December 23, 2011

Readers share their favorite Christmas memories

Dolls bring magic of Christmas for woman who helped children

By Cindy Leppert (Special to The Criterion)

Christmas came early this year on a stolen afternoon in October when I visited a little, two-room flea market in the back of a gas station.

I’d often wondered what was in there. At the time, of course, I didn’t know it was Christmas.

The sweet shop lady was old and walked with a cane.

I perused the assortment of household items, computer equipment and clothing all arranged and for sale.

Two sets of eyes followed me everywhere.

There, in a beat-up, handmade doll cradle under a card table were two baby dolls propped up together. One had a pacifier, and the other a bottle.

They had stuffed cloth bodies with molded heads and arms and legs, but no clothes. The little one had an impetuous face and a shock of yellow hair. The big one was angelic.

Perfect condition, I thought.

Was it my name that I heard?

“Keep walking,” I told myself. “You’re not collecting things. You’re getting rid of them. What are you doing in here anyway?”

But I had to touch just once. Oh, so soft, the big one was like a real infant, and the little one was a charmer.

“You like our dolls?”

The shop lady smiled. I liked, all right, but I put them down.

“Do not take anything home that you can’t use,” I told myself.

I was firm with myself, and went on. I complemented the lady on her nice store and left.

Hours later, memories of Christmases past were welling up from somewhere deep inside, oddly overpowering the October sunshine.

Dolls dressed by my mother and grandmother all seemed to come out of closets. The two that Santa took away on Thanksgiving, leaving a note that he would return them on Christmas, did come back to my sisters with new hair and wearing clothes that were vaguely reminiscent of my mother’s scrap bag. My sisters were thrilled.

My boy and girl twins had matching crocheted skating outfits, complete with skates, lots of clothes and their own trunk. It didn’t bother me that the boy looked like a girl with a bad haircut.

There was the life-size infant with a soft rubber body wearing a complete handmade Christening outfit as well as a pink crocheted sweater with matching hat and booties all stored inside a cardboard carrying case. She had other clothes, flannel diapers and a bottle. This was the dearest thing I ever had as a child.

“Well, I wouldn’t have to keep the dolls,” I thought. “I could just dress them and give them away.”

Fifteen minutes before closing time, I was back at the shop.

“Your dolls need a home,” I said.

The Christmas magic was upon me. My mind raced. I hadn’t made doll clothes in years.

All the stuff that I would need was still stowed away in the attic and garage since my move to “down-size” three years ago. I had no clue where the vintage doll clothes patterns were.

And so it went for weeks. The project became a homecoming into a world almost forgotten.

I played with baby dolls, daydreamed about layettes and wept over the scraps from years of sewing for my family.

In the process of digging into boxes, I found 21 handmade quilt squares that had been lost more than 15 years ago. How on earth did they survive the move? Miracle of miracles!

My living room was a wreck for weeks because that’s where I have to sew. Dishes were piled in the sink as I compressed my schedule to make time for trips to the fabric store and the thrift shop.

The big doll got some new onesies and a jacket and a backpack doll carrier. The little doll got overalls made from a friend’s old jeans and a striped shirt and a flannel quilt with a wide, satin binding.

In the process of dressing the dolls, I remembered a certain struggling family. I spoke to the grandparents raising their three grandchildren, and found out that one girl could really use a doll.

The other child was crazy for artwork. The grandson was a toddler. I got permission to work with Santa Claus this year.

On Thanksgiving, Santa came to my house and took away two orphaned dolls with complete outfits and a stack of recycled art supplies in a new carrying case packed with a bold crayon print apron.

Then Advent began.

(Cindy Leppert is a member of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis.)

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