The China Doll

by “Ant” Dee

(Based on a true story about my Mom who lived her Young Life in an Orphanage)

April 21, 1916- August, 2005)

copyright 2002


Something wasn’t right! She didn’t know what it was for she was too young to understand the signs. Viola, only 2 1/2 years old took her mother’s hand obediently as she stepped onto the streetcar, followed by her sister and two brothers. Her mother was strangely quiet as they rode toward town. Her brothers and sister were also oddly quiet and there was no doubt that something was quite wrong.

When the streetcar came to a halt in front of an extremely large house in the center of town, her mom motioned for her to walk with her up the long entranceway toward the house. One brother on seeing a sign in front of the house remarked, “Orphanage”. Viola wondered, “What is an orphanage?”

Viola felt her mother’s hand tremble in hers as she knocked on the house’s enormous red door. Streams of tears ran down her mother’s face for she knew what she was about to do. Her fist hit once; twice. Her mother’s hand felt lifeless as she stared forward, fearful of looking into the eyes of her children. Somehow she must get through this moment. The gigantic door slowly opened and Viola could hear the old mansion’s door hinges squeak.

Standing in the doorway was a gruff looking older man. With seemingly no emotion, he grunted, “Come in”. Her mother squeezed Viola’s hand and walked forward and stared into space as if in a trance. The children huddled close to her for this was unfamiliar territory and they felt their mother’s uneasiness. They all followed obediently into a large cold room. She quickly straightened the children’s hair and wiped the ice cream, she had just given the children, off of Viola’s face.

A tall stern woman came into the room. She looked at the children as if examining imperfections in an apple that she was about to buy. Coldly she speaks. “So, these are the children you’ve told me about”? “Told me about”? Viola was wondering, what does that mean? “Yes, Madame,” their mother answered. “They are extremely obedient and I know they won’t cause you any trouble”.

“Martha”, the woman shouted, “Please show the children where they will sleep.” Confused and scared, Viola grabbed her mother’s dress as the lady tried to guide her away. “Viola, you must go with Martha. It will be all right.” It never was!

Years went by and Viola’s mother rarely showed her face at the orphanage. Every Sunday was “Visiting Day”. This was a special day when parents came to see their children at the orphanage. There was a large grassy picnic area with tables for the families to sit and spend time together. Viola and her brothers and sister sat on the picnic table waiting patiently each Sunday for their mother’s visit. They would sit and watch other children and their families laugh and hug one another. But it was rare that their mother ever showed up on “Visiting Day; on any day. Viola’s older brother would always make sure to save a nickel for Sunday. He would give it to Viola when he could see that their mom was not going to come. He could not bear to see his baby sister’s disappointment. He would say, ‘”Come on, Sis! Let’s go get some candy.” They would run together to buy a piece of candy: A poor replacement for a mother’s love and presence.

However, today was a different day. It was Viola’s tenth birthday. She couldn’t believe her eyes. There she was; her mother. She ran and hugged her so tight as if never to let her go. Her mom seemed embarrassed and brushed her away with a gesture, a present. In her mother’s hand was a box. She carefully handed the box to Viola. Her mother didn’t seem to understand that the greatest gift she could give was taking the time to be with her children. It had been so long since they had seen her. Viola excitedly opened the box to see what was inside.

As she peered into the box, her face glowed with awe and delight as she saw a china baby doll. She was so beautiful that it almost took her breath away. She had a china head, arms, and legs with a soft cloth body that was perfect for hugging. She was dressed in a long white dress with a white bonnet decorated with lace and pink ribbons. Pink was Viola’s favorite color. She began to jump around in excitement and almost dropped her. “Viola, her mom cautioned, be sure to take good care of your new baby doll for she is your last doll.”

She named her doll “Baby” because as far as she was concerned, this doll was her baby. She was the most beautiful present she had ever had. She treasured “Baby” with all her heart. A gift of love. A gift from her mother. However, truly her heart’s wish was to spend more time with her mother because she loved her so much. She knew that wouldn’t happen and so she thought; now Baby could at least be there for her.

At the orphanage, the children each had one small locker to store their belongings. In Viola’s locker she kept her coat, hat, mittens, and her precious china doll, Baby. Although most of the time Baby was with her.

One cold, wintry day, she ran to grab her coat and mittens from her locker. To her horror, as she pulled out her coat, “Baby” came crashing to the ground. “Baby” shattered into hundreds of pieces.

At the sight of the broken doll, Viola’s heart broke. Her beautiful “Baby” was destroyed. No amount of glue could ever mend “Baby”. Her heart sank deeper as these words flooded her mind, “Viola, be sure to take good care of your new baby for she is your last doll.” She knew her mother meant what she said and didn’t believe she was loved enough to be forgiven for her carelessness.

As she picked up the shattered doll, the tears began to flow. She knew that she had no hope of ever repairing her precious Baby. Baby was gone forever. After she swept up the last broken pieces, she picked up what was left of her Baby, ran to her room and collapsed onto her bed. Not only was Baby shattered, but Viola’s heart shattered at that same moment. She cried until no more tears would come. Exhausted, she fell asleep.

Years went by, and more important things faded the loss of her china doll. However, the hurt was never completely healed, for Baby was more to her than just a doll. Baby was a symbol of love. A gift from her mother.

At 13 years of age she left the orphanage and was bounced around from family to family. At 25 she married a loving man who had known her since she was 16. She had five wonderful children with 2 boys and 3 girls. She was determined to keep her family together as well as teach them to love, respect, and support each other. With her husband’s help, she was able to accomplish her goal.

As the years passed her children became adults and had their own children. One day as she was shopping with one of her daughters, she saw a replica of her precious Baby that had been broken so long ago. She shared her story with her daughter about how Baby had shattered into hundreds of pieces while she was in the orphanage and how that shattered her heart.

Her daughter secretly called the rest of the family to tell them about the wonderful discovery and to tell them the story. They purchased the china doll for their mother. They wrapped the present with a pink bow, her favorite color, and presented her with the present. She excitedly opened the beautiful package and to her surprise she saw the china baby that was identical to her Baby. Seeing Baby took her back to the day she had received Baby from her mother and the day Baby shattered into hundreds of pieces. However, this time was different. With a tear in her eye, she realized that she finally did have someone in her life who loved her enough to replace her Baby. In fact, she had a whole family whose love now surrounded her. All the love she had given had been returned back to her in abundance.

Next, a mysterious thing happened. She took another look at Baby;

A closer look! With a puzzled expression, she announced, “Children, this Baby is exactly like my Baby with one exception.” She had our attention, as we anticipated her reply. There was a long silence and we were feeling a bit impatient.

“In what way, Mom?”

“This Baby”, still seeming a bit in shock or in quiet contemplation.

“Yes, Mom”

Another long pause.

“This Baby has a TEAR in her eye.” The room became silent. We all knew we were witnessing a miracle. A healed heart!


My mother’s childhood was harsh. She was provided with food, some education, and a roof over her head, for which she was grateful. However, the most important element was missing; a loving and supportive parent. Sometimes when children are young their lives may seem hopeless. If this is true of you, remember my mother’s story. Although her childhood was harsh, she created her own family and nurtured them with love and respect. By these acts she found love in return. She could have given up and chose to be angry and bitter. No one would have blamed her. But what good would that have done for her? She would have missed out on a lifetime of love. My mother died at 89 years of age and celebrated 64 years of marriage the day before she died. She had 5 children, 9 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.