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I Still Have Her.

Her name was Violet. I hated her.


I didn't know it at the time, but it was the last Christmas that would live up to my expectations for the holiday. No one knew that the glue of the family, the grandmother that bound everyone together, was soon to be diagnosed with bone cancer. No one knew that within months she would be in a assisted living home, and not long after she would pass away.

I was in first grade. I really had no understanding of what was to come.

All I knew was that Christmas Eve was supposed to be spent at my Aunt Susan's house. It was supposed to be spent with my mom's family--her parents, her brother, her sister, and all of the cousins. It was supposed to be spent in a little family room, gathered around a giant live Christmas tree adorned with handmade ornaments and a rainbow of lights. My cousin Sheryl was supposed to sit under the tree, read the tags on the gifts, and hand them out, one-by-one. We were supposed to pause and watch as the gift recipient opened the carefully wrapped treasure, all taking turns as to relish each gift for as long as possible.

When it came to be my turn, Sheryl read my name then paused, a confused look on her face. "It says it's from Mary," she reported. I remember her words exactly. They are forever etched into my memory.

Heads turned to look at my mom, who instantly realized her error. It was one of Those Years. The Bad Years. The years when Christmas wouldn't have happened if not for the kindness of strangers. The gift had been donated to the Salvation Army, and I was the lucky beneficiary. My mom had intended to change out the name tag. She had intended to cover up the fact that there wasn't money for gifts that year. She had meant to avoid that embarrassing moment.

She just missed one little piece of paper. One gift tag.

Silence enveloped the room as each person individually came to their own conclusions as to why a gift from a stranger had wound up under the tree. At last, the awkward moment was interrupted by my grandma, "Go ahead and open it, honey."

I looked around the room, my eyes taking in the harsh looks of judgment and disapproval. Through tears I tore off the paper and pulled out a brown-haired doll dressed in a purple floral shirt. The tag that hung from her arm said her name was Violet. "It's a doll," I said, my heart silently pleading for Sheryl to read another name.


As soon as we got home, I ran to the bathroom. I grabbed a pair of scissors out of the medicine cabinet and hacked at Violet's hair. I dug around until I found a black marker and I took it to her face, violently changing her appearance. I wanted her to look as ugly as I felt at that moment. I wanted her to pay for my embarrassment. It was her fault that people knew we were poor.


Weeks later, I walked past the spot where I had hidden the defaced doll. Pausing, I considered the fact that it was the only toy I had gotten for Christmas that year. I pondered the fact that it was my birthday and that the day was nearly over. I thought about the birthday presents that weren't, that would never be. I pulled Violet out from behind the dryer, took her into the bathroom, and did what I could to clean to her up.

Her name was Violet. I hated her, but she was better than nothing.


If every person who reads this pitches in $1.00, together we can smash that $1000 goal and provide a whole lot of Christmas Crazy to a whole lot of kids. I was one of those kids who benefited from programs like Toys for Tots, and I can tell you it makes a difference. Every little bit makes a difference.

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Reader Comments (29)

Every child should have at least one toy for the holidays. Thank goodness for those who donate to make it happen.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

This is a hard thing to blog about, kudos for trying to use your experience to have a positive impact. Impressive. Of course, who can resist making a donation after reading this? :)

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKimly P.

Oh man, I am bawling over here! This post has opened my eyes all over again. Now, I am going to donate. This is an amazing thing you are doing and I applaud you for posting this, it is very brave. *going to grab myself a tissue now*

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPriscilla

Amazing post. I'm so glad you are doing this. It really does make a difference. I'll be donating for sure! :)

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKat

I just donated. Good luck with the cause. Thank you for reminding us all of the impact that these programs actually have on children.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElena

You are amazing. Amazing for organizing this fundraiser and making it happen, amazing for who you have become through your experiences, and amazing for sharing your life with everyone here. Thank you.

Donation has definitely been made.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScrumpy Daddy

Thank you for posting this. And organizing this. Donation is on its way

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFraulicious

you really are my hero.


November 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterthe planet of janet


As another child who benefited from these gifts of strangers-it does help.

Because trust me, no kid wants to get a bar of soap and one pair of socks identical to each of her siblings because it came from a value pack for Christmas.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

And so it goes, a post that makes me cry, and makes me remember my own Salvation Army Christmas when I was 6. I honor what was, and what you are doing to make a difference. I will give you a lil something for Christmas Crazy this weekend. :) ((HUGS))

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDina

So horrible that any judgement happened at all. Most of us have been there, as both adults and children. People are so cruel and they (meaning: we) seldom stop and think about how our reactions tarnish things for the kids...

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Holy shit - way to kick us in the gut. (I used the same tactic when fund raising for the domestic violence shelter. My boss had a love/hate thing when proofing my pleas to the community.)

I never forget the Christmases I spent at the shelter and the happiness that the kindness of strangers brought them. I would stay up to the wee hours stuffing stockings and arranging gifts from Santa under the tree (as well as the items the moms picked out and wrapped earlier). I send the shelter a little something every year and miss those kiddos I had the honor of playing Santa for after they laid their heads down on those strange pillows in those strange beds. Christmas is a time that renews my faith in humanity.

And I think you rock for extending your Christmas Crazy beyond dozens of trees and thousands of lights.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Smiles

Amazing post...

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy


beautiful post!
I just donated and I am still crying

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Last year we adopted a family and spent a little less on our family. As a family we had a lot of fun choosing toys and gifts for all the family members. Your story brings it a little closer to home just how important it is to do this. We haven't decided exactly what we will do this year, but I know we will be donating toys in some ways to those who are less fortunate than us. Thanks for the reminder.

Now, can you pass out klenex next time or at least warn us to grab a box before we start reading?

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie Yost

What an amazing post. Thank you for sharing your story.

I've participated in the Angel Tree program through my church before and am planning to again this year. It provides presents to kids who have a parent in jail. I hope that everyone is able to donate something to those in need this year and every year. It does make a difference.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercaramama

You are amazing.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCrista

This is such a beautiful story. Wow.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJessica @ How Sweet It Is

WOW... WOWwowWOW. what an amazing story. I don't have any kids as I am just recently married. But I've always looked forward to seeing the looks on my kids faces when they opened their Chistmas gifts with such joy and excitement!

I never imagined what it would feel like to not be able to afford presents for my kids. WOW.

i'm dontating. KUDOS on a very thought provoking story!

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter_meganORSI__

Wow! My heart is actually a little sore for you :(

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeanette

I so donated. And thank you for using your blogging for good. I am in awe of your ambition. It's a beautiful thing. Thanks for starting such a worthy cause.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

Oh wow. We'll be donating to Toys for Tots here, as well as working the event. Our church holds the event and it draws thousands of families. Always amazing. Thank you for holding the torch. Our kids were recipients of some pretty amazing Angel Tree gifts one year.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFlea

Only through the most elaborate fiscal contortions did my mother manage to give us any presents at Christmas growing up and I'll probably never know even half of what she did. My husband and I always do the Giving Tree and other efforts through the VFW but this year we donated to your cause as well. Thank you for sharing what must have been an awfully hard blog post to "put to paper."

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBelle

Very moving. Of course, I am currently an emotional wreck and it about did me in.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGina

Thank you for sharing this story and for what you are doing. And it reminded me to stop procrastinating and donate! (Done!)

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPost Emily Post

Thanks so much for sharing this! As a houseparent for a children's home, it means so much to us when people donate, financially, gifts, and time. One of our girls just turned nine, and it was her first real birthday party with a cake, ballons, gifts, and presents. People do not realize that there is so much need here all around us; that or they do know it, but don't want to see it.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

I don't know what your shopping strategy will be, but there are a bunch of big toy coupons for Targe that you can print here:

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKim Z

You really need a tear-jerker warning on a post like this, girl. Glad I'm home, cause I would hate to being crying where someone might see me.

November 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDonalyn

Great post. I love the idea of infusing this oft-selfish blogosphere with some giving. Fantastic.

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