“It’s better to give than to receive.” Have you ever found THE perfect, extra-special gift for someone? A gift you were so excited to give to that you could burst from anticipation? Last Christmas, I found such a gift- something special that truly made me feel like Santa Claus!
My parents always made Christmas magical! Everything was just right – with perfect gifts under the tree, my mom’s decorating and baking, stockings stuffed with joy, visits to Santa, and my dad’s beautiful gift wrapping with handwritten tags so lovely the letters looked like calligraphy.
I’ll never forget my best childhood Christmas, when I received my handmade dollhouse. After losing my beloved dollhouse during a move as a teen, I never forgot it. I’ll also never forget the Mother’s Day when my husband and daughter gave me a vintage dollhouse almost identical to mine, lost over thirty years before. It’s like having a special piece of childhood.
I’ve always heard about a Christmas my mama and her twin sister shared at age eleven. “The twins” grew up in a modest little house in Houston. As twins, presents were often meant to be shared, like one pair of skates. But my grandparents always made sure that EACH twin got her own gift at Christmas. “We knew if we asked Mother or Santa for something special, we’d surely get it on Christmas”, Mama says.
It was 1952. With no television in the house yet, “the twins” would walk a block to the local movie theater to watch Christmas commercials shown before films. That year, their only wish was for “Toni dolls”! Named for the “Toni Home Permanent”, the sweet little dolls, manufactured by Ideal from 1949 – 1953, came with perm rods, papers, and sugar-and-water “perm solution” so girls could style their dolls’ hair. Mama and Aunt Barbara’s friends Kay and Sue-Sue had beautiful Toni dolls, and they were so dreamy! Watching those Christmas commercials was exciting! They’d get so excited at the thought of their own Toni dolls, they’d hug each other and squeal with delight. The anticipation of Christmas was thrilling!
Before the holidays, my grandmother had gone into Foley’s Department store, putting two beautiful Toni dolls on layaway, with dark hair, just like her precious twins.
Christmas Eve, Mama and her sister would hang their little white socks from the fireplace. The next morning they’d be filled with nuts, fruit and chocolate kisses. My grandfather would get a small tabletop tree that would stay up through New Year’s Day. My grandmother made chicken, dressing and cranberry sauce, with pumpkin or cherry pie. She was the best cook!
When Mama unwrapped her Toni doll that special Christmas morning, she said, “She was the most beautiful doll you ever did see”. She wore a red-and-white ruffled dress, and her beautiful dark hair was shiny. Her eyes blinked with long lashes, and her skin was alabaster plastic. It was magical; her best Christmas ever.
The dolls were well-loved. Mama and her sister didn’t have a lot, but they appreciated what they had. My grandmother sewed the finest doll clothes, with matching outfits for her daughters. She once made red wool top coats with real white rabbit fur trim for each doll. Unfortunately, my mom’s special doll was lost as a teenager when her baby sister was too young and played too harshly with it.
I’d always hear Mama talk wistfully about her Toni doll. The memory of that perfect, magical Christmas stayed with her forever.
I never saw a Toni doll until last summer in an antique store. I knew right away she was a blonde, adorable Toni. Inspired, at home I started researching eBay and Etsy to see if a brunette doll like Mom’s was available. Prices were all over, and some quite expensive! I found a pretty brunette, not very costly. Mama said she didn’t want anything she’d need to dust, so I thought the Toni would look cute in my sun room.
I’d never restored a doll before, but before long, my Toni doll looked fresh as could be. When I sent a picture to my mom, she got teary on the phone, remembering her doll. Still, she insisted she didn’t want to take mine.
I decided I wanted Mama a doll for Christmas! Could I get lucky again? I sent her pictures of ones in my price range, under the guise that I was looking for another for under our tinsel Christmas tree. She squealed seeing one whose face looked like her childhood doll! (The dolls’ faces were hand-painted, so each one had a unique look).
When the doll arrived, she was worse for wear, and stinky. After airing her out, I gently used a damp cloth and Magic Eraser on her plastic body. A wire doll wig brush gently styled her hair. I added missing socks from an Etsy store specializing in 50’s-era replacement doll clothes. I cleaned the dress the same as with vintage linens, soaking gently in OxyClean, hand-mending it.
I refreshed the tired, yellowed hair bow with a shiny red satin, adding a sash at the waist. When done, Mama’s present gleamed like a brand-new doll!
I had to ship it, so I needed a box, and wanted to recreate that special moment when she first opened the doll in 1952. Finding a box in the garage holding painter’s plastic, similar in size to the original doll box, I spray painted it with leftover patent-pink paint. I found an old advertisement for Toni dolls, so I printed it out and glued it to the front. I placed Toni in the box with crisp tissue.
Usually, I use brown paper for wrapping, but found reproduction 1950’s Shiny-Brite paper at TJ Maxx. Once I mailed the doll to Mama, I could barely wait for Christmas!
On Christmas morning, my stepfather filmed and photographed Mama as she opened the box.
There were squeals and happy tears. For a moment, Mama was eleven again. I had so much fun fixing up those dolls; I only wish we hadn’t lost my aunt at the holidays two years back. I would’ve loved sending her my doll!
I won’t be able to top that special Toni doll for Mama, but I hope every time she looks at it she feels a little spark of that childhood Christmas Magic.
I hope you find magic in your holidays…Merry Christmas, Happiest of Holidays, and Wishing You a all a Happy New Year! Thank you to all my Farmgirl Friends for another wonderful year. See you in 2020!
Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole