Missouri Life’s editor-in-chief, Sandy Selby, tells a wonderful holiday story. Loving, losing, and finding her angel tree-topper with the dress made by Sandy’s grandmother. And, of course, this angel was in the last place she could look.

My grandmother Della was a professional seamstress and gifted needlework artist. She created a collection of doll outfits in the 1960s, including this one-of-a-kind angel dress.
Photo Credit: Photo by Sandy Selby

I WAS HEARTBROKEN WHEN MY MOTHER TOLD ME THE ANGEL WAS GONE. That fragile tree-topper with the pretty crocheted dress was my favorite part of the family Christmas tree as I was growing up. Half a century later, as Mom’s health began to fail, she gave me many of the Christmas heirlooms I loved—the nativity set, the lighted ceramic Christmas tree, and a kooky cookie jar. But where was the angel?

Mom confessed that she hadn’t seen that angel in years and probably hadn’t kept her. The doll, she said, was falling apart, so she must have thrown her away.

As I went through box after box of ornaments, tchotchkes, and holiday finery after my mother’s death, I held on to a fantasy of finding the angel. But I reluctantly accepted that I would not see her again.

The doll beneath the angelic makeover was an inexpensive plastic toy, but my grandmother had created her delicate, meticulously crocheted dress. The skirt and sleeves were lacy and decorated with tiny silver sequins. Beneath the crocheted layer, to preserve the angel’s modesty, was a finely sewn satin gown. The crocheted wings were embellished, too, and stiffened with wire. I can’t imagine how many hours Grandmother put into making the heavenly garment, but as a child, I thought it was the loveliest dress any doll had ever worn.

For weeks in late 2021, I went through every closet and cupboard in my mom’s house. I opened each box, setting aside family keepsakes and leaving the rest for the auctioneer to sort. The storage room under the garage was the last space I had to tackle. That’s where Mom kept boxes and barrels full of decorations for every holiday. I couldn’t help but feel a tingle of hope every time I cut the tape on an old box. I did rediscover many happy memories, but there was no angel.

I was down to one last shipping barrel in the back corner of the room. I unlatched the metal ring, lifted the lid, and found the barrel stuffed to the brim with ropes of plastic greenery—another disappointment. Yet some impulse, perhaps an angel, compelled me to pull out every piece of that greenery rather than shov- ing the barrel back into the corner.

It was there, at the bottom of the last unexplored container in the house, wrapped in decades-old layers of tissue paper, that I found my angel.

I sat down on the cold concrete and cried like the child I had been the last time I laid eyes on that sweet tree topper.

My Christmas tree will never be featured in a design magazine, but I wouldn’t trade my hodgepodge of memories for a color-coordinated showpiece. Over the years, I’ve topped our family tree with glittery stars, a jaunty hat, and even a fancy lighted angel. Those days are over. From now until my last Christmas on this Earth, a glued-together angel with a homemade dress will watch over me.

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Read more of My Missouri Life, by Sandy Selby here and here

Article originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of Missouri Life.