In the ’90s it was Power Rangers and then Tickle Me Elmo. Before that, of course, we had the ’80s—the generation that brought us Care Bears, Go-Bots, and the Big Wheel. One toy, however, seems to stick out in many peoples’ memories when they think of the ’80s and a toy trend that surpassed all others: Cabbage Patch Kids.
Parents would stand in lines for hours at the shopping mall or Toys R Us after having successfully clawed, clubbed, and clamored their way through the melee of desperate holiday shoppers also trying to get their hands on the high-demand dolls. But these were not ordinary dolls; these dolls were not merely purchased, they were adopted, and came with an official birth certificate, name, and adoption papers. You even got a birthday card for the “Kid’s” first birthday!
In 1984, right around the height of Cabbage Patch madness, I was seven years old. I lived in a small town outside of Pocatello, Idaho called American Falls. Clearly this doll craze really was enormous—even little American Falls and its population of 4,000 wasn’t left out of the loop. I wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid more than anything. I would think about what I would name mine (officially changing the doll’s name was an option with the adoption papers) and also about exactly what color hair and eyes I wanted mine to have. Several of my friends had them and though I probably didn’t fully understand the phenomenon, I did understand that these Kids were a hot commodity. I remember seeing spots on the news about the Christmas hunt to find them and that only fueled my desire to have my own.
At the same time, I didn’t get my hopes up. I knew that I probably wouldn’t find one underneath the Christmas tree, at least not that year.
Most of my memories of the ’80s were great. I would sing along to the theme song of Punky Brewster every week and couldn’t wear my favorite red stirrup pants often enough. Some people called me Olive Oyl (after Popeye’s girl) because I was so skinny, but my scrawny frame didn’t properly reflect my boundless energy. My seven-year-old imagination was definitely overactive and I could keep myself entertained for hours. In many respects, it was a great time of life.
Learning to Adapt
Unfortunately, not all of my memories of the ’80s were happy ones. During this time, my father suffered from lymphoma, a form of cancer. Though I don’t remember that time perfectly, I do remember he became very sick as Christmas time approached. I was very much a daddy’s girl and remember the confusion and sadness I felt at watching him sit alone in his chair. I felt helpless but decided that the best thing I could do to help my family was to make sure I was not causing any extra problems. I tried hard to be very good.
My father and mother owned a small, home-based carpet cleaning business. My dad also worked for some time as a mail carrier. Though we lived comfortably, we were far from wealthy. Then the cancer came and the financial situation of the family became pretty scary. My dad could no longer work, and because of the time it took to care for him, my mother also couldn’t work much. The doctor and pharmacy bills just kept growing and I remember my mother explaining to us kids (I have two sisters and a brother who at the time were ages two, twelve, and fourteen) that we probably weren’t going to be able to have many Christmas presents that year. At that point, I knew my dream of adopting a Cabbage Patch Kid just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t even ask.
The year before, my mother created a homemade Cabbage Patch doll for me that looked quite similar to the ones in the stores. I really did like it and appreciated the work she put into it. It had long, blonde yarn hair and beautiful painted-on eyes. I placed it on my bookshelf in its own special spot. I liked it very much, but I couldn’t deny that I still wanted a store-bought Kid. I wanted to be able to “adopt” mine. I wanted the Xavier stamp on the doll’s bottom. I wanted the same thing my friends had. Even at that young age, I knew I shouldn’t be greedy and never brought it up, though I’m quite sure my mother still knew how much I wanted one.
Santa's Secret Helpers
Then one night, probably around the beginning of December, we started to get visitors. The doorbell rang, someone answered it, but no one was there. Left on the porch were several wrapped packages. It was so exciting! The next evening, the same thing happened—and then again the night after that. Suddenly the feeling in our home was changing. Maybe we were just finally having some fun, or maybe it was the Christmas spirit starting to break through the sadness. Whatever it was, I remember it was fun and it felt good. As the days continued, more and more presents, treats, and dinners continued to arrive.
Soon, our little living room was overrun with piles of presents. I remember snooping around them and discovering a My Little Pony with my name on it! I’d wanted one of those as well. I played with my best friend Jamie’s ponies almost every day, and now I had one of my own. It was so fun to have my own little secret under the tree.
My dad was a little embarrassed about the tremendous number of presents filling the room and started putting them in a corner of a bedroom instead of under the tree. Then that corner started spilling out! I had never seen so many gifts.
My Christmas Miracle
Probably about a week before Christmas, the doorbell rang again one night. My mother answered the door and told my younger sister and me to come look. There it was. My Cabbage Patch Kid! What an emotion of joy and excitement I felt at that moment. But this was even better! It was a Cabbage Patch Kid Preemie! This smaller version of the recent phenomenon was the latest and greatest creation from the doll makers and I could hardly believe it was sitting right there on my porch.
I knew I was experiencing my own little mini-miracle. These dolls were not exactly cheap and they were also not always easy to come by, yet someone (I still have no idea who) knew the heart of a little girl and understood that although a new pair of shoes or something of that nature was probably a more practical gift, this funny-looking little doll could bring a child a piece of happiness and escape that she needed even more than new, sturdy shoes.
Whomever this thoughtful person was, he or she understood that emotional desires are sometimes just as important as physical needs. I certainly didn’t need that doll in the same way that I needed food in my belly, but nonetheless, that doll made me feel a little bit more like a normal little girl. It gave me a bit of joy at a time when it was sometimes hard to be happy, and joy is something everyone needs—especially at Christmas.
The Real Gift
Years later my mom told me that this whole month-long event for our family made her very upset at first. We were rarely able to figure out from whom the gifts were coming and she simply wanted to be able to thank the people who were helping her little family. Christmas cards holding money would come to the house and no name would be signed to them. One day she went to the drug store to pay the $300 bill and was told that it had already been paid. Though she was very grateful, the anonymous generosity was overwhelming and she was sick with the thought of not being able to even say thank you.
She told me that she opened her scriptures one night, with tears in her eyes not only because her husband was so sick but because she felt even more helpless at not being able to thank those who were helping her. Then, she unintentionally came across 3 Nephi 13:2-4:
“Therefore, when ye shall do your alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
But when thou doest alms let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth; That thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly.”
She told me how she felt her prayer was answered that night in reading those few verses. She knew that the blessings her secret helpers would receive from Heavenly Father were far greater than any thanks she could give to them. After this experience, we stopped rushing to the door to try to catch our neighbors. Instead, we would just wait for a few minutes to give them time to run away.
I’ve never forgotten the wonderful feeling surrounding that Christmas. I learned at a very young age what it was like to be the recipient of the true love of Christ and how important it is to give that love to others, as well. My father passed away about a year later and when I think of him, this special Christmas is one of the times that I cherish most.
I don’t think of that time so much as the year my dad was so terribly sick, or even as the year I received one of the first Preemies to hit the shelves. I remember it most as the very special year when our family became part of a little miracle, when I felt a love so strong it was almost tangible, and when I learned what the phrase “the spirit of Christmas” really means.