Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Tale of the long-awaited Christmas doll


Once upon a time, more than a century ago, there was a young couple, Edward and Bridget, recent émigrés from Ireland, who married and settled in Peekskill.  Like fellow immigrants of the time, they had not much in the way of money or the goods of this world, but they were very rich in progeny, producing a lively brood of nine surviving children:  a pair of sons, William and John, and seven daughters — Nell and Mame and Catherine, Caroline and Genevieve and Irene.  The youngest girl was Alice.

Though the family had to watch their pennies very carefully throughout the year, Edward and Bridget made sure on Christmas that none of the children would be empty-handed.  Each one received a stocking containing a few treats — usually an orange, maybe a trinket or two.

But the pièce de résistance — for the girls at least — was the doll placed under the Christmas tree.  A single, precious, honest-to-goodness doll!  The sacrifices this first-generation immigrant couple must have endured to afford such a luxury, one can only imagine.  Still, one doll is all they could afford each year.

Clearly, though, seven girls divided by one doll does not make for a pretty mathematical equation.  And so, the unwritten rule came to pass that the first girl to reach the doll in the wee hours of Christmas morning could claim her as her own.

Perhaps not the most equitable system of justice, but that’s the way it was.

Try as she might, little Alice, tripping along on her toddler legs, was no match for the more-developed, speedier legs of her big sisters.  And no matter how much she grew over the years, her sisters were growing, too, and could always outrun her.  She never reached the doll before the others.

Alice is on the right in this photo, holding a cat. Her older sister Irene is on the left with their brother William.

Nevertheless, she remained a child of sweet disposition and, perhaps because of her close family upbringing, grew up to be an exquisitely lovely person, full of kindness and generosity.  She was never drawn much to material possessions.  Rather, she seemed to grasp at an early age what many do not discover until later in life — that, as the saying goes, “the important things in life are not things.”

In her teen years, she attracted the attention of a good and handsome fellow, Bill. During their decade of courtship, they would occasionally sojourn into New York City to take in a Broadway show and stroll along Fifth Avenue.

Bill and Alice married and, a few years later, were blessed with their own real live doll, Jean, their one and only child.

The lack of siblings did not mean Jean suffered for companionship; she was always surrounded by a phalanx of cousins and girlfriends, not to mention when she became a vivacious and popular young lady, by a number of beaus as well.

By and by, she chose to marry one of them, Jim, and eventually had her own two children — Alison (that would be me), named for grandmother Alice, and Billy, named for grandfather Bill.

It was now the 1950s, and America had entered its post-WWII years of prosperity.  Being the first grandchild, and the only granddaughter, little Alison wanted for nothing in the material realm.  Between the largesse of her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends and possibly even a gift or two ostensibly from little brother Billy, she possessed a virtual Santa’s workshop of toys, but dolls were always her favorite.  There were Barbies and Tammys, Thumbelina, a Pebbles Flintstone, Minnie Mouse, baby dolls, talking dolls, crying dolls — if a doll existed, it was undoubtedly in young Allie B’s collection.

So it was quite disturbing for her to hear the story of how her beloved Nanny Alice had not one doll of her own when she was a little girl.  How could that be?  Every little girl should have a doll of her own, deserved a doll of her own.  It just wasn’t right.

Her fledgling sense of justice and fairness thus shaken, Alison saved up her allowance money and decided to right that wrong.  She went to a local department store and bought the fairest doll she could find — a beauty with a cascade of golden ringlet curls, pert bow mouth, blue eyes that actually blinked, dressed up in a fancy frock of ribbons and ruffles.

She was abuzz with excitement as she proudly presented the carefully-wrapped package to Nanny Alice that Christmas morn.

The author, Alison on the right with her brother Billy and her grandmother and grandfather, Alice and Bill Rielley.

And, lo, Nanny Alice, tears in her eyes, hugged first her granddaughter and then her very first Christmas doll, whom she named “Marie.”

For many years thereafter, until Alice’s dying day, Marie sat ensconced in a place of honor — her own comfy chair in Alice and Bill’s parlor.

At this Christmastide, may all your dreams and wishes — however long-delayed, perchance almost forgotten — come true.