Christmas story: A little girl and a little boy

We can’t bring back the past. But what we can do— at least what we can try to do— is recreate the good parts, and that’s what this Christmas story is about. Baby boomer Tania Romanov Amochaev writes from San Francisco about a little girl’s Christmas some sixty years ago, and a little boy’s Christmas today, on another continent. She calls it, A Christmas Story: A Little Girl and A Little Boy.

A six-year-old girl stares in the window of an inner-city neighborhood grocery store in San Francisco in the 1950s.

The window is cluttered — it’s hard to see through the dirt. “Mike’s” says the sign above the door. The little girl’s eyes are determinedly fixed on an object that glows, just behind the smudged glass. It is a doll behind that window, the only doll in any window in this neighborhood, and it is there as a Christmas promotion.

Tania and Sasha in front of San Francisco house across the street from Mike’s. Uncle Shura with them, mama and aunt Galya in the window.

The store is directly across the street from the little girl’s house. She can see the doll by gluing her eyes to the window of the room her grandmother sleeps in, which doubles as the family’s living room. She will never want another doll as much as she craves that tall perfect blonde in her pink gown. She has to have that doll.

But December 25th comes and goes with the doll still in the window, removed a few days later to be replaced with a sign that advertises Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

The little girl is right. She never does crave another doll, for she is not a doll kind of girl. She becomes a tomboy who turns to skates and stilts and baseball and bicycles.

But on that January 6, almost 60 years ago, it is her family’s Christmas Eve and a large box under the Christmas tree holds the magic doll. The warm glow of that moment and the image of that perfect blonde-haired beauty remains planted somewhere deep inside that one-time little girl’s heart.

Fast forward about sixty years.

Sasha on right, Vesna next to him, the little boy her grandson in front of her, heading left, her son-in-law, daughter, and youngest baby. They are in Istria, Croatia, near the village where Tania’s mother and Vesna‘s mother were born.

A little boy turning five is getting ready to start school. He spends most of his days with his grandmother  let’s call her — Vesna — and whenever she lets him, he is playing with her computer and watching Disney movies. One of his favorites is a Disney animated adventure film called Cars.

The computer also shows him many goodies that surround this cartoon. The internet brings backpacks and lunch boxes with cars on them tantalizingly close, right there in his grandmother Vesna’s bedroom. Right there behind the smudged glass where he presses his finger on this magic backpack.

The little boy is 8,000 miles from Disneyland. The Disney store does not ship to his country. While the backpack is not expensive, getting it to Serbia might be. But the little boy really, really, really wants that backpack. And his grandmother really, really wants to get it for him.

Tania Romanov Amochaev

A few miles from the Disney store in San Francisco wanders the one-time little girl — me — who had long forgotten about wanting that doll 60 years ago. There is a text from Vesna about a Cars backpack and that once-little girl shakes her head, thinking about the crass commercialism that has spread a desire for this backpack to the far corners of the globe, even to a house in Belgrade, where the little boy is about to start school.

The little girl was born there and when she visits, the little boy’s father will be warm and polite and, until pressed, will avoid saying what he really thinks about her adopted homeland, America — a place he believes is evil. It is not only the source of much of the world’s crass commercialism, but of the specific bombs that fell on his town not that many years ago.

As she walks down the San Francisco street, however, it is the memory of the doll in the window that pulls her into the Disney store. And while the backpack cannot be teleported to Vesna’s apartment in Serbia, the young salesclerk quickly messengers a picture to Belgrade where it is greeted with glee.

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