By Alice J. Kinder © 1985
Issue: December, 1985
Shirley Temple was the golden-haired idol of the 1930's. More than anything else I'd ever longed for, I had yearned for a Shirley Temple doll. My dream was never fulfilled. I wanted the doll now as a Christmas present for my 7 year old sister.
We didn't exchange family Christmas presents back in those Depression days in the mid-30s. There were few extra pennies to purchase anything other than the bare necessities. So we didn't buy beautiful luxuries or have a bright tinseled Christmas tree. Instead, we hung our black stockings by the mantel and were delighted on Christmas morning to find gold oranges, nuts, white-red peppermint sticks, and perhaps a sprinkling of covered chocolate drops.
One snowy November day, however, while reading a magazine by the glowing fire, I daydreamed over the possibility that there just might be one special Christmas present given in our house on Christmas morning. The daydream started when my eyes suddenly lighted on a picture of a lovely Shirley Temple doll. The ad beside the picture disclosed that "the Shirley Temple Christmas Doll" would be given free to anyone who could sell a certain number of magazine subscriptions.
Reaching for the poker, I stirred the fire to more golden flames. I looked at the picture longingly again. The Shirley Temple doll was the most beautiful doll in the world. I knew this because it looked exactly like the wondrous, lovely, little Shirley Temple, the movie star. All America was thrilled over the golden-haired movie idol, but no one was more enthralled over her than I, a plain, freckle-faced girl growing up in the head of Deep Valley. I cut out every picture I could find of her and pasted it in a treasured scrapbook.
More than anything else I'd ever longed for, I had yearned for a Shirley Temple doll. But the dream was never fulfilled, and it wouldn't be now. By this time I was twelve years old and had stopped playing with the rag dolls and the one store-bought doll Papa once bought me. What I wanted the Shirley Temple for now was to give it as a Christmas present to my baby sister, seven year old Ruby. She worshipped Shirley Temple too and had helped me find pictures for my scrapbook. "Supper's ready!" Mama called from the kitchen. I placed Papa's magazine carefully on the library table where he kept it and hurried with the family to the table.
That night while Ruby and I washed the dishes, I kept thinking about my daydream of selling magazine subscriptions to obtain the Shirley Temple doll for her. Wouldn't her brown eyes sparkle with delight if she found the beautiful doll on the mantel above her stocking on Christmas morning? If only the dream could possibly come true!
The next day I showed the ad to Mama. Her blue eyes clouded with uncertainty.
"I don't know, dear," she said slowly. "Would anybody buy the subscriptions? I wonder. Hardly anyone has money these days. And then not too many people read around here."
She noted my disappointment and reached to pat my shoulder. "It won't hurt to try, though," she declared in her usual brisk manner. "After all, 'nothing tried, nothing gained,' as my Granny Betty used to say."
It was wonderful to have Mama stand by me like that. And I was grateful too when she helped me send in the application to sell the magazine subscriptions. When I received my material, she gave me permission to travel up and down the creek to see if I could sell the magazine.
For three days I walked over our snowy, muddy country road. I was able to sell only two subscriptions, one to Uncle Buster Justice, the other to Uncle Abner Justice. Since that wasn't the required number, I failed to win the Shirley Temple doll. I was disappointed and dejected that my baby sister wouldn't have stars shining in her eyes on Christmas morning.
Again, however, Mama gave me hope. Once more her faith up-lifted me. "If you'll help me, we may just try to make a Shirley Temple Christmas doll," she said.
"A Shirley Temple Christmas doll!" I exclaimed in excitement. "But how, Mama? How can we possibly make a Shirley Temple doll?"
Her eyes shone in anticipation as they sometimes did when she was baking a yellow cake topped with egg white icing and looking forward to its beauty on the table.
"I have some yellow yarn we could use for hair. And enough blue and white quilt scraps to make a twirling dancing dress," Mama planned ahead.
After that I washed dishes, swept and dusted, churned the butter, and helped milk the cow for Mama so she wouldn't be too tired to work on the doll at night after Ruby went to bed. She worked every night and I helped do some sewing too.
She made the body and stuffed it with rags. She worked carefully with small stitches, making the face. Despite her effort, though, she didn't succeed in getting it to suit her. "No matter what, it still looks like a rag doll in the face with my design of stitching the eyes, the eyebrows, mouth, and nose," she despaired somewhat.
I almost had to agree with Mama there. But when she and I finished twining the gold yarn into blonde ringlet curls and dressed the doll in the daintily stitched blue dancing dress trimmed in white ruffles, white anklet socks, and tiny black patent slippers we'd made from pieces of discarded shoes I thought the doll was beautiful indeed. It looked almost - but not quite - like the lovely picture in the magazine.
On Christmas morning we children stood reaching for our black stockings filled with goodies, while Mama and Papa led us in singing "Silent Night."
"Why, our littlest one here has a real present wrapped in white paper on the mantel!" Papa declared.
He lifted Ruby and let her reach for the box. She opened it and exclaimed repeatedly in delight, "Santa Claus has brought me a Shirley Temple Christmas doll!" Her words became a chorus with a little tune she made up herself.
I looked at Mama and she at me. We exchanged a mutual smile of understanding and grateful Christmas thanksgiving. Both of us were glad to see stars sparkling in the brown eyes belonging to the baby of our family. It mattered not that Ruby still believed in Santa Claus and thought he'd brought the doll. For the belief in Santa, we knew, signified bright hope and faith in the true spirit of giving and receiving. We were glad our baby, only seven, still believed in Santa Claus and was joyously happy because of it. Soon she would be growing older, like the rest of us. She could then graduate into learning more about the true Giver of everything, back of all real gifts and life on earth. As Ruby held her doll close our family sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem," words about the Supreme Giver, whose birth we celebrated that day.
Like me, my sister never did receive a true, store-bought Shirley Temple doll. But because our mother was adept at sewing and planning and possessed an overflowing heart of love, small Ruby felt rich indeed playing with the Shirley Temple rag doll. As I watched her and saw Mama and the others observing our "littlest one," I didn't mind in the least that I hadn't been able to sell the magazine subscriptions.
This story is reprinted from the new book, MOUNTAIN SEASONS by Alice J. Kinder. The book ($6.00) may be obtained from Mrs. Alice J. Kinder, Route 6, Box 666, Pikeville, KY 41501. Two books are only $10.00. Prices include postage and handling.