Dorothea Nordstrand Remembers Her Beautiful Christmas Doll

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 12/16/2002
  • Essay 4054
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In this reminiscence, Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011) tells the story of the beautiful doll, Grace, which became hers on the Christmas morning of 1922. She was nearly 6 years old. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including's People's History library.

Christmas Grace

The Christmas of my childhood that remains forever fresh in my mind is the one when I was almost 6 years old and "Grace" became mine. Grace was a beautiful girl doll with a formed bisque body, jointed arms and legs, and the loveliest painted-china face a little girl could imagine. Her shining brown eyes could close in "sleep" spreading enchanting, long lashes against her blush-rose cheeks. Dark brown, curling hair crowned her pretty head, and her slightly parted lips showed the tips of tiny, perfect teeth.

Grace came into our lives as a present to my youngest Aunt, Anne, who was only nine years older than my sister, Florence. When Anne outgrew dolls, Grace was given to Florence to love and enjoy in her turn. When Florence was about 13 years old, her long, chestnut brown hair was cut into the new, fashionable "bob." Mother had the shorn locks made into a wig for Grace, making her even more a part of the family.

She was Florence's doll for several years, so I was well acquainted with her. In our family, however, one's personal possessions meant EXACTLY that. We did not touch things that belonged to anyone else without permission. That didn't keep me from admiring Grace and dreaming of the day when she would be mine, "when I was old enough to take good care of her."

Christmas, 80-odd years ago, was a far different (though no less magic) happening from what it is now. We hung our stockings from the back of a chair, since our modest home did not boast mantel or fireplace. Sometime during that momentous night, Santa Claus brought an apple or an orange, a few pieces of wrapped, hard candy, and some walnuts in their knobby shells, and filled the stockings. These were very special treats, since such things were not readily available year round, as they are now.

Presents between family members were almost always home-made items, especially dreamed up for the person receiving them. Daddy had a clever hand at carving and I remember pure toned whistles made from the green branches of willow during the summer and hidden away for the Special Day. Mother's gifts were often flannel nighties or pajamas for all of us, all cut from identical, striped flannel, as she could get more value for her very limited money by purchasing all that remained of a bolt of cloth. Today's flannel has NOTHING in common with that old time delightfully soft, double-napped fabric that was downy, both inside and out.

Florence's and my nighties were prettied up with pink bias tape trimming, while Jack and Daddy had blue bias trim on their pockets. Children's offerings were likely to be hand-drawn pictures, or woven-paper baskets, or, perhaps, hand hemmed squares of white muslin for handkerchiefs. All were held in high esteem because you knew the gift was made just for you.

The tree was set up several days before Christmas and was trimmed with bright colored, fragile balls of glass so thin that they weighed as nothing in your hand. Newly strung ropes of popcorn and cranberries swathed the tree with garlands of white and red. Onto many branch tips were clipped small metal candle holders, each with its tiny, white candle which must wait until Christmas Eve to be lit.

Oh, the glory of that bright tree with tiny flickering points of light to bring a glow to the loved faces around it. The short time it was allowed to twinkle before the candles burned down to their sockets, made a picture we could remember with joy after Mother and Dad carefully removed each little candle holder for safety's sake. The memory of that sparkling tree was the beautiful promise that we took with us to dream on.

That wonderful Christmas morning, in the gray of early dawn, we crept downstairs, hearts filled with anticipation. The first thing I saw was Grace sitting under the Christmas tree in my own little, red rocking-chair, which could only mean that now she was mine!! Mother had made her a new, rose pink organdy dress with matching panties, and she was wearing new, black patent-leather slippers and little white socks. My big sister's beautiful hair in the new wig was curled to perfection, and the smile on my big sister's face let me know that she was ready to pass Grace on to me.

After all these years, I can still feel the thrill of that Christmas morning and remember the reverence with which I held that beloved doll. She was even more bewitching, now that she was mine. Her brown eyes seemed to sparkle just for me. It was my arms that could hold her and rock her to sleep. I had yearned for this day with every ounce of my small being. It had come. Grace was mine!!

* * *

When I was 10 or 11 years old, Grace left my stewardship and was given to my Cousin Elaine, who was then 5 or 6. Elaine is Aunt Rose's daughter.

There were no more girls born into my generation in our family, so, when Elaine outgrew her, she was returned to her original owner, Aunt Anne. We all hoped that Aunt Anne would have a granddaughter to love Grace, since her only child was a son, Robert Lee May.

No granddaughters forthcoming, Anne sent Grace to Suzanne Burke, Florence's daughter, where she remains as part of Suzie's doll collection.

She still is beautiful enough to make me smile with remembrance. Amazingly, through all the small girls who played with her, the only casualty she suffered was a tiny finger, broken when Florence was her "Mother." Florence had the broken hand replaced after Grace came to Suzie. The lovely china face is the same as it was over 80 years ago and the pretty, chestnut brown hair is from Florence's first haircut, over 80 years ago.


By Dorothea Nordstrand, December 16, 2002

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