polio. In order for me to learn to walk once again, my Dad totally neglected the farm and his business. He never left my side throughout all the months of my recuperation. And he never flinched at spending every spare dime we had, to find the medical help available to help me regain my ability to walk again. Unfortunately, this lead to our losing all the temporal things, which we owned, with the exception of the clothes on our back.
Looking back, I can still see my fathers unwavering faith, as we all stood on the grounds of our little farm for the auction to begin. My mother was understandably beside herself. Of course she was worried to death about where we would live and how we would survive, but I was devastated, when she burst into tears and lamented that it was all my fault for getting polio. My dad quickly picked me up into his arms and said: “Margaret, we can always find another job, and another home, but we could never replace our Christy.”
And so our journey began. We had always been a farm family nestled in the familiar sand hills of Nebraska. With no money to start over, my dad’s family scraped together the money for us to move to Texas, where a Marine buddy of my fathers, had a furniture store. MR. King had offered my dad the position of manager for his store and a small house for us to live in. After a year in Texas, we moved back home as my mother hated Texas and all it stood for. Mom was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Once again, with the help of family and Mr. King, we scraped up the money to make the journey back home to our roots.
By the time Christmas rolled around, once again in 1958, it didn’t look like we would have a big celebration that year either. Mom worked scrubbing floors to scrape up extra money for our Christmas dinner. That was one thing my mother missed the most…the Christmas table loaded with all the tradition Christmas foods. No matter what else might come our way, she was determined we would have a wonderful meal to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.
Even a modest Christmas celebration that year, was almost entirely out of the question. Of course, children never seem to give up their dreams nor understand that Santa can’t always provide the things we want. But I, in my child’s mind, had no doubt that Santa could do anything, no matter how bad things may look. I just knew he would bring me a doll for Christmas. Not just any doll, mind you. He was going to bring me a grown up lady doll, dressed in a formal gown with a tiara and high heels.
As the weeks of Advent arrived,I sat down and wrote a note to Santa. I had decided that even though he had stopped coming by our house, because we were so poor, maybe, just maybe he would have an extra lady doll which he could drop off for me that year. My note of course explained that it was ok, if he could not bring me a new lady doll, but if he could spare a watch for my sister Peg, a sling shot for my brother Bill and maybe a nice fire truck for my little brother, I would be very happy with that. And most of all, if he couldn’t do that, could he please just leave my mommy a note, and let her know that it would be ok and that God still loved us?
That Christmas morning, we all gathered around the tree as usual before Mass. Wonder of wonders, besides our stocking stuffed with oranges and apples, each of us had a gift carefully wrapped and placed beneath the tree. Billy’s gift was a slingshot, Mikey a fire truck, and Peg a watch. And wonder of wonders, I received the most beautiful lady doll I had ever envisioned. The best gift of all was for my Mom. It was a beautiful Christmas card, which exclaimed God loved her and all of us.
Years later, I would learn that one of the woman my mother worked for, had found my mother in tears one day. Mom, had my note in her hand and was sobbing about the fact, there was no way she could provide the gifts I had requested. Lila wasn’t wealthy either. She and her husband Frank lived in the back of their little shoe shop. Lila took the time to remake and old doll, which had belonged to her daughter. She had lovingly sewed an elegant silk dress out of one of her own dresses. How she managed to find the Tiara, I do not know. But the doll was more beautiful than any in the toy stores that I have ever seen. The slingshot, was one Frank made by hand. Peg’s watch had belonged to Lila, a gift from her first husband who had died in World War II before she married Frank. The fire truck had belonged to Frank’s son when he was a child. Frank had repainted it for Mike. The best gift of all of course, was the beautiful card to my Mom, which assured us of God’s love.