Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone

By Don McAlavy: Columnist

This is a story about a little girl who wanted only a dollhouse for Christmas. The time was 1905. The place was between Clovis and Fort Sumner.

The 6-year-old girl was named Anna but called Annie by her mother and father, Tom and Etta Brown. She was the only child of this middle-aged couple. Tom was a carpenter.

Annie didn’t know nor could she appreciate the difficulties of pioneering in eastern New Mexico that most families experienced. Families spent what little money they had on necessities, not luxuries. Annie only knew that a dollhouse was what her rag doll, Alice, needed for a home. She knew her father built houses. She would ask him to build Alice a dollhouse. It would be so small it wouldn’t take long for her father to build it.

Since Christmas was less than a month away, it would make a perfect Christmas gift for her Alice. She would take care of it for Alice.
With the building of the Belen cutoff by the Santa Fe Railway, work was plentiful, and Tom Brown had been hired as part of the railroad’s construction gang to help build depots and workers’ houses along the new railroad.

He was away for many days at a time, yet Etta never complained. She stayed in the small house he had built when they first came. He had said that someday their settlement was destined to become a large town and then he would be assured of work even after the railroad was finished.

He had dreams of buying as many lots, for houses to be built on, as he could in their little settlement, and he’d be able to make lots of money when the town grew and he could sell them at a great profit.

Etta did not complain because of his absences. She wanted another child so that Annie would have a real playmate, not just a rag doll. But her husband said they would have to wait until he was able to get ahead and save some money.

No, she never complained of loneliness, but she could never get used to the blowing wind and the dust it brought.

Within a week, Tom Brown came home. The railroad was moving some of the construction crew farther west and he had only a day home before he had to leave again. Etta prepared a meal she knew her husband would enjoy. Little Annie rushed in to her father and grabbed him around his legs as he was at the wash basin scrubbing off the accumulation of dust and grime.

“How’s my little girl?” he asked as he looked down at her uplifted face pressed against his leg. “Have you been helping your mother like I told you to do?”

“Oh yes, Daddy! I carry in the coal and help Mommy sweep the dirt. I can cook and I can sew.”

She held up Alice, her rag doll. “See, I made this dress for Alice!” She beamed with pride.

Tom looked at the doll, with its patch and half its hair gone, and offered to bring Annie a new doll.

“Oh no, Daddy! I would never throw Alice away,” she said. “Instead of getting me another doll, would you build us a dollhouse? Would you, Daddy?”

Tom replied: “I said someday. I’m too busy to fix you up a dollhouse. I have to go see about buying them lots today. But I will when I have time, honey.”

That night in bed Annie confided to the rag doll. “We will get up real early in the morning and talk to Daddy before he leaves.” That night the wind blew fiercely, covering everything with a coat of dust. It would continue blowing past Christmas.

Annie was up and dressed early the next morning. She found her father preparing to leave.

“Come give your father a goodbye kiss, Annie,” prompted her mother. “He doesn’t know when he will be home again.”

Running up to her father, Annie again grabbed him around the leg and hugged him.

“Daddy, I want to tell you something, it’s real important. Couldn’t you build me a dollhouse for Christmas? It’s the only thing I want, I promise you. Alice and I will help you build it too.”

“Annie, I told you yesterday I will build you a dollhouse,” he reminded her. “I don’t have time now, and I may not be back for several weeks. I didn’t promise you one now. I said someday.”

“Oh, Daddy, please build me a dollhouse.” Tears began to swell up in her eyes. “Please, Daddy, please. Please build me a dollhouse.”

The mother took her daughter in her arms as little tears began to roll down Annie’s face.

“You heard your father, Annie; now stop your crying,” she said.
The father attempted to kiss his daughter, but she had her head buried in her mother’s arms.

“Go on or you’ll miss the work train, Tom. Annie will be all right.”

Three days before Christmas, Annie came down with dust pneumonia. The following night she died, hugging her rag doll. She was buried in the little cemetery northwest of the settlement called La Lande on Christmas Day. For a long time her father remained at the grave on that cold, windy, dusty day they buried little Annie.

If you visit the lonely grave site today — La Lande is about 5 miles east of Fort Sumner — you will find a little brick dollhouse with a shingled roof, built over Annie’s grave — built by her grief-stricken father. Someday had come.