A story of hope (and a little Christmas snooping)


I wanted the Sindy Dining Room set for Christmas. I wanted it so bad, I was even willing to break the cardinal rule of No Snooping.

It happened during my early elementary school years, when I was deep in the Barbie-playing years. (Yes, in those days, preschoolers didn’t play with Barbies. Elementary kids did.)

A new line of Barbie-doll competitors had hit the market, including the Sindy doll (a less voluptuous Barbie-sized doll), who had an impressive line of home furnishings prettier and more realistic than anything designed for Mattel’s Barbie. As I had already built a Barbie house of colossal proportions—many boxes decorated with wallpaper, furniture, and accessories–I was looking for some legit furnishings. 

(I was, apparently, a decorator in the making, even then.)

My large Barbie-doll house still required a decent dining room. Sindy’s line of accessories offered what I wanted: a Queen Anne table with cabriole legs, 2 side chairs and 2 arm chairs to match and an exquisite table setting (2 silver candelabras and a 5-piece silverware set with goblets, plates, and dessert plates for four dolls). 

I was beside myself in anticipation and anxiety over whether or not my mother understood the urgency of my request. And further more, if she would spend the money to buy it.

Mom always stashed our Christmas presents in her bedroom closet, wrapped by her the moment she got back from shopping. (It was like she didn’t trust us.) I only knew they were there because I had broken the cardinal rule on more than one occasion. But this time, I would take my offense a step further than before.

I felt inexplicably drawn to the closet. I would open the door and stand there, knowing that buried behind the hanging clothes were items intended for my pleasure. If it’s possible for pleasure to feel painful, I felt pain just standing there.

One day while I played Barbies, probably a week before Christmas, I was reminded about my Barbie house’s lack of a legitimate dining room set.

I could finally handle the suspense no longer. I crept into Mom’s room and began digging around in her closet. I found a wrapped box, just the dimensions of a Barbie-sized dining table and chairs.

My heart leaped. I considered the time needed to complete my task. Fortunately, my mother was not home. I weighed the possibility of her eminent return.

I shook the box. It rattled like a thousand plastic pieces waiting for assembly.

Waiting.

I turned the box over and examined the Scotch tape on the back. Easy-peasy.

I had never done this before, but the skills seemed intuitive. I ran my little fingers along the edges of the seamed wrapping paper and used my fingernail to slice through the tape. The paper fell away. Before me lay the box, awash with a color picture of Sindy sitting at her Queen Anne table, holding aloft a plastic goblet. I felt complete elation.

The box was also taped on the ends. Once again, I sliced through the tape with my finger nail, opened the box flap, and slid out the cellophane bag containing the table and chair pieces.

I assembled them. I also carefully opened the baggies filled with dishes and silverware. Then I set the table up and placed a complete place setting at each spot, just like the picture on the box. I arranged the chairs around the table.

Tables are meant to be set, you know. Tableware is not made to stay in little baggies in a box.

I surveyed it happily for a few minutes, then unassembled the table and chairs, and then re-packaged the place settings. I carefully applied Scotch tape strips over the baggies and the box flap. I re-wrapped the box and placed tape over the sliced tape already in place. I hoped my corners were neat enough to pass adult inspection.

I placed the box, just so, back in Mom’s closet behind the hanging clothes.

I tip-toed back to my room.

Excitement surged. I was getting Sindy’s Dining Room set. Then my hope fled. I had no need of it now. And a stab of guilt.

As happy as my discovery made me, and as much as I enjoyed playing with Sindy’s Dining Room set over the next couple years, I never unwrapped another present again before Christmas.

(Oh, wait. Except for black pumps in the ninth grade. That was an emergency, a need-to-know situation.) But other than that, I have found that a desirable and hopeful experience during the holidays is one of authentic anticipation, one that doesn’t cheat the future or worry about the past. I no longer want to ruin hope.

Hope waits, full of joy, in the present moment, until the gifts of the season are ready to reveal themselves.

That’s when pure wonder occurs. Hope is “O Holy Night” and “The Hallelujah Chorus.” It’s the lighting of the tree. It’s Christmas morning, dawning early in a silent house, with surprises spilling across the carpet. It’s a live nativity, with a young Mary cradling a helpless infant. It’s a dozen Christmas traditions that make you warm inside, that make you extend your hands to others.

Pure moments last, not just in your memory, but in your heart. To steal them is to diminish their value.

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