The Fifth Window: Christmas Morning 1972 or 1973
The picture has lightened with time, fading like the memory attached to the scene. There is no date stamped on the photograph, nor year scribbled on the back. But the subject is still clear: a girl, thirteen or fourteen, in front of a Christmas tree holding a doll on her lap. The girl is wearing a yellow t-shirt and plaid bell-bottoms, a smart and stylish teen-age outfit of those days. She is looking neither at the doll nor the camera. She is not smiling. Instead, she is gazing off-stage, displaying a vague sense of uncertainty, as if waiting for directions. The scene leaves an impression of being confused, paused at a place where the road turned in a different direction. The girl appears to be contemplating which path.
I am the girl. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was holding the last doll I would ever receive as a Christmas gift. Every Christmas of my childhood, my sister and I received Madame Alexander costume dolls. Historical dolls, dolls from foreign lands, special occasion dolls, and dolls of literary figures. On that morning, I sat with Scarlett O’Hara on my lap, the heroine of my just-read newly favorite book Gone With The Wind.
However much I treasured her at the time, it isn’t Scarlett who commands my attention. Instead, I look at the younger me. There I sit, a familiar childhood pose on Christmas with a toy next to the tree. But I am no longer a child. It is the snapshot of half girl, half woman. The gaze is both uncertain and knowing, both innocent and aware. It is almost as if I understood that at the same time next year, everything would be different. There will be no more dolls, no more toys with tags “For Diana from Santa.” Indeed, about a year or so after the picture was taken, I took my dolls down from my bedroom shelves and packed them away, replacing them with high school texts and yearbooks, mementos from proms and concerts and trips, photos of friends, stacks of college catalogs and applications.
I suppose many women have a picture like this, one that sums up the end of girlhood and the beginning of what will be. That was a magic Christmas, not because of Santa, but through the unfolding of time.
We have no pictures of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Artists through many centuries, however, have rendered her at the juncture of girlhood and womanhood. Thirteen or fourteen, she was engaged to marry Joseph, more grown-up certainly than many her age now, but even that bit of maturity surely paled when pregnant out of wedlock. Half-girl, half-woman, Mary bore the savior of her people, a task strangely discordant for such a tender time in the life of a teen-age girl.
When I look at my own picture of that time, I think of paintings of Mary, holding not a doll but a real baby on her lap. Unlike me, she was not holding the last token of childhood; rather, she cradled the infant, the first sign of her entrance into womanhood. But I cannot imagine she was anymore certain than I of the path ahead, of that fourteen year-old searching for direction. This time next year, she surely thought, everything will be different. All that is familiar will be left behind as the road curves in an unexpected direction. Where does this way go? She does not know. But we do. Her road leads to the Cross, that horrible moment when she will embrace the broken body of her tortured son. The teen-age mother of the stable will become the woman of lamentation.
The way of transformation from girlhood to womanhood is never easy. Yet, I consider myself fortunate. After all, I only had to put my dolls away in tissue paper in a box. Mary would have to wrap her baby in a grave cloth and lay him in a tomb.