The Dollhouse: A Christmas Story

By Kathleen Flinn

       When I was a little girl, I wanted a dollhouse more than anything else in the world. 
I wanted one so much, I even tried to make one by duct-taping shoeboxes together when I was 12. A year later, my father promised me one for Christmas. All summer, I doggedly searched for the perfect one. I finally found it in a country-themed store in the local mall.

       Made from unvarnished pine and heavy balsa it was supposed to resemble a country farmhouse with seven rooms, a generous attic and two wrap-around porches I took my father to see it.
      “What do you think, Daddy?”
       He noted the sturdy construction and the fine craftsmanship. Then, he asked how much it cost. I knew, even before I took him there, the price tag made it unlikely I’d ever own it.
       He was dying. And as I had learned in the years before, cancer was expensive. It made families like mine very poor.
“Maybe Santa will bring it for you,” was all he said.
       He took me to “visit my house” at least once a week for about three months. I would sometimes sit in the store for more than an hour, imaging the magnificent house was mine. The visits stopped in early November when my father got too sick to take me. He died the day before Thanksgiving.
       Somehow his death changed everything. My father had been sick for years, but I never thought he would ever actually die. Thanksgiving was unbearable. I couldn’t figure out what we were giving thanks for as we sat in a lonely cafeteria, quietly eating our turkey entrees.
       That weekend, I begged my mother to take me to see the dollhouse. Though she’d heard about it in much detail, she’d never seen it. I’d always gone with my father.
       She was hesitant. I stood firm. Finally, I dragged her through the crowded mall and into the store. I was confident once she saw it, she’d understand.
       But it wasn’t there. The sales lady told us it had been sold.
       My mother offered to help me find another dollhouse. It wouldn’t be the same, I explained. That was our house. It belonged to daddy and me. Now they were both gone. I was inconsolable for days.
      The weeks drifted by until Christmas. Everyone tried to be happy and act as if nothing was missing. But my father’s absence was overwhelming and even the brightest tree lights couldn’t it. I dreaded Christmas Day. I figured it would be a repeat of that empty Thanksgiving, only worse.
       I woke late on Christmas morning. The adults, which included all of my brothers and sisters, had already finished at least one cup of coffee. I rubbed my sleepy eyes and saw the tree. Underneath it was a large, bulky object covered with a white sheet. A red bow and a small card were awkwardly taped to the top.
       I went over and read the card, then slowly pulled back the sheet.
       It was my dollhouse.
       I turned to look around the hushed room. All of my family was looking at me with quiet expectation.
       “How…?” I whispered. But I knew. My mother later told me my father had bought it for me just before he died. He gave her only one instruction.
      “Tell her it’s from Santa.”


A note about this story:
This story originally ran on December 20, 1992, in the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune under the headline “A present wrapped in sorry and joy.” It was nominated for several awards, and it remains one of my favorite stories. My older brother Doug provided much of the furniture for the house, and my other brother Mike helped me wallpaper its small walls and even installed lights. The dollhouse was ultimately damaged in storage when I went away to college. But the memory of it, and what it represented, remains with me to this day.


2 responses to “The Dollhouse: A Christmas Story

  1. wow nice story i build doll houses for little kds for free i make them and suprise little kids i see on the streets that r homeless or give them to an orphanage and rileys hospital this is a touching story and makes me wantto build an extra dollhouse this year

    • Kathleen Flinn

      Thanks! A variation of this story anchors the end of my upcoming book. That’s so nice that you make dollhouses for children, what a special gift.

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