The Christmas I was six years old will probably forever stand out in my mind as the most memorable. It had been a very bad year, and my parents had no reason to believe that Christmas would be any better. Probably to relieve this bleak feeling, it was decided that we would return home for Christmas - home, to Richmond.
We had spent the year in a small mining town in Appalachia called Clintwood. Serving as the only general medical practitioner, Daddy was nevertheless somehow not paid $5,000.00 which had been promised him by the hospital owners, and that, as they say, was a lot of money in those days. It was a 400-mile trip back home, and I rather think it was a sudden decision, somewhat unexpected on both sides. I'm not sure Sudie and Virginia were expecting us, mainly because I recall we had no stockings to hang out for Santa Claus, and had to use a pair of Virginia's nylon stockings - which stretched endlessly, making them almost impossible to fill, no matter how many delights were stuffed within.
I remember a bustle of activity shortly before we left Clintwood. Mama had taken me shopping, and knowing we had had a very rough year, I asked for nothing. But Mama wanted to go look at the dolls (she was a real doll lover), and despite my best attempts to remain politely passive, I was doomed in that effort, because, suddenly, there she was - The Most Beautiful Doll in the World.
She was, I think, a 24" doll, which was touted as "life-size". She came in her own red vinyl stroller, which alone was quite exciting. Her dress was of sheer nylon, pale yellow with a light green (my favorite color!) apron built right in. She was strong and robust looking, not wimpy and silly as were most dolls. She had gorgeous medium brown "real rooted hair" which could be combed and styled - a real luxury feature in those days. But what drew her to me, what struck me deep in the heart, what betrayed me by causing me to suck in my breath with an audible gasp, was the expression on her lovely face. It was proud and haughty. She as much as screamed her unattainability, and combined it with a tilt to her eyebrows (above her pretty blue eyes with "real" eyelashes!) that said, "I am above all this; I simply do not care that you can never own me." She was, after all, The Most Beautiful Doll in the World, and for all I knew, probably the most expensive. After some few moments of admiring her as millions must have admired the equally unattainable Mona Lisa, I bid her goodbye, knowing my life had been enriched by the very meeting.
I believe that same day we left for Richmond; I may be wrong. On the trip we stopped for dinner - a late dinner - at a roadside restaurant in Marion called the Virginia House. The restaurant had an adjoining gift shop (how thoughtful!). While we were there, Eleanor saw a steel blue circular music box, which had almost the same effect on her twelve-year old being as the doll had had on me. The top was designed to hold dusting powder, and came with a big, white, fluffy puff concealed inside. When wound it played a wonderful tune of undetermined origin. (I remember it even now, although I have never been able to identify it.) She lovingly placed it back on the shelf, and the two of us returned to the car with Daddy. Mama, for some reason, had to lag behind.
Back in Richmond, Daddy's sister, Virginia, knowing it had been a very bad year, and we would have no Christmas, bought a complete Christmas for Eleanor and me. And Mama's sister, Frances, knowing it had been a very bad year, and we would have no Christmas, bought a complete Christmas for Eleanor and me. But by some indomitable will, Mama had somehow managed a rather decent Christmas on her own. We arrived at Sudie's late on Christmas Eve, after the usual feast and gift exchange were over. Sudie's brother, Mark, was there, and her baby sister, Neville, too. Well, they lived there now, didn't they? This was the year I was privileged to sleep in Neville's antique trundle bed. What a treat!
So we hung up our very strange stockings and went off to bed, hoping Santa Claus might somehow figure out where we were, 400 miles away from where he was surely expecting to find us. But, come Christmas morning, it was apparent to everyone that he had certainly found us. When the adults assembled downstairs rang Neville's cowbell tied to the bottom of the steps, thus signaling Eleanor and me that the time had come to go down, I remember running down the first few stairs, and flying down the rest, scaring the daylights out of my poor Sudie.
But I had seen an unbelievable sight. The entire front parlor floor was filled with one treasure after another - incredible, wonderful toys for Eleanor and me; forbidden toys that Mama never would have bought us. There were toys that had lots of little pieces (which Mama hated, because of their habit of getting lost), toys that were wrapped and toys that were unwrapped, puzzles and games and joys untold. And there, like a queen, surveying it all, in her wonderful red vinyl stroller, sat The Most Beautiful Doll in the World. And in the background came the strains of Eleanor's magnificent music box. And we knew that Santa Claus was real, forever and undeniably real.
And we never went back to Clintwood again. We were home.
~ Carol Randolph Buckley Harty