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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2006
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nelms.Diane Nelms with the doll her grandfather placed on her bed when she was 6. It is her favorite keepsake.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Diane Nelms with the doll her grandfather placed on her bed when she was 6. It is her favorite keepsake.

A cherished doll from grandfather . . . a table set with heirloom dishes . . . a pine cone saved from a funeral wreath . . . serenading through Piney Grove
Christmas memories

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com 340-2446

The much-loved bride doll is a bit worn now. Her veil is missing and her hairdo is out of style, but her gown and pearl earrings are reminders of long-ago glamour.

For 43 years, Diane Nelms of Decatur has loved and cared for the doll she got the Christmas she was 6. It still occupies a place of honor in her bedroom because the bond between a girl and her favorite doll is hard to break.

Perhaps that's why Nelms is spending many hours sorting, bagging and tagging angel-tree gifts for Salvation Army when she's not ringing bells outside a store.

She hopes every child who asks for a doll gets one.

When Nelms was growing up, she and her mother, Jean James, lived much of the time in Trinity with her grandparents, Wallace and Dola Sapp.

"I was very close to my grandfather, who taught me boy stuff, like how to change out engines and transmissions," she recalled, because her small hands could get into places where his larger ones would not fit.

One Christmas Eve when she was asleep, he brought the bride doll in and placed it on her bed so that she would find it the next morning. It's been her favorite keepsake ever since.

The 17-inch bride doll outshone whatever Santa brought that Christmas. Nelms thinks it was a bicycle and a pair of cowboy boots, because she loved boots.

"All my Christmases were the best," she recalled.

Sometimes when she and her sisters knew that their mother, stepfather and grandparents had been out shopping, they would start searching for their gifts, but they could never find them.

"But come Christmas morning, we would get up at 4 or 5 a.m. and Santa had been there. The stockings hanging behind the wood heater would be full of goodies," she said.

This time of year, Nelms spends long days volunteering at the Salvation Army on 14th Street. She attends church there, made the holiday bows and other decorations for the chapel and is fundraiser for the women's ministry.

"Diane is my right hand," said Brenda Singletary, as they organized a gymnasium full of angel-tree gift bags for families to pick up next week.

Today Nelms collects angels and Santas, but along with her bride doll she kept a baby bed her great-grandmother Sapp got for her as an infant.

"All my sisters and all my children have slept in it, and my first grandchild, too," before it became too wobbly.

"As a family, we have always come together on Christmas Eve to celebrate," said Nelms. "And no matter what problems we have or had with a family member, we could forget them, for this is a time to love and rejoice together, and to remember that Jesus Christ was the reason for this holiday season."

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