A Story Of Christmas Remembered By Jean McNeill De Hayes
It must have been 1931 or 32, because it was during the depression. I was only five or six, and we lived in an upper flat on the Westside of Detroit. You came up a flight of stairs and along a hallway to a door leading into the flat. 4838 Vernor – or was it 3848, I can’t remember. It was between Morrell and Ferdinand. My family went to the Holy Redeemer church, and I attended McKinstry grade school on Lansing.
One day, my mother heard someone coming up the stairs, and he was yelling, “Merry Christmas! This is Santa Claus! No child without a Christmas gift!” He had three boxes, and in them were a doll, a truck and a pair of boots, with a jack knife. After he handed them to my mother, he went back down the stairs and out the door.
A short while later, he came back and gave my mother another box. “I forgot to give you a doll,” he said, and then he turned and headed down the stairs. My mother told me later that she held the box and thought, “Now, I have two dolls for my daughter.” We were very poor, although at the time I didn’t know it.
The next day, it began to bother her. “I will never forgive myself,” mother said, in her thick Scottish Brogue accent. “I wonder what wee little girl will be without a doll this Christmas?”
“No mother,” I said. “Whosever name is on Santa’s list will get a gift.”
“I should have ran after him,” she said. “I could have ran after him, and I didn’t.”
We used to get a free bottle of milk in the morning, and two graham crackers. But, we had to have a ticket, and I don’t know how we got on the list – maybe, it was the school? One girl said, “You get milk because you’re poor. Only the poor people get that.”
My mother said, “That’s not true. You’re getting that because you’re a good girl.”And, then someone said that I had welfare shoes on. You had to get a ticket downtown, all the shoes were the same, Oxfords, with that tongue on them, a flap on top, and I said, “Mine are not welfare shoes,” even though I didn’t know what welfare was. So, my mother cut the flap and put different laces on them. “There,” she said. “Now, they don’t look like everybody else’s.”
Mother thought about that doll several times during the year. Every Christmas, it was like a knife to her heart. “I wonder what wee little girl . . . ” she would say, with her head down and her hands clasped. She always gave to Goodfellows after that, and she never walked past the big, red kettle (Salvation Army) without putting something in it. She must have been around 35 when that happened. She died at 87.
On her deathbed, she still thought of that doll and begged my husband Ken and I to “always take good care of The Goodfellows.” I like to think that when my mom, Sarah McNeill died there was a wee little girl with a doll in her arms to greet her.
The Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund of Detroit is a 95-year-old charity founded in 1914 by James J. Brady. The organization includes 300 members whose sole mission is to ensure that there is “No Kiddie without a Christmas.” Each holiday season the Detroit Goodfellows distribute holiday gift boxes to children ages four through 13 living in Detroit, Highland Park, River Rouge and Hamtramck. Each child receives warm clothing, toys, books, games and candy. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to the Detroit Goodfellows, please send a check payable to the Detroit Goodfellows to P.O. Box 44444, Detroit, MI 48244-0444. You may also make an online gift using your VISA or MASTERCARD by going to www.detroitgoodfellows.org/donate