December 22, 2023

Dolly’s Torn Arm

A story of Christmas past

My mother remembers her early Christmases as a child in Dublin, and the deep abiding joy they brought her. A joy, that has to be said, did not come naturally, given the circumstances in her life.

Conceived out of wedlock in a strict Belfast home, mum’s mum and dad married and escaped to Dublin, before anyone was any the wiser as to mum’s existence.

They gave mum away to a foster mum, a World War One widow who had fostered 74 children to pay the bills. Mum was one of the last and permanent foster children to live there with her. Until that is, she was stolen away by her real family one day and spirited back to Belfast for good, never to return to her Dublin family. Though that’s another story (which you can read here!)

But back to Christmas in Dublin. Mum and her tribe were poor, poor and Protestant in a city that favoured Catholics. They lived in a big rambling house in the middle of the city and had very little. But every Christmas Mum’s foster mum, who they all knew as “Mammy Standing”, would put up the Christmas Tree in the living room.

Mammy Standing would place presents that she could afford under the tree, close the living room door, and lock it for a few days, allowing the children – All six of them – to look through the keyhole, at the excitement inside the room. And let that excitement grow in them. Delicious!

Longing. Contemplating. Presents and food and fun to come!

And what was Christmas Day like? It was joyous and fun. And full of squeals and giggles. According to mum at least.

And presents? What sort of pre-Amazon delights awaited her on the other side of that locked door on Christmas Day? A clay pipe for blowing soap bubbles. Soap bubbles that would be lathered up from an actual bar of soap in a tub.

An orange -yes that’s right . An orange. Such exotic fruit in Dublin at the time was expensive for foster families of Protestant World War One widows.

And the crowning piece, The object of love and affection? A doll! Or “dolly” – as my mum used to call them.

But not a new dolly. A dolly that was a second-hand dolly. A dolly that was given to the local church mission just before Christmas by the better off people, for the benefit of the poor people. No doubt to make room for the new dolly that some daughter would be receiving in the better off suburbs of Dublin that mum never went to.

One year mum’s dolly had a torn fabric arm, and mum was in somewhat of a tizz about it. That is until Mammy Standing sewed it up, and put a little cloth bandage around it, with a “There – dolly’s all better now!”

And that was Christmas. Until the age of eight for my mum. Until she was stolen away.

After that Mum got more dollies than she could ever have hoped for back in Belfast with her real family. And it’s no surprise, given her sense of loss that she clung to them for years. For years. until one day – young still really – in her mid teens, she came home and all her dollies had been given away.

Sure, you’re too old for dolls now”, she was told.

Mum has never been too old for dolls. Still isn’t. Still loves dolls, especially those classic older dolls from another generation – her generation.. Mum took great joy in buying her first grand-daughter – my daughter, dolls, and a doll house – for Christmas.

No clay pipe for blowing soap bubbles. No orange either. She’s had plenty of those down the years, beyond her wildest childhood dreams.

The times have moved on. Here we are. Not in Dublin, not in Belfast, but living in the heat-filled Christmas of Perth, Australia. And as far removed from the privations of Mum’s Christmases as you could possibly imagine. The story of Mum’s Christmas past fading into the background. Christmas will be at our house. Mum will be there.

Mum will be eighty soon. She will, no doubt about it, recount her earliest Christmas memories to us again. Like she does every year!

That story of a locked door and a keyhole to look through. A clay pipe, an orange, and a dolly with a torn arm. Until one year – as is inevitable – she won’t be there to do so. And that story of Christmas past will be told for one last time.

I hope it’s not this Christmas.

That’s the story of Christmas Past, or at least a story of Christmas past, and I am sure that you have yours. If you want to hear a story of Christmas Present and Christmas Future, then you can click this link and listen to my podcast at DeLorean Philosophy, a part of the UnDeceptions podcast stable hosted by John Dickson.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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