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Column - Memories of a special Christmas and a special doll linger on

I'm never quite sure how many of my Christmas memories from childhood are actually true and how many come from my imagination, although, I do have enough brothers and sisters to help keep me from straying off target too far.

With seven children - five of us on a fulltime basis and another two part-timers - all packed into the second story of a railroad depot, Christmas was always interesting, to say the least.

With that many people, money proved to be a little tight most days. Fortunately, despite the lack of money and space, my parents made sure of two things at Christmastime - that the decorations were plentiful and that we all received a special gift.

In our little village of 200 people, shopping for Christmas gifts could prove to be a challenge. Fortunately for us, the local grocery store provided far more than just fruits and vegetables. It was, in fact, much more like a variety store and it was there that I spied THE DOLL.

First, to understand how strange it was that I would even want a doll, you need to know that I was so much more a tomboy than a girl's girl. If you could get dirty doing it, that's what you'd find me doing. Climbing trees, running, hitting balls and probably trying to punch out my brothers.

Maybe what attracted me to this plastic perfection was the fact that she wasn't some fairy princess-type doll; she was dressed in a cowgirl outfit. Yep, cowboy hat and boots, fringed vest, checkered blouse and "leather" skirt.

But the thing that put this doll over the top for me was this: She had a holster. You heard me, a holster. To holster guns. Just like a real cowboy. Holy cow - a holster!

Every day on my way home from elementary school, I walked past that grocery store, checking to see if she was still there, just waiting for me. I'd stand and stare at her until I got in trouble for being late getting home. I didn't care; I knew that this doll was meant for me.

I spent hours daydreaming about the adventures we'd have together, how we'd shoot all the bad guys and keep our town safe from outlaws. She just had to be mine. She had to.

One day when I went for my usual visit, she was gone. I was sick with anxiety. How was Santa going to bring her to me if she wasn't there for him to collect? I think I may have cried on the way home.

As Christmas came closer, it was time to spiff up our little home with holiday cheer. Knowing there were strict rules about Santa Claus coming down the chimney of a fireplace, my dad took care of that problem by fashioning a cardboard fireplace complete with painted on bricks. It proudly took its place in one of the few open spaces we had, and its fake fire would sparkle proudly inside.

Our stockings would hang from the mantle area, although, obviously, on Christmas morning they would always be found lying in front, filled with the same thing each year - an apple, an orange, some nuts and a few pieces of holiday candy.

We also had one of those crazy metal trees with the revolving color wheel in front, changing the tree's color from red to blue to green to yellow and back to red.

Decorating the tree was a meticulous process. Each piece of tinsel had to be hung individually - not just handfuls thrown at it to hang in clumps. It never failed; I couldn't take the slow process and always managed to get rid of my pile of tinsel first by tossing handfuls in inconspicuous places. I'm sure that my parents had to untangle my messes after it was all said and done.

It was our custom to open gifts on Christmas Eve most years, but first we had to have our holiday meal eaten, all the food put away, the dishes washed and everything else straightened up. It was agony! Couldn't our parents see how stressful this was?

When it was finally time, we had to take turns opening gifts - from the youngest to the oldest. Of course, where was I? At the top of the age chain!

My turn finally came, but the doll was nowhere to be found. I don't think I've ever been so disappointed. My heart felt broken.

My parents had to remind me that Santa hadn't come yet, and that you never know what he might bring.

That was probably the longest night of my life, trying to sleep so that morning would come.

When morning finally arrived, we all raced to the tree to see what Santa had brought us - and there she was. My cowgirl was there in my arms! I think I could have passed out from happiness.

I don't remember what ever happened to that doll. I don't remember if I gave her a name or if we saved the town from outlaws. But I do remember that gift and what was probably the best Christmas of my life.

"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.