When I was six years old, there was a package under the Christmas tree which I was absolutely sure was for me. It was wrapped in green and yellow striated tissue paper and had no ribbon or bow. Frugal and uninspired, my mother never made a fuss when wrapping presents, even making her own gift tags fashioned from white index cards—cutouts of Christmas trees with her looping handwriting in green marker indicating the recipient. For some reason though, this particular green box had no handmade tag.
My parents weren’t big believers in promoting the idea that Santa brought us presents on Christmas Eve—their 1970’s pseudo-hippie philosophy prevented them from propagating the Santa Claus myth, so our family never hung up stockings or read The Christmas Story. Gifts were bought and wrapped in colored tissue paper (no bow, of course) and kept high up on a shelf in their closet until the tree went up two weeks before Christmas. Why my mother couldn’t splurge on a traditional roll of Christmas paper or a bag of bows has always remained a mystery to me. Usually a few days before Christmas, the presents were placed under our fragrant, tinsel laden Douglas fir, giving my older brother, Chris and me ample time to ponder what was in each wondrous package and making it impossible for us to keep our tiny hands off the gifts.
With those same small hands we felt, tapped and shook each package with utter focus, but it was the green box that piqued our interest the most. For hours my brother and I discussed at length what was in the unmarked box—he insisted it was the Hot Wheels set for which he’d been begging for months—while I furiously argued it had to be a Crissy Doll for me.
Ah, the Crissy Doll. How I begged and pleaded with my parents for a Crissy Doll! With her dark eyes and lustrous red hair that literally grew out of a hole in the top of her head when you turned a knob on her back, I was certain I couldn’t be happy without her.
My new found obsession with Crissy had grown rampant after a distressing incident where my mother, frustrated with my hysterical crying every time she brushed my hair, had taken me to her hairdresser and had my own stringy locks hacked into a hideous pixie cut. Long hair was just becoming all the rage, and I was beyond devastated by my mother’s insensitive betrayal. I figured if I couldn’t have my own long hair to brush and style, then by God, I would have Crissy’s.
My brother Chris and I showing off one of our gifts on Christmas morning. (Notice the pixie cut)
Christmas morning arrived with the usual fervor and excitement. My father, despite a raging hangover, cheerfully passed out a variety of presents to each of us which we dutifully tore open and tossed aside with casual indifference. To be honest, my brother and I only had eyes for that unmarked green box—the one my dad had purposely left until the very end.
He finally picked up the mystery package. “Now, who could this be for?” he said, expertly dangling a cigarette between his lips, the inch long ash threatening to fall to the ground at any second.
My brother and I both raised our hands, “Me, me!” we shouted in unison. My dad, grinning with holiday mischief, looked back and forth at the two of us before finally handing the box to my brother who managed to unwrap it in four seconds flat, revealing it was indeed a Hot Wheels set.
“Yippee!” he shouted, holding it in up in the air, “Thanks, Dad! It’s just what I wanted!”
My heart dropped. How could this be? That was supposed to be my Crissy Doll! Oh, the unfairness of it all. My lower lip jutted out and I could feel the hot tears stinging my eyes as I faced away from my parents and began to settle into the most monumental sulk I’d ever had in my short life. I decided I would never speak to any of them again, including my greedy, double-crossing brother.
A moment later, my mother put a gentle hand on my shorn head. “Jess, Honey,” she said, “I think I may have forgotten a present in my bedroom. Why don’t you go take a look behind my desk and see if there’s anything there.”
What was this? I leapt up and tore into their room with both hands holding up my loose pajama bottoms so they wouldn’t slip off my hips. There, behind my mother’s boxy black desk, I found an identical green tissue paper wrapped present—exactly the same shape and size as the one my brother had just opened. With a euphoric and somewhat sheepish grin on my face, I carried it out to the living room and set it on the rug.
“Well aren’t you going to open it?” my dad asked.
I knew what it was, but I wanted to savor the moment a little longer. I ran my hands along the smooth green paper and stuck my finger under the tape to loosen the flap. Slowly tearing the edge of the paper I saw a flash of red and no longer able to contain myself, I ripped off the paper and tore open the box. There she was in all her flaming glory—my beautiful Crissy Doll—wearing an orange dress and matching orange shoes, her shiny red hair luminescent in the glow of the Christmas tree lights.
Years later, my mother told me that I almost didn’t get a Crissy Doll that Christmas. She had waited too long to buy one, and by the time she got around to doing her Christmas shopping, they were all gone.
On Christmas Eve and she found herself desperately driving from store to store with no luck. Finally, in sheer desperation, she went into a Thrifty Drug Store around the corner from our house where the clerk told her he had one left but was saving it for a lady who was supposed to come in to pick it up. My mother saw her chance. She laid it on thick, telling him how sad and disappointed her little girl would be not to find a Crissy Doll under the tree the next day. It was already so late in the day—surely the woman wasn’t coming after all. She literally begged him to sell it to her—perhaps she even allowed the tears to wet her eyes. My guess is she offered him twenty bucks extra for the doll. Whatever she did, it worked, and my Christmas was magically complete.
I played with my Crissy Doll religiously every day for a month until one evening I decided to take her into the bath with me. With one dip into the hot water, her shiny, lustrous hair turned into a mass of red, tangled straw that could no longer be wound back into the hole in her head. Soon her dress and matching orange shoes were misplaced and poor Crissy became just another shoeless, naked doll shoved into the bottom of my toy box.
No matter, I had something else in mind. My birthday was coming up in a few months and it was time to start planting the seed in my mother’s brain.
“Mommy,” I said sweetly, carrying my empty cereal bowl to the sink one morning, “Have you ever heard of an Easy Bake Oven?”