Each year, as our Christmas angel is placed at the top of our tree, I think that before she’s put away for another season that something really must be done about her dress. Made in haste as it was from an old piece of eyelet cloth, the white fabric has been gradually showing signs of yellowing. Over the many years this column has run in the Record-Journal, readers have written and offered to make her a new dress. Their kindness is very much appreciated. But I am reluctant to change anything about her.
In the stores there are Christmas angels for sale wearing dresses of satin so snowy white that the threads appear to have fallen from the heavens. Some have locks so golden and so perfectly curled, the ringlets seem touched by a magic wand. The short-cropped yellow-white hair on our angel really isn’t of the most angelic-like quality. And it’s obvious no magic wand even came close to these unruly strands.
The wings on our angel seem to have withstood those annual stretches of storage inside a discarded Adidas shoe box. And her halo, although a bit off-center at times, looks none the worse for wear.
But there are some who visit our tree and look up at her critically. Because she has graced our tree for 35 years, perhaps we simply overlook what some people may think of as flaws. Her wings are made of thin cardboard and were covered with muslin and then painstakingly trimmed with eyelet to match her dress. Her halo is made from cardboard too, glued along with her wings to the back of her dress.
But it never occurred to us that she might look odd.
In the stores there are Christmas angels with wings of white lacy netting and soft velvet ribbon. There are angels with halos of sparkling gold beads and shimmering sequins and angels with halos that light up and blink on and off.
A visitor to our house one Christmas looked up at our angel and said her face was unlike the faces of other angels. It is not made of porcelain. Her smile is not perfect. Her eyes do not open and close. There are no rosy bright blushes brushed on each of her cheeks.
Her face, the visitor to our tree said, seemed to resemble that of a Betsy Clark doll. And he was right. Because she was a Betsy Clark doll. And beneath her muslin sheet and cardboard accessories, she is still wearing the same brown moccasins and blue and white striped dress and old-fashioned apron she wore when she was given as a gift on a windy March morning so many years before.
It was on a Sunday, just after 11 o’clock mass, when a young girl named Robin brought her to our house for our daughter, Laura. Robin, who was facing a recurrence of a cancer everyone had hoped was behind her, thought Betsy Clark would bring comfort to Laura who was just newly diagnosed and beginning treatment for cancer. Betsy Clark took up the call and as companion to Laura led what other dolls might consider a nomad’s life. She traveled the highways with her new young friend, off to hospitals and doctors in cities far from her home.
For this particular doll there was no special space on a shelf in a little girl’s bedroom. Nor did she know the luxury of a cushy place all to herself on a little girl’s bed. She shared many beds in many hospital rooms with her new young charge. The beds held no frilly bedspreads of matching pillow shams like the beds where other dolls were laying their heads. She spent nights tucked beneath thermal hospital blankets and was privy to anxious thoughts and fears that a scared little girl expressed in words to her ears only.
Yes, she was a very good Betsy Clark doll. Until the year Robin died. Then she became the perfect angel for our Christmas tree.
This column was written in memory of Robin Palmese, a Southington teenager who died of cancer in 1978 at age 15. It first appeared in the Record-Journal in 1984.