Patricia Oliver finds rare first Christmas gift from 1948 in closet
On a recent December Sunday morning as Patricia Oliver attended Mount Zion Baptist Church, her interim pastor Jack Holland asked his congregation this question, “Does anybody still have their very first Christmas gift?”
Oliver’s mind immediately recalled the small old baby doll tucked away somewhere in her home that her mother gave her on her first Christmas 65 years ago. So, to all her church member’s complete surprise, she raised her hand and said, “Yes, I do!”
Her pastor’s question piqued her curiosity about the doll so, when she got home that day, she began the hunt for the gift and discovered that she did still have the antique doll long ago stored in a closet. As she lovingly held the 65-year-old doll again, family heritage stories surrounding her first Christmas flooded her memory.
It was the Christmas of 1948.
According to Oliver’s family history, her mother, Earlene Parris Fisher, the oldest of eight children who had to quit school in the sixth grade to help care for her younger siblings, got married when she was 20 years old to Howard Fisher in 1945 after he served in the U.S. Navy in World War II.
On her wedding day, her mother had much hope for a happy life with the love of her life. However, her husband’s alcohol addiction quickly became a dark cloud over their young marriage.
That cloud was darkest the day her husband was thrown in jail for six months for breaking into Scott’s Creek Elementary School in Sylva and stealing tomato juice. “He had been drunk on white liquor, and he and his buddies stole the tomato juice to soothe their stomachs,” explained Oliver.
Her mother temporarily moved from her home in the Dark Ridge community in Sylva to live with her parents, Fred and Lula Parris, in their home in the Buff Creek community in Sylva – the home where Oliver was born on Oct. 22, 1948. “Mama always told me that her labor started at 3:30 a.m. and they didn’t have a vehicle to drive her to the hospital, and I came so fast that I was born at 4:10 a.m. and my grandmother had to deliver me,” said Oliver, noting she weighed 10 pounds at birth and was born on her grandfather Fred Parris’s birthday.
That chilly fall early morning when Oliver was born, her father was asleep nearby in the county jail.
Oliver said her mother told her she used to stand and look out the window and pray her husband would never come home. As she watched the winter of 1948 usher in bitter cold weather outside that window, her mother, then with a 2-year-old boy and a newborn baby girl, was overwhelmed with the unanswered question of “How am I going to care for my children alone with a sixth grade education?”
In that hopeless moment, her mother gathered all the determination she could muster and made the decision that she would give her children a better life. She didn’t have much money, but she would buy them one Christmas gift each — a symbol of hope for that better life.
She walked to the little country store that Oliver’s Uncle John Parris owned and purchased a small truck for her son, Cecil, and the tiny doll for her baby girl. Some of the country store is still standing today behind the present Scott’s Creek Elementary School, noted Oliver.
In 1948, gas was 26 cents a gallon, bread was 14 cents and a stamp was 3 cents.
“I don’t know exactly how much the doll would have cost back then, but it was probably somewhere between a quarter and a dollar,” Oliver said.
Originally, the doll, American-made and manufactured by the Sun Rubber Company, had a little gown on it, had bright blue eyes and held a bottle. Oliver’s mother insisted that she not play with the doll but preserve it because it was her first doll.
“I remember I wanted to put water in that bottle one time and Mama said, ‘Don’t you ruin that doll!’” she recalled.
The bright blue-eyed doll often motivated Oliver’s mother to keep going when she took a job at the old Waynesville Laundry in the Frog Level community in Waynesville.
“Mama walked two and a half miles each way to catch a ride to work and back home when she worked at the laundry,” said Oliver, adding that her mother also worked at the Silco sewing factory in Sylva and the Buster Brown sewing company in Sylva where she retired after 30 years of service.
“After all those years of Mama providing for us, Daddy did finally sober up and quit drinking when he was 52 years old and he was saved and baptized,” said Oliver.
Now, as Oliver looks at the doll that is now 65 years old – the same age she is – she sees visible differences in the doll even though the arms and legs surprisingly still work. The tiny cloth gown deteriorated over the years and the little bottle and left pinky finger are now both missing.
“One time the doll got mildewed and when I cleaned it, the eyes came off,” she said.
Even though the doll’s bright blue eyes don’t sparkle anymore, Oliver’s eyes still shine bright when she looks at her first Christmas gift because looking at the doll always reminds her of her mother’s determined spirit and the Christmas gift she gave her as a baby – a lifetime gift of hope that she plans to pass down in her family.
“I plan to pass the doll down to my niece, Christy,” said Oliver.