How Little Thumbelina Was Lovable - Until She Wasn't


A Favorite Holiday Memory For Me and Other Girls of a Certain Era

"Thumbelina" by Donna Cazadd is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

"Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child's loss of a dollar and a king's loss of a crown are events of the same size." - Mark Twain

Daddy killed Thumbelina.

“Oh, Missi, I’m so sorry! I’ll take her to the doctor and get her fixed. I promise. Right away. She’ll be back and good as new in no time!” Daddy was doing everything he could to placate me.

“But Daddy! I didn’t even get to play with her,” I moaned, chin quivering.

The little white plastic cradle wasn’t rocking and wasn’t filled with the baby I had longed for for so long. My very own little Thumbelina baby.

Daddy’s earnest apology and chagrined face didn’t do a lot to ease my sorrow. I had barely gotten her unwrapped and had just started to hold and rock her that Christmas morning before Daddy excitedly said,

“Miss, let me show you how she works. She moves her head and arms just like a real baby.”

Reluctantly, I handed over my own personal bundle of joy, never suspecting the tragic outcome.

Daddy turned her over and put his big hand over the round knob on her back while he talked.

“It’s really neat,”

he said giving her knob a full rotation.

“What toys can do nowadays!”

He grinned at me and turned the dial again.

“She nods her head and moves her arms.”

Daddy held her up in front of me and then he cranked that knob two more rotations for good measure.

“Missi, Thumbelina feels like a real baby!”

Daddy beamed as he wound that wheel yet another couple of turns.

“Daddy! Let me do it!”

I was nearly bursting with excitement over my new baby doll.

Daddy, however, just couldn’t let go.

One Good Turn Does Not Deserve Another

Winding the knob on Thumbelina’s back one more time to ensure she’d be gyrating enough when I got to hold her, he held her out to me.

My waiting arms were reaching desperately for my new baby, ready to welcome her into my life when a noise shrieked out of her. A terrible, strangling, popping moan hung in the cinnamon-scented air of Christmas morning.

Thumbelina would not move again that day…or for several months after.

Daddy had singlehandedly popped the plaything I wanted most, literally robbing the cradle. He felt horrible, but I was sad, mad, and disappointed, a five-year-old whose wounded soul became Daddy’s first priority that Christmas morning. Taking care of Thumbelina became his second.

The day after Christmas, Daddy chauffeured Thumbelina all the way across Louisville to a toy store a long way from home. He laughed when the manager admitted to him,

“Yep. there are probably a hundred Thumbelinas in need of a doll doctor today. However, sir,”

the manager quipped,

“most of the patients at our toy hospital were wound up too tight by excited little girls, not by their excited fathers.”

Home From the Hospital, But Not for the Holidays

A couple of months later, Thumbelina finally returned home, and I was glad to see her. Sort of. After the crisis of that Christmas morning, I was a little afraid of her. Even with her new, working knob and her pretty eyes, she reminded me that she could explode from the inside-out at any moment. I worried that I would kill my own baby in some kind of psychotic winding spree.

Thumbelina never again held the same charm for me that she had in that first instant I saw her on Christmas morning, right after she was unwrapped and placed in my arms, sweet and unmutilated. I wanted her the most right before Daddy got hold of her.

I only wished I could have loved her as much as he had.


Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

This story is excerpted from the upcoming memoir, "The Magic of Ordinary, a personal story of life with a loving father; a universal story of the force of a father's love.

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Melissa Gouty is a copywriter, author, teacher, and speaker. She is the founder of, a website for readers, writers, and thinkers. A keen observer of human nature, Melissa writes "Heartfelt Stories" in addition to articles on history, marketing, culture, and travel. Her book, The Magic of Ordinary, is a heart-warming depiction of growing up in the 1960s with a father who made life magical.

Danville, IL

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