Best Christmas Ever
My novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED, is completely fiction.
In the book, Cynthia (the main character) listens to her sister Angela’s remembrance of one long-ago Christmas.
Out of 92,000 words, this little anecdote – less than 800 words – is the one little bit of truth. A not-so-fictionalized account of the Christmas when I was five. The parents are my own Mom and Dad, and I am the little girl who received a fabulous present.
“Is my life a waste if I am good at selling clothes? What if this is just what I always wanted?”
Angela smiled in that serene way that makes me want to kiss her on the top of her head. She leaned back in her lawn chair and said to the sky, “What was the best Christmas present that you ever got?”
“The Snow White doll. No question.”
“Do you remember the story of the Snow White doll?”
“Just vaguely,” I answered, although I knew the story like I knew my prayers. But, oh, to hear it again, especially Angela’s version.
“Well,” she began, “that was the year that Mary Ann and I both had whooping cough. Mom wouldn’t leave us, not for a minute. It was just before Christmas, and she couldn’t shop. She had to send Dad out to buy the presents. Dad, who was hard pressed to buy a birthday card for Mom. Remember the time she sent him out for more bows for the Christmas presents and he came back with Hanukkah bows? Mom was beside herself, but he said that they were very pretty and on sale too, and so the Christmas presents that year had red and green paper and blue and white bows…now that I think of it, it may have been the same year…
Anyway, she gave him our Christmas lists that we had written to Santa, and told him to do his best.
On Christmas Eve, it got to be quite late before Mom and Dad started putting our presents under the tree. Mary Ann got the right side, near the piano, and I was on the left, near the door, and your presents were right in the middle, right under the center of the tree. Mom counted every present and made sure we all got exactly the same number of gifts.
‘They’ll count,’ she said, and you know we always did. She actually put away one present for Mary Ann that she saved for her birthday, so it would all be even-steven. She put out books, and games, and lacy socks, and ribbons, and a little horse with hair you could comb for Mary Ann, and a pogo stick for me. Remember that pogo stick? That was my all-time favorite. After everything was laid out and looked so beautiful, Mom sat admiring it all. Then she saw what was missing.
‘Where’s Cynthia’s doll?’ Mom asked Dad.
‘What doll?’ he said. ‘Look at all this great stuff!’
But no, Mom said, ‘Cynthia has to have a doll. She just has to have a doll.’
Well, you were five years old. You had never had a Christmas or a birthday without a doll. And Mom made Dad go out again late Christmas Eve to find a doll. It wasn’t like now, where there’re huge stores all open twenty-four hours. No, everything was locked up tight, and Dad drove around the deserted town looking for any store that might be open. And he finally saw a light. It was Noveck’s Pharmacy, and they were open for ten more minutes. And he bought the Snow White doll.
And he came home with this doll, and Mom gave him cocoa. And took away your crinoline slip and gave it to you for your birthday, so it would all still be even.
The next morning was the best Christmas we have ever had. Dad had interpreted our lists very liberally, and so we got what we had asked for, but in very unexpected ways.
Mary Ann had wanted a Liberace record and a jigsaw puzzle, but she had written it on one line, and Dad actually found a jigsaw puzzle of Liberace. And I got real seashells, when I had asked for seashell barrettes. Oh, we were delighted!
And you! You saw that Snow White doll and it was full-blown love. And when you opened the box and took out the doll, you saw that the cardboard scene behind the doll lifted out. And guess what was behind the cardboard? Why it was all the seven dwarfs. Dad didn’t even know that he hadn’t bought one doll, he bought eight!”
“I’ll love those dolls till the day I die.”
“Do you remember what you said when you saw them? You said, ‘This is just what I always wanted.’”
“It was true.”
“But you had never seen those dolls before. How could they be just what you always wanted?”
“Because I didn’t know it until I saw them.”
“Exactly,” said Angela.