When I was about 7, I had a doll, originally a “Betsy-Wetsy” doll, who had eyes that would close and who drank a bottle and wet her diaper (big toy technolgy when I got the doll, about 1949) I had had the doll a few years, left her out in the sun and rain, so her latex skin was blistered and dirty, and her eyes were rusted. Grownups were always telling me to throw her away. But she was my favorite, and I took her everywhere. Thanksgiving that year, we drove the 3 hours to New York City to spend the holiday with my favorite aunt, my father’s sister Ida.

Aunt Ida was a very special lady, a seamstress in a laundry, who, with her loving husband Tom, had raised three children. Their budget was very tight, but she always cooked a sumptuous feast for all of us—she was the matriarch of our large, Italian family.

After spending a warm and cozy family weekend in the city, we drove home, where I discovered to my dismay my beloved baby doll was missing. I had left her at Aunt Ida’s. Many tears later, my parents called to verify the doll was there, and my aunt said she'd keep her safe until we came back to visit again at Christmas. I longed for that doll, and worried about her, because I thought no one understood how much I loved her.

When Christmas came, and we drove again to the city, There was a big box under the tree for me, from Santa. In the box was my doll, looking as forlorn and abused as ever. But, with her, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, was a long, white christening dress, with lace, and matching hat, slip and panties. A peach brocade dress, again with all the accessories, and a lovely gingham puffed-sleeve dress with a lace pinafore and a sunbonnet. That poor, battered doll had clothes fit for a princess! Aunt Ida's loving heart and gifted hands had created these exquisite outfits for my doll. It was the most beautiful gift I have ever received. The dresses were magical enough to have come from Santa, but it took an adult who could see through the eyes of a child to understand how important it would be to me.

It wasn’t until many years later that I understood the deeper meaning. My doll represented the parts of myself that were not perfect, my faults which were frequently criticized and for which I felt in danger of being rejected. My warm and understanding aunt, a wellspring of maternal love, had seen my need and my vulnerability, and showed me in an unforgettable way that even the imperfect parts of me were deserving of love and attention.

Aunt Ida died when I was 15, and the rest of my family were all gone by the time I was 18. The memory of her love and acceptance has carried me through many hard times since. She truly saw with eyes of love.
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