From the Relief Society Magazine, 1957 –
A Doll Buggy for Christmas
Florence S. Glines
“Aren’t you glad they brought the doll buggy?” Three-year-old Bobby anxiously searched his mother’s averted face as he leaned on her knee. Five-year-old Ann cast an appraising eye over the old-fashioned buggy, brown and frayed, standing in the middle of the small sitting room. But Ruth stooped over, swooped up the yellow cat, and tried to make him sit in the buggy.
Barbara Lind forced herself to smile into the eager eyes of her three children so intently regarding her. “Yes, Bobby,” she said, “of course I’m glad. It was thoughtful of them to remember us and bring sister a buggy.”
“He said Santa Claus sent it,” observed realistic little Ann. “Why did he send an old one, Mother?”
“Because we’re poor,” said ten-year-old Ruth, adding defensively to her mother, “well, Mabel says we’re poor now – she says we’re ‘widows and orphans.’”
Barbara searched her mind for some words she could say. These three eager, precious, little souls were so defenseless and dependent on her for their attitude toward the world! The thought was appalling.
“Oh, Bruce,” her heart cried out, “that’s why I simply can’t go on without you!” Her own loneliness and longing she felt she could endure. She had those perfect years to remember, and she was already grown. But the children, what of them? What if she could not guide them right alone? Yet that was what she had to do, and all three were now waiting to hear what she would say to Ruth’s outburst.
“Mabel doesn’t know what she is talking about. We couldn’t be poor, while we have so much. We have Father in Heaven to pray to; we have each other; we have Daddy in heaven; we have uncles and aunts and cousins who always remember us; we have this nice house.”
“Not so very nice,” said ten-year-old Ruth under her breath.
“We have this nice house to live in,” repeated Barbara firmly. “We have good food to eat; we have pretty clothes to wear; and you all have so many toys now that I don’t see how we can take care of any more.”
“But didn’t Santa Claus know that I wanted a white doll buggy that was new?” asked Ann. “And doesn’t he know that Christmas is not till day after tomorrow?”
“Of course Santa knows,” said Barbara, “but nobody, even Santa Claus, can always do exactly what everybody wants. Then, too, there are some very kind people who like being Santa’s helpers, especially for children. They don’t want to get paid or fussed over, so they try to find some child who wants something they have and they send it. I suppose someone said Ann wanted a doll buggy, and a lady had one she wanted to give away, so she sent it to Ann and was a helper.” Barbara searched their serious faces and felt that what she had said was not enough.
“Man bring the buggy,” said Bobby.
“The lady got the man to bring it,” explained Barbara. She waited, a prayer in her heart that she had not said too much, that she had said enough. She did not want to spoil anything lovely the children might have, and she did want them to understand things realistically, so that life might not be too hard.
“Can we be Santa Claus helpers?” asked Ruth, slowly, weighing her words.
Ann and Bobby nodded vigorously. “Can we?” they echoed.
Barbara’s thoughts flew swiftly. Whatever did she have they could give? “Why, yes,” she said, “if you know someone to whom we can take something.”
“I know,” said Ann quickly. “Mrs. Savage! She’s got no one. Nobody brings her Santa Claus helpers.”
Barbara was about to protest. Old Mrs. Savage, who lived in the big house on the corner, whatever could they give her? She had everything. Well – not friends, which she didn’t want. Barbara had heard that Mrs. Savage had come West and bought that house years ago to get away from people.
“And Vie and Bert in the back lot,” said Ruth.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hobson,” Barbara corrected automatically.
“They want me to call them Vie and Bert. Vie told me to,” said Ruth, “and I call the baby Sammy.”
There were plenty of things they could give the Hobsons. Barbara had a feeling of shame that she had not tried to do something for those struggling young folks before.
Jimmy wants Santa Claus helpers,” said Bobby.
Dear me! thought Barbara. Jimmy Armstrong would have much more Santa Claus than he could use. But if Jimmy was Bobby’s choice, she would have to find a way.
The three little faces were turned to her now, enthusiastic and interested. The shabby little brown doll buggy and the upset it had started seemed forgotten.
“We don’t want to take our Santa Claus helpers two days before Christmas,” said Ruth. “I’d hate to be that kind of helper.”
“What can we take, what can we take?” Five-year-old Ann was always one for immediate action.
What could they give? Barbara thought of all the boxes and drawers she had filled with things she was keeping for “someday.” Soon she had the children helping her pull them out and sort over to see what could be given. They found some of Bobby’s baby clothes and a doll that rattled for baby Sammy.
“Here’s this too-little blouse Aunt Rae sent you. It’ll just fit Vie,” said Ruth. “Now, if we can only find something for Bert.”
Barbara thought of Bruce’s warm wool sweater, packed away in the cedar chest. Oh, no, not that! She was saving it for Bobby when he grew up. Then she seemed to see Bruce’s grin and his easy voice saying, “Two years are long enough to hoard anything, honey,” and she had to admit that keeping it for Bobby was only an excuse. Bobby wouldn’t be big enough for maybe twenty years! She pushed aside her reluctance and brought out the sweater with seeming gaiety.
“Oh, Mother,” said Ruth, overjoyed, “you can’t imagine how pleased Bert’ll be! But should we? Daddy’s …”
“Daddy would want Bert to have it, I’m sure.” Then Barbara added quickly, “I’ve thought what we can give to Mrs. Savage.”
She showed them how to make a dainty pincushion with scraps of satin, lace, and a powder box lid stuffed with sawdust.
“Ruth got lots of things for the Hobsons,” said Ann. “I only have one for Mrs. Savage.”
“Jimmy’s got nothing,” mourned Bobby.
“What does Jimmy want?” said Barbara, perplexed.
“Everything he sees, if it belongs to somebody else,” said Ruth, “and that goes for my stilts Cousin Dale made me last summer.”
“Make Jimmy stilts!” exulted Bobby, “saw, saw, hammer, hammer!”
“Make stilts!” exclaimed Barbara, “why I can’t hammer a nail in straight, and as for sawing – Jimmy would walk with one foot up and the other foot down like in the Mother Goose rhyme!”
Bobby looked stricken, and Ruth volunteered doubtfully, “Maybe I could.”
Barbara forced herself to meet the challenge. “I have an idea,” she said. “We’ll ask the scoutmaster if he can help us,” and she hurried to the phone. It took courage for Barbara Lind to ask for help.
“I’ll say we’ve got a boy who’d like to help!” said the man, “and thank you for calling. Toby Judd just came in. He’s tops with a hammer and saw. Toby’s shy and backward, but …”
“Wonderful, send him along. Thanks a lot,” said Barbara, hiding her qualms about Toby Judd. Lots of folks thought Toby was not quite bright, but maybe if she helped, Toby could manage. Bruce had always told her that even if she did think her mechanical ability was nil, she was a big inspiration to talk to when a fellow was figuring out something.
She brightly urged the children to help clear away the boxes and drawers they had pulled out and make room for making the stilts in the kitchen.
It seemed that almost at once, Toby was knocking at the door. His face was bright with expectation, though his smile was doubtful, as if he feared he might not be wanted after all.
“Here’s the hammer and the saw,” said Ruth, holding them out to Toby, “and Bobby has the nails, and the old shoe that Ann has is for the straps.”
“There’s a pile of wood scraps in the garage,” directed Barbara, helping Bobby into his coat. “Maybe among you all, you can pick out some good pieces. Bring them back here and we’ll see what we can do.”
“Oh, Ma’am,” Toby breathed, his face flushing, as the children crowded enthusiastically around him. “I love to make things. Come on, kids, this is going to be fun!”
Ruth was back in a few minutes. “Mother,” she said, “Toby says why can’t we make the stilts out there. The cement floor and the light and everything are just right, and we won’t need to mess up the kitchen. And, Mother, Toby knows lots of things we can make! Have we got some glue and some sandpaper and some paint?”
Barbara gathered up the articles, and with paper, rags, and paint thinner, she took them out. Toby must be a veritable genius, the way he had them all working and having such a wonderful time!
Grateful for the free time to finish up her own Christmas preparations, Barbara got busy in the house, but she could not get Toby out of her mind. Big hands, no gloves; long arms, sleeves three inches above the bony wrists; he looked half-fed and neglected. No two ways about it, if Bruce’s fur-lined gloves would stay on him, and if the plaid lumber jacket could be taken in, Toby should have them for Christmas.
It was supper time when Bobby stumbled in, trying to walk the finished stilts. Ann hugged a doorstop and a book marker for Mrs. Savage. Ruth tried to hide a very secret spool-holder for Barbara behind her with one hand, while she carefully carried some small bits of polished wood in the other.
“Look, Mother,” she exclaimed, “you glue letters from alphabet macaroni on these pieces of wood to make your name. Then you get a tube of liquid cement and stick a little safety pin on the back in this little place Toby marked, and there you are! A wooden pin with your name on it! If you want it to shine, you varnish it.”
“Marvelous!” agreed Barbara. “Put them on the dresser while we eat, and Toby, will your grandmother worry if you stay and eat with us?”
“His grandmother and sister have gone to visit his auntie,” said Bobby.
So Toby stayed to eat, to glue names on the macaroni pins, to help string lights on the Christmas tree, and afterwards to sing carols with Barbara and the children.
“It’s past bedtime,” Barbara finally said. “We’ll have to hurry. And Toby, you must come on Christmas and help us eat that enormous turkey my Uncle Heber sent us from his farm.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” chorused the children.
Toby had forgotten to be shy as he had worked and sung with the children crowded around him, but now, only the quick flush to his face showed how thrilled he was at the invitation, as he mumbled his thanks and abruptly said goodnight.
“The Hobsons never have turkey,” said Ruth.
“Mrs. Savage has no big turkey, just for one people,” observed Ann.
“Jimmy likes turkey,” chimed in Bobby.
Finally Barbara greed that first thing in the morning, they would all go invite the Hobsons, Mrs. Savage, and Jimmy Armstrong to eat Christmas dinner with them and Toby Judd.
“Oh, how wonderful of you to ask us!” said Vie Hobson. “We’d love to accept, if you will let me help with the cooking.”
“I’ll surely accept that offer,” said Barbara, “and I’m doing most of it this afternoon to leave tomorrow free.”
Since she had agreed, Barbara walked resolutely up to Mrs. Savage’s big house and held Ann up to reach the knocker.
A maid led them into a pleasant morning room where Mrs. Savage patted Ann’s cheek and then seated them all comfortably. She received the invitation with a stiff excuse until Ann impulsively ran to her and said, “We could have ice cream roll; you know, like you gave me once, if you would come and bring it.” It made everybody laugh, and the lonesome old lady accepted before she quite realized it.
At the Armstrongs, Jimmy’s mother hesitated. “I really don’t know what to say, Mrs. Lind. Of course, Jimmy’s father and I were going out to a dinner party, but I’ve made arrangements for the cook and a maid to stay and feed Jimmy.”
“Jimmy can come,” and “I can go,” chanted both little boys, holding hands and whirling around.
“But cook has made your special kind of plum pudding,” his mother reminded Jimmy.
“He could bring his pudding, we wouldn’t mind,” observed Ann.
Barbara looked apologetically at Mrs. Armstrong, who smiled understandingly while Jimmy cried, “Hurrah! I can bring the pudding for the Christmas dinner!”
Barbara hurried her family home to get busy and see that every corner of the house was clean and shining for the big cooking event of the afternoon, and that all packages were wrapped and piled at the foot of the tree.
When Vie Hobson came over, the children all went for a walk. Bobby carried the yellow cat over his shoulder. Ruth and Ann pushed baby Sammy for a ride in the brown doll buggy which had caused such upset feelings and led to the whole plan for a neighborhood Christmas dinner and celebration.
“The shabby little buggy and what it stood for that I hated, has really turned out to be a blessing,” Barbara marveled as she watched the happy children.
She turned from the window to young Vie Hobson at the sink, smiling and gladly scrubbing vegetables, and it almost seemed she could hear Bruce say, “It isn’t what you have that’s good or bad, honey. It’s what you do with it.” She gave Vie a smile and, thinking of Toby and old Mrs. Savage and lonesome Jimmy Armstrong, said, “Isn’t it wonderful about tomorrow? All of us here together like a family and nobody around lonesome! A real Christmas.”