After the Christmas decorations are put away, and before the Valentine’s Day decorations fill our house with love, there is time to look through the bookshelves that adorn my walls. My hope is that while sorting, and dusting, I might also downsize my collection.
Although my grandchildren have outgrown some of my children’s books, I remain connected to the stories, so not much downsizing has occurred…yet. Each time I pick up my copy of Alice in Wonderland, I am transported to the small Manitoba town where I lived in 1957. I was in third grade, and the year offered many pivotal moments.
On Christmas morning that year, we were expecting over 40 relatives to arrive by noon. The enormous turkey had been cooking since 5:00 am, but my parents took time to watch me, and my brother, dig into our Christmas stockings. There was an orange in the toe of my stocking and a tiny celluloid doll sticking out of the top, and, in between, there was ribbon candy, unshelled peanuts, a plastic whistle, a notepad, and a paper doll with a cut-out wardrobe.
Finally, I was allowed to open my parcel from under the tree. As I peeled away the tissue paper I could see a colourful box with a cellophane window. In a matter of moments, I held my first, fancy, department store doll in my arms. She had coarse golden hair that smelled of sweet plastic, and she was wearing a pink dress with lace and ribbons in all the right places. She wore shoes and had her own comb. For a moment, I felt bad for poor Cindy Lou, my smaller, foam-filled doll that had been with me since I was a toddler. She had a bandage on her arm, which was a constant reminder of the dangers of getting too close to Grandma’s wood stove.
Cindy Lou poses with me in 1952.
As I admired my new doll, my mother inquired softly, “You’re not too grown up for it, are you?” The look in her eyes was almost pleading, and I felt her worry. I still well up when I think of that moment. It broke my heart to know she had wanted to buy me a special doll, long before. In that moment, I became aware of the fact that my mother actually spent time thinking about me. I had no word for it then, but I am sure what I felt was empathy. My excitement for the doll, now dramatized a little to reassure my mother, was truly genuine. I did love my new doll, although I didn’t know her yet. I would be careful with Cindy Lou’s feelings. I kissed my new doll's forehead and my mother smiled.
Once the gifts were opened, my parents vanished to the kitchen, and my brother followed. I found myself alone, curled up on the couch, in the living room. The sun was shining through the windows. My younger brother was occupied, my chores were complete, and a sense of sweet satisfaction swept over me.
I gingerly approached the television. I held my breath, hoping for clear reception. Like magic, the cartooned story of Alice in Wonderland unfolded before my eyes. I knew I was experiencing one of life’s best mornings. My mother understood how special this day was, because, each time she passed through the room, she sat for just a moment, putting her arm around me. In spite of being busy, preparing dinner, my mother smiled all morning. We never spoke about it, but I think we both understood the perfection of our morning.
The details of the rest of the day are blurry. I don’t remember eating the turkey dinner or playing with my cousins, but I remember realizing how deeply my mother cared about my feelings. I also remember discovering the power of television. The little box, in the corner of our living room, had brought Alice and her adventures into my home. Christmas 1957 is mine to savour, forever.
Worth Noting: Walt Disney was disappointed with theatre ratings for the animated Alice in Wonderland, which was released in 1951. In 1954, a condensed version of the 90-minute movie became the second episode in the Walt Disney Hour to air on television.
Also Noteworthy: Golden Books launched in 1938, and sold for 25 cents each. When Walt Disney began releasing Little Golden Books with each Walt Disney children’s movie, they became collectable classics. The drawings in the Little Golden Books, that were based on Disney’s animated movies, inspired many youngsters to become artists. I still check in antique stores for 1950s Disney themed Little Golden Books because my bookshelves just aren’t full enough!
Many of my childhood books were published in the 1950s under such publishing names as Tell-a-Tale, Rand McNally, or Junior Elf.
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