With Christmas just around the corner, I remembered back to this story I wrote years ago about my biggest Christmas wish as a 9-year-old.
Money was tight when I was growing up. We never went hungry, but we also rarely ate out. My mom bought macaroni noodles in bulk and added them to one box of generic macaroni and cheese to feed five kids.
This meant that when Christmas rolled around we might get one or two gifts, but we for sure didn’t get the latest, greatest toy on the market. Still, Christmas was always magical in our house, no matter what my parents’ budget was, and I anxiously anticipated that exciting morning.
In 1983 Cabbage Patch Kids were on every 9-year-old girl’s Christmas list. Parents lined up outside toy stores to fight over the latest shipment of over-priced dolls, and rumors spread of some paying over $100 for them.
As much as my parents knew I wanted one, I knew that owning one of these dolls was not a reality for me. I didn’t even consider putting it on my list.
My cousin, Nina, was in the same financial boat as my family. Her parents also couldn’t afford a Cabbage Patch, but we talked about how fun it would be if we both had one. These dolls even came with adoption papers. We dreamed up the most beautiful names for our imaginary babies and told each other what great adoptive parents we would be. It was fun to dream.
I didn’t sit around moping at the fact that I would never be the proud parent of a Cabbage Patch doll. I was okay with it. I knew that if my parents had the means, they would have loved to surprise me with one of those dolls.
On Christmas morning, we took turns opening our gifts to prolong the excitement, starting with the youngest. As the oldest child, I could hardly wait for my turn, wondering what I might get.
Once my moment finally arrived I tore through the paper as fast as I could and carefully opened the box, finding a doll inside. It was not a Cabbage Patch doll, but a knock-off. Unlike the plastic face of the real thing, my doll had light brown eyes painted onto a cloth face, and brown yarn for hair. But the best part was, just like a Cabbage Patch Kid, my doll came with adoption papers. I was ecstatic. I was the proud new parent of a baby girl who I immediately named Rene and filled in the blank lines on the adoption papers.
Unbeknownst to me, Nina had received the same knock-off doll, but hers had green eyes and blond hair. She named her doll Joy and called me later on Christmas day. “Can you believe it?” she said. “We actually got our own dolls with adoption papers and everything!” Neither one of us dared mention the fact that these were not the real thing. We were happy, really happy.
We played with those dolls for years and loved them with as much love as our little hearts could give. It wasn’t until I moved to a new state in the 6thgrade and unpacked my doll that I looked carefully at it realizing that my baby, Rene, looked hideous. By this time her clothes were tattered and her face was dirty. My mom didn’t dare let me put her in the washing machine where she would have fallen apart into pieces. As a now mature 7thgrader, this doll was ugly as could be, but my 9-year-old self never saw it.
Nina and I later found out that our dads had bought these dolls on the side of a highway, from the back of someone’s van, which explained a lot. It was all they could afford and they wanted their girls to have what so many other girls had, well, almost. It still makes me smile to think of my dad and his brother stumbling upon these treasures and snatching them up for their girls.