December 24, 2010

(Reprint of Doll Purchase was Meant to Be by Caroline Miller, published in Grit, 12/2003)

Last December, I drove some friends to a local mall to finish their holiday shopping. My shopping was done so I wandered up and down aisles admiring displays.

In one store, I found a tumble of dolls in various costumes and sizes. My hand fell upon one doll — a Victorian lady swathed in crimson velvet — and I could not let go. Her blue glass eyes peered up at me, and she smiled so wistfully that I had to liberate her. The transaction went smoothly and within minutes I had re-entered the concourse, my cash depleted and my mind in a state of wonder. What had come over me?

I came upon “The Gift Tree,” an evergreen easily 12 feet tall and covered with the Christmas wishes of needy children.

Here, I decided, was a way to expunge my foolishness. True, I hadn’t drawn a name from the tree, but I was confident one wish had to be for a doll.

A silver-haired man sat at the donation table. He thanked me for the package I handed him, examined the contents and instead of tossing my gift into a bin with the other toys, he slid it back in my direction.

“You don’t mean to leave this,” he said.  “It’s porcelain, you see.”

I struggled to understand. “You mean it’s not safe?  It might break and hurt someone?”

The man shook his head. “No, I don’t mean that at all. Read the label. This here’s a collector’s doll. Got registration number and certificate. It’s not for a child, is it?”

My cheeks warmed. “You mean you won’t take it?”

The silver-haired man shook his head a second time. “‘Course I’ll take it. The point is do you want to give it?”

I might have said no if a voice inside hadn’t prompted otherwise. I pushed my doll back across the table and walked away.

Two days later, I returned to the mall with a red fire engine, the wish of a 6-year-old boy whose name I had drawn from the tree. This time, the question of suitability would not arise, though my spine stiffened when the silver-haired man recognized me and broke into a grin.

“Say, I found someone for that doll of yours,” he said. A 10-year old girl had written: “Please may I have a special doll?”

Reading that, a lump formed in my throat. I hadn’t been foolish at all.  Maybe, just maybe, I’d been the instrument of a higher spirit.