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Here is a friend of mine, from a large Irish Catholic family in New Jersey—seven kids, no money. She is in her 60s now, but still shy about revisiting those days. She doesn’t recall any specific gifts she received—“It wasn’t like we were going to get a smartphone, it wasn’t like that”—but she remembers the time the baby of the family, Cathy, age 5, let everyone know Santa was going to give her something very special.
But Cathy wouldn’t tell anyone what it was. On Christmas Eve, her resourceful mother finally told her to write Santa a thank-you note and put it under the tree. She did, and later her mother peeked at the note: Cathy thanked Santa for the “bride doll” that he had hidden for her in the bookcase. But it was Christmas Eve—the stores were closed. After Cathy went to bed, one of my friend’s other sisters remembered a pile of old dolls down in the basement. “We found a doll, cleaned it, found a dress, washed and ironed,” my friend recalls. “We combed the hair, we gave it earrings and jewelry.” At dawn, Cathy ran down the stairs and found in the back of the bookcase the beautiful doll she knew would be there.