Published in Vietnam Women's and Children's Magazine
Published in StoryBytes April 1998
Re-published in StoryBytes December
Best of the Month
Christmas in Syracuse was tough that year, especially for the unemployed. My mother wasn't unemployed, but the next thing to it. She sold from door to door, waitressed in the Boston Candy Kitchen, and sometimes worked as an extra in Dey Brothers' Department Store.
She was also bringing me up alone. Christmas presented a real problem. Usually she filled a stocking with apples, onions, potatoes and carrots, and tied a pretty ribbon around the top. I pretended I didn't care, but deep down I did.
But the year I turned five something special happened. Mother had some prosperous friends who invited us to spend Christmas Eve with them and stay overnight. I was in seventh heaven because their little girl Rosemary and I would be able to watch for Santa together.
Oh, what a beautiful home! The tree stood handsome, tall and bulging with paper-thin bulbs, strings of popcorn and candy canes. Surely that tree was the most elegant of all of the trees in Syracuse!
Rosemary and I played with some of her games, but most of all, we shivered with excitement, sharing the moments just before Santa came, whispering what we had asked for.
I knew what I wanted, and since nothing seemed impossible in this fairyland of a home, I knew I'd get it. I wanted a dolly with REAL hair and a DOLL CARRIAGE!
It just so happened that was exactly what Rosemary wanted also.
Our mothers had told us only GOOD little girls received presents.
Sleep was difficult. Once I thought I heard Santa. I went to the top of the stairs and was sure I saw him, but I thought he might be angry if he noticed me peeking while he was delivering our toys, so I hurried back to bed.
The next morning we raced down the stairs without even our slippers.
Sure enough, there was a beautiful doll with REAL yellow hair sitting in a large white CARRIAGE.
A card on the carriage said, "To Rosemary, with love, from Santa."
But I was Jean Louise!
Another doll sat in one of the parlor chairs, a little black dolly, with a sad smile and kinky, black hair.
That doll had my name on it, Jean Louise, but NO CARRIAGE!
I often played with a black girl named Sue, and I suddenly wished she was here to see this doll. I hugged the little black dolly to me and immediately named her after Sue, and told her I'd find her carriage right away.
I looked behind the davenport, behind chairs, and even went out on the porch. Maybe Santa had left it at the wrong house. Maybe he left it somewhere else, like the kitchen. But no, there was no carriage anywhere in the house. After exploring the kitchen, I even went down the dark cellar stairs, and up the narrow steps to the attic. But no, there just wasn't a carriage anywhere.
I talked to my mother, tearfully explaining that I wasn't a BAD girl; I reminded her that I helped her dust and make the bed and minded my teacher in school. Honestly, I was sure I was the best little girl in Syracuse!
Mother tried to make me feel better. She told me to take care of my little black dolly who needed my love. She reminded me of our usual Christmas with just apples and potatoes and onions stuck in one of her stockings, and some ribbon candy if she sold enough of her creams or got on extra at Dey Brothers'. But this only made me feel worse.
She wanted me to be happy for Rosemary and her dolly and carriage. But what about me? Why didn't I get a CARRIAGE like Rosemary, that's what I wanted to know? If I could just figure out what I had done wrong I'd feel better.
I wanted to ask Santa why he thought I was a BAD little girl...
That was a long time ago. Nobody has potato and onion stockings any more, I guess.
This Christmas Eve, our tree glows fat and bright, and smells of fresh pine, with presents wrapped in red and green paper tied with gold ribbons, piled high on the couch.
We've darkened the room to only the lights from the tree and the log burning in the fireplace.
Our friends have gathered and we exchange our gifts, taking time to exclaim as each is opened.
My gift is finally handed to me, and I unwrap it, still with the same tingle of excitement I had at five, taking the paper and ribbons off, trying to guess what my it will be.
I try extra hard to guess, because this gift is different. It has a hard surface, but there's a strong light coming out through the trimmings, and the stars on the package reflect a shimmering onto the ceiling of our darkened room.
I hold my breath for a moment.
My friends want me to hurry, but I try to make it last.
I think it must be a new jewelry box, I tell them.
The box is wrapped in paper with Santa riding high in the clouds in his sleigh with the moon just behind him. I carefully take off the paper to save it, and fold it with the ribbons secured inside, to be used again because they match and are as good as new---just as my mother did.
The box is of wood and has a top which slides off. Inside is an exquisite miniature white doll carriage, so real even the wheels roll and the hood moves up and down.
A note is written in a beautiful script handwriting with a picture of Santa in a sleigh waving to me at the top.
Dear Jean Louise,
Many Christmases ago, I couldn't leave this because I ran out of carriages. It wasn't because you were a BAD girl---you were a GOOD girl! You still are a good girl, Jean Louise, so I decided to leave this, even tho' it's very late. Sorry and love. Stay as sweet as you are.