Yuletide Mystery: The Case of the Disappearing Doll

“You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why…”

Christmas: That magical time of year when we bribe children into good behavior under the watchful eye of Santa Claus and his army, a.k.a. the Elf on the Shelf. As children discover whether their efforts result in toys or lumps of coal, parents will search for new strategies to coerce them into being good during the off-season. Or, if they’re anything like my parents, gift-wrapped reward or no, they’ll have the audacity to expect good behavior year round. Still, if it was Christmas-related, my parents weren’t above playing the Santa card. Which brings me to a tale of one of my Christmases long, long ago.

Living far from extended family, our Christmas Day was spent at home, with the promise of additional celebrating when we traveled during the better weather months. To our childhood greedy sides, a second Christmas meant an additional opportunity for gifts, especially since grandparents, aunts, and uncles were more than happy to spoil us. We always knew what to expect, down to traditional gifts from certain family members: ornaments based on our interests, the annual Hess truck, and, key to this story, my Christmas Barbie.

Late one February, we were returning from such a visit and I was a less than pleasant road trip companion. I was about five, give or take a year (young enough that some of the details are hazy but old enough to have known better). While no one can recall why I felt compelled to carry on at such a high volume, we all remember Dad’s warned consequence that I would lose a present.

The year’s Christmas Barbie was a pricey, fight-the-Black-Friday-crowds kind of item back then, usually gifted to me by my grandma and an aunt. It was also my favorite to bring home from our extended family Christmas. Dad, in growing frustration, announced Santa would make Christmas Barbie disappear if I didn’t knock off the nonsense. Since I was such a logical and reasonable child … OK, fine, I didn’t listen. I did at least continue my carrying on at a slightly lower volume.

When we got home after the five hour trip that probably felt like 20 for my poor family, unpacking of the car commenced and I was probably sent to bed. While I don’t remember the tantrum nor the immediate consequences, I do remember getting the dreaded news: Dad could not find the doll. What’s more, it didn’t reappear in a day or so as one would expect, even after repentance. Nope, it wasn’t found until the summer. I was helping Dad clean out part of the basement when what to our wondering eyes should appear but the missing Christmas Barbie.

Sure, you say, Dad hid it away to say “Santa” took it, but he insists to this day he has no clue where it went. Mom and my siblings insist they know nothing. Phone calls were made at the time to see if we left it behind, but everyone who helped us pack remembered the doll being put in the car. It must be that someone doesn’t want to confess to hiding it, or possibly even forgot they did. After all, I’ve forgotten an apparently colossal temper tantrum. There has to be a reasonable explanation, right? Of course, but I confess, there’s a Miracle on 34th Street part of me that believes.

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