The Christmas hand-me-down box

Dec 14th, 2017 | By | Category: Mary Cook's Memories of the '30s

By Mary Cook

For weeks Mother had been telling us not to look for any extras that year for Christmas. She didn’t expect that our fowl at Turkey Fair Day would bring in enough money to buy much more than the bare necessities, like sugar, flour and inner soles, and maybe a new set of long underwear for each of us. And once those essentials were paid for, there would be little left for extras.

But nothing could dampen our spirits … even the prospect of a lean Christmas. Once December rolled around, we were caught up in the plans for our school concert, the Carol program at the Lutheran Church, and the day just before Christmas when Father would hitch up the team and we would go back into the bush to bring out our tree. There was always plenty of excitement and the thought of a lean Christmas was just one more cross to bear during the Depression.

The Fall had been busy too. The three brothers and Father had taken on the job of lining the summer kitchen with tar paper to help keep out the blasts of the cold winter air, and it was the first year we had our old Model T Ford. Father had to find out from Thacker’s garage how to store it away for the winter. So the drive shed had to be readied, and the car put up on blocks.

Yes, there was plenty to keep our minds and bodies occupied that December. But there were many moments when I envied bad Marguerite for whom I had little patience, and less love, and I knew she would be getting all sorts of presents for Christmas.

Aunt Lizzie usually sent us our hand-me-down box in December and that lessened, a bit, the bite of the Depression which was raging all around us … but that year it hadn’t arrived. Not that it would affect our Christmas one way or another, because there was never anything in it for my sister Audrey or me, just boys’ clothes, cast-offs from her two sons. But getting the box brought a bit of excitement to our lives anyway.

And then the phone rang one day and the station master in Renfrew said, “It’s here, it’s here,” and we knew the hand-me-down box had arrived. My brothers, of course, were thrilled. Even hand-me-down clothes were better than nothing!

Everett fetched the crowbar from the drive shed and pried off the lid of the big wood tea box Aunt Lizzie had used to pack the second-hand clothes in. Audrey and I barely took our eyes off the Eaton’s catalogue. The boys pulled at the contents and sweaters, breaks, dress shirts and shoes flew everywhere. Halfway down in the box Everett stopped dead in his tracks. Because there was a whole layer of little presents all wrapped in red tissue paper. There was one for each of us. Aunt Lizzie had never done anything like that before in her life!

Mother got up off her chair to make sure Everett wasn’t telling a story. Audrey and I flew from the kitchen table. And there they were, five little parcels with our names written in Aunt Lizzie’s handwriting. And there was a note. We were not to keep the presents until Christmas, they were to be opened and enjoyed from the day the box arrived. My parcel was tiny, not more than a few inches square, and it rattled. I tantalized myself for several minutes before I tore off the paper.

And there, in a little blue jewelry box, was a big red glass ring, just like the one Aunt Lizzie wore over the top of her long white gloves. And nestled in with the ring was a matching brooch. It was the kind of jewelry only grown-up ladies wore, but I didn’t care a whit. Mother pinned the brooch on my middy, and tied string around the ring to make it stay on my finger. I thought it was the most beautiful jewelry I had ever seen. I was even allowed to wear it to school the next day.

The ring turned my finger green, and the heavy brooch pulled my blouse halfway down my chest. But I didn’t care. I was the envy of the Northcote School.

Everyone got something that had once belonged to and worn by someone in Aunt Lizzie’s family, but it mattered not. To us it took the sting out of a Depression Christmas, a Christmas Mother said would be the leanest ever. But it was a joyous time after all … thanks to the early arrival of a hand-me-down box.

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