When I was a Girl on New Year’s Day

In 1889 Isabella wrote this charming recollection from her childhood of a very special New Year’s Day:


I close my eyes and go back in fancy to that morning long, long ago. New Year’s morning when I was eight years old.

Cold! Oh, how cold it was! Great icicles hanging from the eaves, frost covering the window-panes, snow festooning the trees and hiding the ground, and the whole air a-tingle with the music of sleigh bells. How beautiful it all was.

Illustration of a winter day with bright sunshine and a wide avenue covered in snow. two horse-drawn sleighs full of people pass each other going opposite directions and the occupants ave at each other. Behind them are the outlines of multi-story buildings, trees without leaves, and a vivid blue sky.

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Those frosted window panes, by the way, were a source of never-ending temptation to me. I wouldn’t like to have to try to recall the number of times my fingers had to be “snapped” for forgetting that I was on no account to indulge in my favorite amusement of making “thimble chains.” I don’t quite understand what the fascination was, or is, but to this day I find it almost impossible to pass a frosted window pane, with a thimble anywhere in sight, and not stop to make just a few of those magic chains in which my childhood delighted.

Illustration of the outside of a home's open window. Snow and frost cling to the panes and the wooden trim around the window. Sprigs of holly adorn the top of the window and the bottom corners. A red robin sits on the window ledge and peeks inside.

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What a pity it seemed that the contact of my chubby fingers with the clear glass should soil it, and that my mother, whose artistic taste was not so highly cultivated as mine, would not permit the amusement.

On this particular New Year’s morning the frost was unusually thick, and my sister Mary’s thimble stood on the window-seat. It was father’s warning voice that saved me, just as I was about to make a marvelous chain, which should connect two lovely frost castles.

“Take care,” he said. “Think what a pity it would be if a certain stocking which I saw hanging in the chimney corner should have to hang there all day just because a little girl forgot.”

Illustration of a little girl wearing a red dress and brown pinafore, stockings and boots. In her hand she holds the pull string for a toy wooden toy cart on wheels. She stands beside a basket of plants at a window, where frost and snow flakes have covered the outside of the window.

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I set the thimble down with an exclamation of dismay. What if I had forgotten again? Mother had decreed that the stocking, which I longed to examine, should remain untouched until after breakfast, because at Christmas time I had been so “crazy” over my presents as to be unable to eat any breakfast. For a small moment I had forgotten the stocking, though it had been on my mind all the morning, and but for father the mischief would have been done.

I went over to him to express my joy in his having saved me, and to ask him privately whether he really believed that breakfast would ever be ready and eaten and prayers be over, so I could have my stocking.

He laughed, and asked me if I supposed I would ever learn patience. “I suppose,” he said gravely, “that time will travel fast enough for you one of these days. I can remember when a week used to seem longer to me than a whole year does now.”

I exclaimed over that. I said I thought a year was a very long time indeed; that I was really almost discouraged with time, it went so slowly. I said it seemed to me that I had been waiting half a lifetime for this day to come.

He laughed again, said I was at the impatient age; then, looking serious, he repeated these lines:

“Eighteen hundred and forty-eight is now forever past: Eighteen hundred and forty-nine will fly away as fast.”

“Oh, dear me!” I said. “If it doesn’t fly faster than this has, I don’t know what I shall do. It does seem too long to wait for Christmases and New Year’s; I wish we could have two of them in a year.”

Instead of laughing at my folly, father evidently decided to give me something else to think about. He was sitting near the door of the kitchen, where my mother was at work. The kitchen walls were painted. “Mother,” he said, “may we write on the walls, since we mustn’t on the windows?”

“I should not think that would be a very great improvement on window-writing,” my mother said, but she smiled as she spoke. It was evident that it made a great difference with my mother whose plan was to be carried out; she never interfered with anything that my father chose to do. He selected from the box nearby a lovely pine board as smooth as a slate, and handed it to me.

“You may use that, and I’ll use the wall,” he said, “and we’ll see which can write our verse the quickest.”

I had been writing for two years, and prided myself on the speed and neatness of my work, but long before I had finished the lines they appeared on the wall.

“Eighteen hundred and forty-eight is now forever past: Eighteen hundred and forty-nine will fly away as fast.”

“Yes,” said my mother, pausing in her swift movements to glance at the couplet, “that it will. It has begun already; the first morning is flying too fast for me. Come to breakfast.”

I am a long while in reaching that waiting stocking, but that is to correspond with the length of time I had to wait. It seemed longer to me then than it does to look back upon it. At last the treasure was in my arms. What do you think it contained? A lovely dollie about as long as my hand, beautifully dressed, not like a fashionable lady ready for a party, but like a dear little home baby, in a long white slip frilled at the neck, precisely as my own baby slips used to be—indeed I learned after­wards that it was made from a piece of one of them. I cannot possibly make you understand, I presume, how precious that little creature was to me.

Illustration of little girl in red polka dot dress and red hair bow looking up at a stocking hanging from above. The stocking holds a sprig of holly, a long peppermint stick and a doll with short blonde hair and a red tunic over a white blouse.

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I suppose you are imagining a wax doll with “real” hair, and lovely blue eyes and rosy cheeks? No, she was not made of anything so cold and hard as wax. She was a rag baby—limbs and face and all—made by my mother’s own dear hand, cut from a pattern which she herself had fashioned. What a work it must have been! I never realized it until a few years ago, when I tried to cut a pattern for a dollie for my little son.

This work was beautifully done. Black eyes, my baby had, and black hair, both made care­fully with pen and ink! Red checks, she had, too, and lovely rosy lips. Will you love her the less, I wonder, when I confess to you that these were made with beet juice?

Illustration of a little girl in 1910 attire of dress, pinafore, stockings and boots. She is holding a doll dressed in white cap and long white dress and wrapped in a blue blanket.

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Oh, but she was a darling! Much the most carefully made dollie I had ever owned. Here­tofore I had been content with mother’s little shawl, or her long clean apron rolled up and pinned; now I had a dollie for which clothes had been made not only, but arms and feet; and actually her dress was not sewed on her, but unbuttoned and came off, and a neat little night-gown went on.

Never was I happier in my life than when I made this last crowning discovery.

I named her—you could not guess what, so I’ll tell you at once—Arathusa Angeline, and I thought the name was lovely.

“Take good care of her,” said my father, looking on with a smile of infinite sympathy, “there’s no telling what may happen to her, you know, before ‘eighteen hundred and forty-nine’ has flown away.”

Illustration of a little girl holding a doll looking out a frosty window.

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