My earliest Christmas memory — a memory I know is mine and isn’t just from family stories or photos that make me think I remember — is me, age 10, I believe, so impatient and anxious to get to the important business of unwrapping gifts but having to wait for my sister to get off of the ferry boat because she’d had to work the night before on the mainland and therefore couldn’t arrive home to Orcas Island, Washington, until Christmas morning. I must have been quite a pest because Mom sent me with Dad to drive the 35 minutes to the ferry dock to pick up Kris, knowing that the enforced hourish away from the beckoning Christmas tree would give her peace and me something else to think about.
I’m not sure that it did give me something else to think about because I remember pouting all the way there and all the way back, but then, finally, oldest sister returned to the fold, we were home, breakfast was ready, and we could get down to the agenda of the day.
I can’t tell you most of what I received that year. Books, for sure. Puppets, possibly. Probably some Lego. Clothes, handmade by Mom, and that could have been the year I received an Instamatic camera from my grandparents with film that was two years expired.
But I do know for sure, that was the year I received my dollhouse. I had been banned from the loft above the kitchen for weeks, knowing that something more than just secret sewing was going on as sewing machines didn’t make sand-paper noises, or require anyone other than Mom to shut themselves away for hours at a time. I imagined all sorts of things — a book shelf, a birdhouse (though why I’d have been receiving one of those I’m not sure) — anything to keep me from imagining a dollhouse because what if it wasn’t that and Christmas morning would come and I’d be heartbroken because my imagined house wouldn’t be there, waiting in all its glory beneath the Christmas tree.
But it was a dollhouse. Three stories high. A kitchen off to the side. Wallpapered with wrapping paper and inhabited by tiny people my mother made and furniture made from upholstered match boxes. It was all I had secretly dreamed of and more, even if it was incomplete. That just meant I was able to help put it together, which was also fun.
I kept that house for years, finishing some architectural details that the arrival of Christmas had thwarted, installing new furniture over time, adding dishes and doormats and plastic chickens. I borrowed baby Stevie from my Sunshine Family dolls and he lived happily in a second story bedroom. I finished painting the front railings just about the time we had to put it into storage, the year I turned 16. I knew I’d miss it in my new German bedroom.
Four years later, having left West Germany behind and returned Stateside, a truck arrived with Mom and Dad’s things that had been stored away for all that time. A huge box was placed upon the grass, DOLLHOUSE scrawled across the lid in bold Sharpie.
“Where do you want this?” the man asked, indifferently.
“Just leave it right here for now,” Mom replied, handing me a box cutter. I think she was as excited as I was.
We sliced the tape, folded back the lid, and there it was.
I turned away, unable to face the shock on Mom’s face. I brushed past oblivious moving men, went into the upheaval of my room and shut the door, flinging myself upon my bed. I cried that day. For far longer than one might think a 20 year old should cry for a broken dollhouse.
It had been a cherished hope. A wonderful surprise. A time-consuming art piece. A creative outlet. A miniature world. The one thing I had missed the most, and looked forward to with the coming of that great big van.
I wonder, sometimes, if that’s how God looks at His world. He anticipated it; He made it; He saw that it was good. He cherished it; He watched it; He set it up to succeed.
Yet still it fell. Still it failed. Still sin entered in.
And so He sent the angel.
So He sent His Son.
So He came to save us.
And as we fling ourselves upon our beds in our misery, we fling ourselves upon His mercy, and that wee tiny baby takes hold of our hearts.
“What shall I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were a wiseman, I would do my part. But what I can, I give Him. Give my heart.” – Christina Rossetti
(All photos curtesy of my dad. The angel is me, by the way, circa 1976?)