A brightly decorated Christmas tree filled the sitting room of a second-floor apartment. Beneath its boughs, a china doll perched in a pram, her white sailor dress at starched attention. She was nearly as big as the sad little girl she would surprise on Christmas morning in 1910. The girl’s name was Rose, and she was my maternal grandmother. She never told me the doll’s name.
Rose’s mother had died of tuberculosis less than six months earlier. She left behind five-year-old Rosie and three-year-old Barend. Grandma often reminisced about that first Christmas without their mother. Father brought home a tree after work one day, same as he always had, and tried to make it a happy Christmas for them. Rosie and her two aunts hung shiny teardrops and spheres on spindly branches and clipped a painted glass bird to bob on springy legs near the top.
The next morning, Rosie was delighted to find a new friend waiting for her underneath the tree. The doll’s blue eyes and blonde ringlets contrasted sharply with her own dark pipe curls and brown eyes, but the two became inseparable. The ache of missing her mother lessened a tiny bit, and she knew everything was going to be all right. Even after Rose’s father remarried and there were no more Christmas trees in their home, the doll reminded her that she was not alone.
When I was very young, Grandma Rose still traveled from New Jersey to Michigan and spent a few weeks with our family during the holidays. She would sit in the rocker near the Christmas tree and crochet granny square afghans. As I played with my Barbies and baby dolls on the floor nearby, Grandma would pause mid-chain and watch me. Setting aside hook and yarn, she coaxed, “Come here, henny. Let Gramma see your dolly.” I’d climb on her lap, Baby Alive clutched to me. “You love your dolly, don’t you? Did I ever tell you about my dolly? She was as big as you are and wore a white sailor dress.”
As Grandma told me the story again, I put myself in her place. I imagined I was little Rosie, missing her mother, dreading that first Christmas without her, and then waking up to such a remarkable gift. I dreamed of having a doll like Grandma’s. I would name her Charlotte in honor of a certain spider from my favorite book.
Grandma moved to a nursing home when I was eight, and in sorting through her house we discovered that old doll up in the attic. She didn’t even remember it was there. The doll’s bisque head lay cracked in three pieces. Her hair was gone. The ropes holding her limbs together had rotted away, and not even a scrap of the bright sailor dress remained. Mom wrapped the remnants in newspaper, packed them in a carton, and added it to the carload of items we took home to Michigan.
Grandma died when I was fifteen, and Mom followed her just four years later. One sad day, while digging through a box of family photos from the shelf in Mom’s closet, I came across a boxed photo creased lengthwise. Afraid it might crumble, I carefully unfolded the paper, and my breath caught. I had seen the image many times before, but only in my imagination. The camera captured a Christmas tree with a baby buggy beneath it. In the buggy sat a china doll the size of a sad little girl. Golden curls shimmered in the sepia light of Grandma’s memories, telling me…
You are not alone. Everything will be all right.
Amy Nemecek has always dreamed of a walking vacation through the English countryside. She and her husband live in northern Michigan and have one son. While her favorite band is Switchfoot, she also loves a good Mozart sonata. Amy is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poems have found homes in Indiana Voice Journal, Mothers Always Write, Vines Leaves Literary Journal, and Snapdragon. She blogs at www.beloveddelight.wordpress.com. Connect on Twitter @Beloved_Delight.