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Big Sister’s Best Present

If I got a Ginny doll, I’d never again want for anything. Life would be complete.

My Ginny doll and the two who arrived the next two Christmases are still among my treasures. They come out occasionally, modeling their magnificent wardrobes for play dates with my granddaughter.
     ’Twas the week before Christmas, 1951, when Sandra unleashed a full-fledged crisis on her second grade classmates at Marlboro Elementary, announcing at recess that there was no Santa.
      “He’s a fake. It was our parents who filled the stockings and put presents under the tree. But once we knew the truth,” she cautioned, “they’d likely stop, so we shouldn’t let on that we knew.”
     So we didn’t dare ask them if she was right.
     Discussion followed, and none of us were eager to believe her, but Sandra did have a big sister and often seemed to know things the rest of us didn’t. Besides, she said she’d seen her presents in bags in her mother’s closet before Christmas last year. It was in great distress that I climbed on the school bus that afternoon to go home.
* * * * * * * * * 
 
     I, too, had a big sister — a couple of them, plus one younger. It was to Ann, seven years older than I, that I usually turned when I needed facts. She was a teenager and knew very nearly everything, didn’t dismiss my endless questions as silly and kept my secrets. So, immediately on getting off the school bus, I put the question to her.
      As we walked home she listened while I repeated, in great detail, all of the playground discussion. Finally I wound down, and she gave me her opinion. She thought Sandra probably just didn’t have all the facts straight. It seemed to her unlikely that all of the parents we knew could afford to buy at one time all those presents for all their children — the toys, the books, the clothes, the special goodies.
      Most of our friends came from farm families, and our parents typically provided for all of our needs and a fair share of our wants, but none of them were wealthy. Toys were expensive, and so were books and clothes. No, Ann was pretty sure Sandra didn’t have all the facts.
     Were there even that many toys available at one time in the local stores? The Western Auto never had more than a half dozen bikes or wagons on display. There must be more to it than that — some magic involved somehow. But, she concluded, it really wasn’t something we needed to figure out or worry about. In her experience Santa always came, and it was always wonderful, as it would be this year. So, did we want to bake sugar cookies or pinwheels when we got to the house?
* * * * * * * * * 
 
     It had been a December of new happenings, mostly good. At the first of the month, our mother had started working part-time for the holiday season in the huge toy department at The Hecht Co. downtown. We still weren’t sure if that was good or not.
     Two weeks back I had discovered Ginny dolls when a classmate got one for her seventh birthday and proudly brought it for Show and Tell. For me it was love at first sight. I wanted a Ginny doll like I’d never before wanted anything in my life. It was the first Christmas since new kids just our ages — previously town kids — moved into the next house down the road. They told us about having gone to visit Santa at a department store in previous years and telling him just what they wanted him to bring. It wasn’t a sure thing, they warned. They didn’t get everything they asked for, but it increased the chances.
     We’d always been delighted with whatever turned up under the tree, not knowing we could make special requests. But this new possibility certainly seemed worth a try since for the first time ever I did have a very specific wish for Christmas.
      I asked Mama if she knew about Santa visiting stores. She said, yes, Santa did, in fact, stop in at the toy department at The Hecht Co. at certain times to listen to kids’ wish lists. Yes, if we’d like to we could go talk to him on Saturday when we went to see the animated holiday displays in store windows.
     A new plan was mapped out. We’d go see the windows at Garfinkle’s and Woodie’s and Landsburg’s and Hecht’s. We would explore the amazing toy world our mother disappeared into three days a week, we’d tell Santa what we’d like him to bring us if he could, please, and we’d finish with a treat in Hecht’s tearoom before heading home.
      That Saturday, Santa heard directly and in detail about my desperate yen for a Ginny doll — nothing else, just a Ginny doll. I even told him that I’d spotted one among the dolls in that very store if he needed to see what it looked like — it was a little doll in a fancy pink dress with Ginny written right on the box — just a few counters over from where I perched on his knee.
* * * * * * * * * 
 
      Eventually it was the afternoon of Christmas Eve. The tree was decorated, after the big sisters’ traditional squabbling about how it should be done. Our oldest sister, frantically baking one last batch of cookies even as dinner was being prepared, declared us two little girls a major nuisance that should be out of the kitchen.
      Ann, always the sibling peacekeeper, finished setting the table and took us up to her room where the three of us sprawled across her bed to await dinner. As we gazed out of the wide double windows, across the front pasture, we pondered if it might snow. Then we discussed what we hoped Santa might bring.
     Ginny, of course. If I got a Ginny doll, I’d never again want for anything. Life would be complete. I was optimistic. I had explained to Santa exactly what I wanted just a couple days ago so it should be fresh in his mind. He said he’d see what he could do.
      As we sprawled and talked and watched the daylight dwindle, Ann suddenly pointed out the window with a quick, “Look!” There across the wide pasture a huge deer bounded. Not a reindeer, of course — that detail escaped us in the moment — but a magnificent picture-perfect stag with wide-spread antlers, seeming almost to fly with its great leaps across the field.
      In 1951 the deer population in our area was just about gone, and the only deer I had seen previously had been on the grounds of the National Zoo, never on the farm. Seeing one on Christmas Eve right in front of our house seemed quite magical — surely a very good sign. We speculated that it might be hurrying back to the North Pole.
* * * * * * * * * 
      Come Christmas morning, after a long sleepless night of anticipation and anxiety — had I been clear in my talk with Santa? Would he have enough Ginny dolls to go around? Had I been good enough to merit one? — I crept downstairs in the wee hours, well before anyone else was awake. There she was! Not the Ginny in the little box, but a Ginny with her own wardrobe trunk holding several marvelous outfits — the cutest little shoes and socks; tiny comb and brush, nightgown and robe, amazing hats. No need to worry about being quiet — I was speechless with joy! I could only stare, still as a statue, in awe.
     Eventually I scurried back to my bed, shivering with excitement, to wait for a sliver of light in the sky before rousing my parents with my great good news. Mama and Daddy seemed almost as thrilled as I was. Mama praised the good job I must have done in telling Santa about my wish. Daddy just grinned from ear to ear, his eyes twinkling with my glee.
* * * * * * * * * 
 
      That Ginny and the two who arrived on the next two Christmases, her sisters, are still among my treasures. They come out occasionally, modeling their magnificent wardrobes for play dates with my granddaughter who is now likely on the verge of asking her own Santa questions. They come out and remind me of that wonder-filled Christmas when my big sister, wise beyond her years and unfailingly generous, gave me her best present ever — the abiding certainty that Santa is indeed somehow, magically, truly, forever real.
      That was a gift worth passing down through the generations. Sandra just didn’t have all the facts.
 
 
     Non-profit administrator Sarah Birdsong, retired to Master Gardening, grandparenting, living and learning, lives within 20 miles of her home farm near Upper Marlboro. She wrote her Christmas story to honor sister Ann's lifetime of excellence in the art of big-sistering.  
      Sarah has donated her $100 first prize to Bay ­Gardener Dr. Frank Gouin’s scholarship fund at the ­University of Maryland, which is also her alma mater.