When my sister was six years old, she saw a picture of the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine in the Sears Christmas Wishbook. She fell head over heels for the little white doghouse with a Snoopy plunger that forced ice cubes through a little rotating grater which you turned with a crank. The ice chips would fall out of the bottom and into the little paper cup you had placed underneath, and all you had to do was sprinkle some lemon or cherry powder on them to make Delicious Frosty SnoCones just like you get at the fair.
She thought of nothing but the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine for months. She was not a terribly chatty child, and was fairly private about her feelings most of the time. I don't think my parents, bless them, really understood just how passionately she felt about the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine - how it haunted her dreams with its little red roof, its charming inhabitant perched atop the square plastic ice-pusher. In their wisdom, and the perpetual shallowness of their pockets (private education for three didn't come cheap in 1981 either), they decided that the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine was a phase - an expensive fad that would lose its luster after the first few days, to be consigned to the back of the cupboard or, more likely, the toybox.
Come Christmas morning, my sister made short work of her presents, checking each one in turn to see whether it held her wee Peanuts friend. It was a blow when the last ribbon had been untied, the last scrap of paper and tape scrunched into the fireplace, and Gwen realized Snoopy hadn't come. I half recall Mum and Dad explaining gently what their reasoning was, to my sad little sister, but this might be an invention of my sympathetic memory.
The next Christmas approached. Gwen was seven: older, and possibly at an age when the delights of the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine would have lost their appeal. The roof, thought my parents, was possibly not as red. The ice chips, maybe a little coarse. Snoopy himself? Well, Gwen was probably more interested in Beezus and Ramona now. So when Christmas arrived, there was no sno-cone machine under the tree for Gwen.
None of us knew how much she still wanted it. It was only after everything was opened, again, that she mentioned her disappointment in its absence. My poor parents could only look at each other in the mute agony of self-reproach.
Okay, here it is: one year later, Gwen's eighth Christmas. The packages were stacked high - high! it was a fantastic year - a year of many overtime hours worked by my father. Like magic, when the last box was pulled from behind the tree, the tag said "Gwen".
We were all breathless. It's not too much to say that we watched her in rapturous glee - we were the Cratchits, gathered around Bob while he says "Why, where's our Martha?" She opened the box killingly slowly - a trick of hers. I think I whined like a peckish hyena. Finally it was there, in all its splendor: the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine. There was a collective sigh of happiness, a dashing away of sudden tears. What a moment it was, to see her face light up after two years of waiting.
For all there was a happy ending, and even though it was such a great toy, the tragic truth was that it came a year or two too late. My parents' prediction had, with time, come to pass: she was now too old for it. Gwen played with it once or twice, and looked at it a lot, but she had grown out of the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine...it was dust and ashes in her mouth.
Twenty-three years later, Christmas approached chez HalfSoledBoots. It was November 2006: suffused with high spirits, I made the uncharacteristically foolish mistake of pulling my child onto my knee, chuckling "Ho Ho Ho", and following it up with a jolly "What do you want for Christmas, little girl?"
Can I just say, what the F**K was I thinking?
My five-year-old turned and looked at me, eyes wide with wonder, dwindling innocence, and dawning avarice. "You mean.....I can ask for whatever I want?"
"Ctrl-Z!!! Ctrl-Z!!!" my brain screamed.
Now, you must understand that in our house you can choose to believe in Santa or not (unlike belief in God, which we encourage with regularly-administered physical beatings using the heaviest leather-bound King James we can find, while chanting the Ten Commandments), but primarily Christmas is not about The Stuff. But I forgot myself that one time, and ended up with a child who walked around in a daze for six entire weeks, stunned by visions of herself receiving, on Baby Jesus' Birthday, all three of the Holly Hobbie Design My Style dolls. She drew pictures of her three new friends. She watched the freakin' commercial a million times on the stupid website, sang the little jingle constantly, and absently muttered "Each Sold Separately" when colouring. She started dressing in whatever she could find that vaguely resembled Holly Hobbie, wrote out, coloured, and carefully cut out invitations to Amy and Carrie:
HOLLY HOBIE SLEPOVR
SHAR A SMIL
She was ecstatic to find out that you can join the "Hey Girls Club" online, and promptly became a member in good standing. She printed out the club handbook (or, as I privately refer to it, the Manifesto) and carried it around, asking me if I had any Good Deeds she could do, to record in her book.
I am a very careful Christmas toy shopper. I do not simply wander the aisles at the local Faceless Big Box Monster, scanning the shelves for whatever is on sale. I wait every year for the Canadian Toy Testing Council Toy Report to come out, and I consider my options based on what the Toy Report says. This approach has NEVER misled me. By the time Holly Hobbie came into our lives, the Playmobil Magic Castle set was stashed away in my mother's house, awaiting its Christmas Eve assembly. I had spent $260 carefully-considered dollars on this present, which was to be the only toy the girls received from us.
I worried a bit about Holly Hobbie. After all, Charlotte had never wanted something this badly before. I asked Mr HSBoots about it, and he dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "She only wants it because of the commercial. She'd be tired of it in a week."
The next day, Charlotte came racing out of her computer room, excited and happy, words tumbling over each other in their haste. "MUMMY! You have to come see what else they have on Holly Hobbie Dot Com! I still want the Design my Style dolls for Christmas - like-you-know-for-my-Christmas-Wish, but come see what else!" I dragged my feet a bit but in I went, and bent to see the screen just as she said:
"A Holly Hobbie and Friends Sno-Cone Machine!"
The heavens opened and a gigantic hand descended to write in huge script on the wall directly opposite me.
REMEMBER THE SNO-CONE MACHINE.
I think I murmured some politely interested vowel sounds, then staggered off to the laptop where I checked the online Bible to confirm the reference The Hand had given me:
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life."
My duty was clear. I started with the infamous Holly Hobbie website, hoping they would point me to a retailer. No luck. I went next to eBay, where I found to my horror that the Design My Style dolls were "This year's Hottest Toy!! Very HTF!!!! Sold out everywhere!!" My heart sank as I scrolled past listing after listing. Auctions for all three dolls were in the $125 USD range, plus $25 shipping to Canada. Holly Hobbie herself started at $45 USD, with an average of 45 bidders on each auction, and $18.99 shipping to Canada. There were no Canadian auctions: as far as I could discover, these toys were only available in the US.
As Christmas approached and Charlotte's enthusiasm showed no sign of waning (she was now asking me to put entirely unwarranted patches on her jeans) I agonized over this. I stayed up late into the night, obsessively checking auctions I thought others might have missed. Being on the west coast, I thought I had a good chance of grabbing a doll out from under some easterner who had already settled down for their long winter's nap, not counting on a sudden Dark Horse bid from someone three time zones behind them. At two-thirty one morning I bid on an auction that only had 23 other bidders, hadn't seen any new bids in 10 hours, and was 22 seconds from closing. I almost burst into tears when eBay instantly notified me that I had been automatically outbid. Did I care to increase my maximum bid? I could not afford to do so: with $20 worth of shipping to pay, I had no more money to throw at this toy.
I sat down with the phone one afternoon in early December, and called Every. Single. Toystore on this island. Only two had heard of the new Holly Hobbie, and only one of them had ordered, but had not received, the dolls. The owner held out no hope, though she said that she might be able to find me one in the February toy-buying fair.
During this wild goose chase, as Christmas and my daughter's disappointment loomed ever closer, I struggled with my conscience. I was terribly embarrassed to be chasing all over hell's half-acre after a toy for a child who already has plenty of toys. I felt guilty for contributing to the mass consumerist hysteria that engulfs parents at Christmas. I felt like a sellout, eschewing commercialism on the one hand, while the other was busy typing "Dear Seller: does this doll come with any outfits? What is the shipping to Canada? Want for Xmas please reply ASAP".
Christmas came and went. I tried - I really did - but I couldn't find her doll. I was so disappointed I could have cried. I took it harder than Charlotte herself did. She, bless her gentle heart, played happily with the Magic Castle set, and only once did she cuddle up on my lap and say, "I didn't get my Christmas Wish for a Holly Hobbie doll."
Since December, Charlotte has been saving up to buy her doll. She has a chore chart on the fridge, where we carefully record each time she completes her set tasks. She can earn a maximum of about $4 a week (but of course she has never earned the maximum). When she lost her first tooth Mr HSB insisted on putting Five Whole Dollars under her pillow, to give her a boost up the Holly Hobbie Hill. Once she had saved about $10, I thought I'd better get back on eBay. I was not surprised to see that the dolls had come down drastically in price - selling for around $20 to $25 each - but my heart almost stopped when I saw the word "DISCONTINUED". Amy and Carrie were there, but Holly herself? Nowhere to be found.
My poor little girl would not have the only thing she had ever asked for.
I had failed.
Today I was walking downtown with my friend, talking about global warming. We wandered into the "Bargain Shop", a store I have been in only once in three years. Deeply discounted, overstock, odd lots, some irregulars - the type of place you go for a huge jug of bubble liquid for $1.75. We strolled down the toy aisle, wrinkling our noses at the Bratz, and idly turning over the odd Dora package.
Suddenly I saw it. On a high shelf: the side-edge of a blue box with white hearts and butterflies printed on it, along with a picture of the Hey Girls Club smiling and waving. I gasped and dashed around to the front of the shelf where I looked up and saw, as though heaven itself had set her down, Holly Hobbie in all her patchwork glory. Her freckled face beamed out of the clear plastic window, her cheerful smile poking gentle fun at me as I screamed hysterically. I cried, "Oh Sandy They're Fourteen Bloody Ninety-Seven Each!!" I snatched up three boxes filled with the Hey Girls, while casting wild glances over my shoulder as if I expected to see throngs of Holly-crazed moms ready to claw my eyes out and make off with my precious dollies.
All's well that ends well. My daughter, when she gets her doll, will be the happiest child that ever walked. I wanted so badly to speed home and throw the boxes into her arms, but reason prevailed and I will wait until she has finished earning her $15. We will make sure this doesn't take too long. After all, "hope deferred makes the heart sick."
Now I'm off to snuggle into my bed with a happy sigh, dreaming of sno-cone machines, the magic of Christmas morning, the bag full of dolls hiding in my linen closet, and a gigantic hand descending to write on my bedroom wall: