Author photo

By Sheila Zanghi
contributing writer 

A Cupie Doll Christmas


December 17, 2022

Sheila Zanghi.

I remember how cold and snowy it was the winter before we moved to California from Minnesota. I would play outside in that cold until I could barely move. I fondly remember the huge oil heater in the living room. To defrost me, my dad would stand me on top of it and leave me there until I could feel my toes then he would help me out of my snowsuit.

I had inherited a well-used suit when I was 2 and now I was 5. Pulling me out of the snowsuit took strength and patience. This dangerous snowsuit was too small, and the metal zipper would continually catch the skin under my chin. I can still feel the bite of that vicious zipper to this day.

That Christmas Eve was going to be exciting. Mom had finished my costume for the Christmas Show. My costume and bonnet were made of shiny, white satin with big green polka dots on it. The trim was rows of scratchy green netting. The fabulous part of the costume was the two sticks with jingle bells attached at one end and we would hold one in each hand to keep time with the music. What fun! There had been one rehearsal where plans for our Cupie Doll look had been hatched. The mothers had based their costume decisions on what Shirley would do. Back then all mothers wanted their girls to be like Shirley Temple.

The big night came. We got to the school auditorium and met with our group in a classroom. Parents, teachers and kids were super excited and ready to go on stage. Soon the program started, and we could hear the older kids doing their songs and dances. We could not wait. We wanted to see but two moms kept us corralled in the classroom. One girl named Sandy took her white patent leather shoes off. A mom tried to have her put them back on as other girls followed Sandy's example. My ill-fitting shoes were beautiful, so I kept them on, sticks in my hands and focused. I was ready for my performance.

Finally, they ushered us out and onto the stage. The Cupie Dolls lined up, most with white patent leather shoes and now three just in their white socks. The music started, "Jingle bells, jingle bells..." The teacher motioned us to make the bells jingle. I knew what to do because mom made me practice. I guess some moms thought bell ringing was an innate ability because most of the Cupies did not know what to do. I was tapping the sticks in the air and singing along with the girl next to me but on the far end shoeless Sandy had decided to use the sticks to attack the stage decorations. Other Cupies joined her.

In retrospect I realize our group must have looked demented, but we were the beloved children of our community and therefore immune to criticism. When the song was over, we went back to the classroom where we were treated to hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. We were profusely congratulated on our wonderful performance – a performance that was never reproduced in the town's history.

I have thought about the lessons learned that day, like zippers are dangerous inventions and never to be trusted. Rehearsing can prevent embarrassment. Also, when little kids perform, for heaven's sake put them on first. But mostly I think about the parents who looked at their Cupie Doll kids and thought we were impressively excellent, which proves parents really are cockeyed optimists and immune to reality.

I hope you have wonderful memories in the making this season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


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