The dolls of Christmas

Eleanor Prom’s doll ornaments, acquired over many years from all over the world, bring beauty to her Belgium home and Christmas memories to cherish
Ozaukee Press staff

Eleanor Prom stood next to her Christmas tree in her Belgium home, shook her head and smiled.

“I don’t know,” she said.

Prom has never counted how many doll ornaments she has that more than fill her tree each year.

But she vividly remembers how her collection started.

Prom lost her job — at $20,000 per year, her first good-paying gig after college graduation — as an accountant at a heating and plumbing firm on Dec. 31, 1980.

She still had to support four children in college and two in high school.

“My morale sunk into my shoes. I hit bottom with depression. I did not have the energy or enthusiasm to look for another job,” she said.

After weeks of self-pity and her children interested in their own lives, Prom said she realized how fruitless it was to sit around in despair.

She had been involved in starting the first grief ministry group in southeast Wisconsin years before and thought she could better serve people if she had a counseling degree.

The University of Wisconsin-Stout offered certification in one semester. She already had the required bachelor’s degree and four psychology courses.

Prom registered and moved in with her son and fellow Stout student. She returned on weekends to “guide my high school kids for the next week.”

During her studies, students were required to share a personal story about their childhood with another student.

Prom told Diane Fosslue from Minneapolis about the time she and her younger sister Lona each got a doll for Christmas.

Prom had begged for a doll for years, but her family was poor and she had to wait until she was 10 to get her first doll for Christmas.

“It was a pretty doll with light brown curls, a pink pinafore dress, white shoes and socks, about 15 inches tall. I was pleased and happy that I finally received my doll,” she said.

“Lona’s doll was a pretty blonde doll with curly hair, a pink ruffled dress, white shoes and socks. The doll looked like Shirley Temple. Both dolls had moving eyes with eyelashes, along with pearly white teeth.”

The two sisters played house for most of the day.

“We danced in the living room, swirling around and around as we played to the music on the phonograph. We had such a wonderful time all day, playing house and dancing with our dolls,” Prom said.

“At bedtime we gently set them at the leg of the Christmas tree stand.”

But when Prom woke up the next day, she found that her brother had poked in the eyes of her doll.

“I cried and hugged my doll as though it was a real person,” she said.

The week after the semester, Prom received something special in her mailbox. It was a blue match box doll from Fosslue with a note that said, “Here is the doll you never had.”

“And that,” Prom said, “started my collection of dolls.”

Her second doll also came unexpectedly, this time on a trip with friends to see Danny O’Donnell.

Prom traveled with two of her friends, Audrey and Butchie, who sat together on the bus. The seat next to Prom was empty, “open for a partner for me,” she said.

The bus stopped to pick up Sonja, a 43-year-old from South Milwaukee, who sat next to Prom.

Prom said she could tell Sonja was “a little challenged,” but Prom enjoyed her company and invited her to come along with her friends every evening of the trip for pizza or pie. Sonja came along but declined on the final night.

“The next morning Sonja got on the bus with a packet in her hands. She had made a ballerina doll out of napkins. The skirt and headpiece were embroidered with the darning cotton that was packed in her suitcase,” Prom said.

Prom told her how special the doll is, and Sonja said, “I have been traveling 20 years and no one has ever included me and treated me so kindly like you did.”

Prom makes sure those two dolls are placed on the front of her tree each year.

She has since received dolls and doll ornaments from across the world.

Prom still does people’s taxes, and she often receives dolls from clients — who number 175, down from a high of 326 — when they travel.

“I just have fun thinking about people on their honeymoon who came back with a doll. Isn’t that a treasure?” she said.

Prom has at least one doll ornament from each state and all but two provinces in Canada.

A man dying of cancer who traveled the world sent her one from Cambodia. Her son-in-law got her one from Peru while on a business trip. A friend in the Peace Corps got her a doll from every country he served in overseas.

She has ornaments from Cuba, Ireland Scotland, the Isle of Capri and many countries in Africa. Her oldest is from 1923 from her children’s piano teacher. Some ornaments come in pairs — a male and female — and some are animals.

“Everything is a treasure here, but nothing is costly,” she said.

Prom’s tree goes up the weekend after Thanksgiving. The process can take up to two days.

“It takes me forever to decorate the tree because I think about all the stories,” she said.

Everyone who contributes to Prom’s tree receives a little holiday cheer in return.

“I just say thank you, and everybody gets a hug” she said.




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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