Christmas Doll celebrates 100 years

Published 3:35 pm Sunday, December 28, 2008

(Editor’s note: The following is written by Joe Boone in loving memory of Rennie Draper Futrell (September 9, 1900 – March 27, 1973) The Christmas Gift is a true story that occurred at the turn of the 19th century in the Rehoboth Community, a small village in rural Northampton County located in northeastern North Carolina. The Rehoboth Methodist Church, founded by the famous Methodist Circuit Rider, Bishop Asbury in 1798, and Rehoboth Village School house where Grandmother Boone taught were the centers of the village and touched the lives of everyone. The community was one big family that cared deeply for each other. The village school was out for the fall harvest so the children could be involved in gathering the peanut, cotton and corn crops before the winter snow. This winter was promising to be as cold as last winter when the Roanoke River had frozen over and oxen were seen pulling logs across the ice to the old Weldon sawmill. Thanksgiving had passed and the children of the Rehoboth village had begun rehearsing for the annual Christmas program at the Methodist Church. It was in this quiet rural setting that the lives of two eight year old girls touched, shared and showed the community the spirit of Christmas in action. Life in 1908 was very simple, honest and full of feeling. Times were slower and people were thankful to God for the simple, but special blessings they enjoyed. Christmas meant the sharing of ones self and the giving of simple things that nearly always had a personal touch with genuine feeling and involvement by the giver. The sun was setting on a cold day in early December as Mary and Rennie waited anxiously at the cotton scales for Rennie’s father, Winfield Draper, to weigh the cotton Rennie had picked. “One hundred and five pounds, that is a good day’s work,” exclaimed Winfield Draper. Rennie was quick to reply, “Daddy, now that I have picked over a hundred pounds of cotton you must keep your promise. I want Santa Claus to bring me the red velvet doll in the show window at the Baugham and Weaver’s store. Mary and I have never had anything but corn shuck dolls and this Christmas, please tell Santa to bring each of us a Red Velvet doll with the long red velveteen dress.” Tom Slade, Mary’s father, and Winfield Draper had just finished putting the sheets of cotton under the shelter as their conversation returned to their girls desire to have store bought dolls for Christmas. “You know Winfield”, said Mr. Slade, the doctor says Mary has leukemia. She doesn’t know how serious it is and we want her to enjoy every minute she has left. This could be her last Christmas and I’m going to do my best to get her the doll Rennie and her often speak of called Red Velvet.” December had been a hard month for the Slades with Mary growing weaker and other members of the family being sick. It was the week before Christmas when Tom Slade was well enough to hitch his mule Katie to the buggy for the 10-mile trip to Rich Square. Mr. Slade searched every store, even the one where Winfield Draper had gotten Rennie’s doll earlier, but there were no dolls left. He sadly returned home and with tears in his eyes shared the disappointment with his wife. Mary’s room was close by and she over heard her father saying, I blame myself for not starting sooner, but I never thought it would be such a problem to find a doll. Mary could not restrain herself any longer as she cried, “Mother; Santa will bring me Red Velvet for Christmas; I know he will.” Mary’s mother grasping her daughter’s tiny hands in hers said, “don’t cry dear, God will provide, we must have faith.” Rennie awoke that Christmas morning in 1908 full of excitement. Why it is Christmas day she exclaimed with joy as she ran down the stairs. Her eyes became as bright as stars when she saw under the Christmas tree a beautiful doll wearing a long red velvet dress and with curly blonde hair that you could really comb. “Oh mother, it is Red Velvet, Christmas is so wonderful!” Rennie just hugged and hugged the doll of her dreams that Santa had brought for Christmas. She was so happy. Then she remembered her friend and earlier conversations at the Rehoboth Methodist Church’s Christmas program, about there being no doll at Mary’s home this Christmas. Rennie quickly bundled up and with Red Velvet hugged tightly in her arms went running to Mary’s house. Mary was still in the bed when she saw from her bedside window Rennie coming up the lane with the Red Velvet doll held tightly in her arms. Tears swelled in Mary’s eyes as Rennie gave her the doll to hold. Rennie had not come to boast of the doll, but to give a Christmas gift to her friend. Rennie’s next words echoed the spirit of Christmas through out the Rehoboth Community that Christmas of 1908. “Mary, Red Velvet is yours.” “Oh Rennie, is it really true, my very own store bought doll.” Tears flowed down each girl’s face and on to Red Velvet as they hugged each other and shared the happiness of the moment. Rennie returned home empty handed, but her heart was overflowing with the priceless gift of love. Christmas had come to Mary’s home through the heart of an eight-year-old girl named Rennie. Yes, the gift of the heart with the giver attached is the greatest gift one can give. In early spring the community wept and the church overflowed as all attended Mary’s funeral. Red Velvet was never to leave Mary’s side and was buried with her. Rennie was never to forget her friend or that Christmas. Mary’s parents never forgot Rennie and the next Christmas they gave her a doll in memory of Mary. A very special doll that Rennie would keep all the days of her life as a reminder of the most memorable Christmas she would know in her 72 years of giving. This Christmas doll is still cherished by Rennie’s family. This memory brings warmth to her family and the Rehoboth Community a 100 years since that most memorable Christmas. The doll is now in Lewes, Delaware with Rennie’s oldest granddaughter, Vera and is displayed at Christmas time. The Gift is a true story based on the unselfish giving of an eight-year-old girl at Christmas time. The gift this little girl gave was just the beginning of giving for her. Her whole life was to be a gift, a gift of love to all who would be privileged to know her. Rennie was indeed an angel waiting for her wings. This story is based on the memories shared with a 12-year-old boy nearly 60 years ago. This story as written by Rennie won her first prize in a National Contest around 1949. Her written version has since been lost. How wonderful it would be if each Christmas our hands were empty of things and our hearts were overflowing with the joy of sharing with others. A joy shared is a joy doubled. Unless we can experience the beauties of life with others, they remain all wrapped up within us and wither away. If we are truly to know the spirit of Christmas, Christ must live within our hearts and we must be willing to share the gift of his love with others in a personal way. If we have felt the touch of the Master’s Hand in our lives, if we have received the grace of God in our hearts, if we have seen with the eyes of faith, if we have experienced a life transforming relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ; then indeed we should forever be excited about sharing the Love of Christmas with others. May this Christmas find you sharing yourself in a personal way? Note: The Slade house was on the right side of the Vaughan Town path on Will Boone’s farm, across from where Howard and Rennie Futrell later lived. The house was in decay when I was a boy and now is gone. It was less than half a mile from the old Draper house where Rennie was raised. Her husband Howard was raised in the Futrell house across the road from the Draper house. The Futrell house is also gone. Rennie and Howard Futrell are buried in the Draper Cemetery behind the Draper House. The Christmas Gift story hangs in the hallway of Rehoboth Methodist Church (established in 1798) for all to read. It is in memory and h
onor of Rennie Draper Futrell for her years of giving to the Rehoboth Church and the Rehoboth Community.