Christmas Past – A True Story

Dear Readers,

I was going through my WordPress dashboard this morning, tidying things up. I couldn’t tell what all those drafts were without opening them and I didn’t want to trash them without a final review. I found this one from 2009. It’s unfinished but you might have fun imagining what I would have written to tie the old story to the modern photo at the end. Enjoy.

Your pal, Suzette

p.s. I couldn’t help noticing that Sweet Rosemary’s initials are the same as mine are now.

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And now it’s time for one of the annual events here at Cripes Suzette that readers look forward to all year long: it’s another edition of the Suzette’s Family Was Very Poor Christmas Story. Only the most faithful long time readers may remember this event when I blogged about it on an earlier incarnation of BtC but it’s been updated this year with a surprise at the end.

My mother went to work in a dress factory when she graduated high school and she stayed for 40 years. My father wasn’t so fortunate back then. After he left high school, he went into the Army and then into the coal mines after that. After 5 years down in the hole, a brush with death and a metal lunch box flattened by a coal car prompted him to leave that weekly paycheck even though prospects for employment elsewhere were slim.

My mother’s weekly paycheck at the time was $30.00. Our house was clean and warm, our bellies were full and we had no sense of deprivation. However, without ever speaking it aloud, we did have a sense that not everything in the world was possible for us and we accepted that.

After a year of temporary factory work, unemployment and accepting  yellow cheese and peanut butter from relatives who were on welfare, my father got some work as a substitute mail sorter in the Philadelphia post office, 90 miles away from home. He had a furnished room there and came home – can’t remember how often – on a Greyhound bus.

Under the Christmas tree that year was something I didn’t even know existed. It was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen. Sweet Rosemary stood 30″ tall, had big blue eyes that opened and closed and was dressed in the most beautiful coral ballgown imaginable – rows and rows of ruffled lace over taffeta. She had high heels, a handbag and jewelry, too. This was not a baby doll, but a lady doll with make-up and small swells to indicate breasts. Her makeup was perfect.

Somebody else’s doll. Mine is packed back in the box.

My father brought it home on the bus. You cannot imagine what an impact it made. My children, though hardly spoiled with material things,  have never experienced such a swing from one end of the expectations spectrum to the other. I doubt theirs will either. For as awed as I was – and believe me, I was – I have no recollection of ever playing with this doll. Twenty years later, I found it in the attic in its original box, naked except for the shoes. Everything else had been lost. The outline of one ear was traced by a ballpoint pen and her hairdo was undisturbed.

Years later when I  was an adult with 2 children of my own my mother handed me me a big box for Christmas. When I opened it, I almost lost my blood pressure because there she was – Sweet Rosemary in her original box. My mother had recreated the dress from memory but in blue lace this time. She even restrung the beaded necklace and earrings.

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6 thoughts on “Christmas Past – A True Story

  1. Cinderella and the Prince lived happily ever after… until the privy leaked into the well and they died of cholera.

    “Look, Daddy, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings!”
    “That’s right…”
    “George, a man from the NY banking commission is here and he brought a state policeman.”

  2. It is amazing that she has any time for formal dressup, what with the vacation in Florida followed so closely by the vacation in Aspen. And people used to say that LBJ was culturally insensitive when he picked up a beagle by the ears.

  3. I have that doll! She originally wore a burlap frock over a red calico blouse, and a straw hat. Her original clothes have long-since disappeared, and been replaced by a hand-crocheted gown (thank, Mom!). But it’s the same doll. I’m certain of it!

  4. It must be a generation thing. We both had low expectations and were blown away once in our lives by parents doing something so dramatically unexpected. I’m also certain my children never had that experience. Maybe I tried too hard to get them everything they really wanted. An experience like that has IMPACT!

  5. the year my dad had no job. i got a pair of black stretch pants and one other little thing. i was not even phased by it. no scars.
    i can’t even imagine elisabeth getting one pr. pants from santa.

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