Waiting for the Christmas box

Dec 13th, 2018 | By | Category: Mary Cook's Memories of the '30s

By Mary Cook

The Christmas box arrived from Chicago every year. It was the difference between having a meagre Christmas or one filled with excitement. Aunt Freda was Father’s spinster sister. We thought she must be very wealthy to live in a big city like Chicago. She was also a sister to Aunt Lizzie in Regina, who twice a year sent us the hand-me-down boxes filled with her two son’s castoffs. Aunt Lizzie never sent us anything for Christmas.

But Aunt Freda’s box was filled with unbelievable treasures and we knew it had arrived when the station master in Renfrew called and said, “That box is here.”

We would be filled with excitement, hardly able to contain ourselves, and we would beg Father to let us go into Renfrew with him on the sleigh to get it.

But it was only a few days left before Christmas and the box hadn’t arrived. The Ottawa Farm Journal was full of terrible stories on the Depression … how it had hit the entire world … even places like Chicago. So maybe there wasn’t to be box from Aunt Freda that year after all.

After school had been let out for the holidays, we would run into the house several times a day to ask Mother if there had been any important phone calls. She always said, “Not yet.” And she tried to tell us gently that the call might not come at all this year.

We tried to envision what Christmas would be like without Aunt Freda’s gifts. The year before I got a beautiful book of coloured pictures, and the prettiest blouse I had ever seen … all ribbons at the neck, with puffy sleeves and clear glass buttons down the front. I had never had anything with clear glass buttons before!

Now it was just three days before Christmas and still no box from Chicago. Mother tried to tell us to remember the true meaning of Christmas … that it was the birth of Jesus we should be thinking about. I’m afraid her lecture was lost on five young children from the backwoods of Renfrew County!

At night I asked Audrey if she thought it was a sin to pray for the box to arrive. She said she hoped it wasn’t because she’d been praying for the same thing for more than a week. And so in bed, when the lamp had been blown out and we were alone, we silently prayed that the call would come before it was too late.

The day before Christmas broke clear and cold. Mother was going about the business of preparing as much of the dinner as possible, so that Christmas Day could be spent at church functions, singing and welcoming neighbours from around. The telephone rang many times that morning, but none of the calls were from the station in Renfrew. At noon dinner Father looked around the table and said it didn’t matter if the call came  … it was too late to go all the way into Renfrew with the horses and bring the box back to Northcote.

The phone rang just as Father was taking his last gulp of tea. Mother took the receiver off the hook, and we heard her say hello to Mr. Briscoe from Briscoe’s General Store down the Northcote Side Road. It wasn’t the long awaited call from Renfrew. She wished him a Merry Christmas and thanked him for his call, and when she turned to us at the table she was beaming!

“The box has been delivered to Briscoe’s. Someone at the station knew it was a Christmas box, and brought it out to the store. We can pick it up there.”

We tore away from the table with Father saying, “Hold it, hold it. We don’t all have to go,” but his words were wasted on us. We were into our clothes in jig time, and Everett had the sleigh and horses at the back door in no time for the three mile ride to the General Store. We sang all the way there and all the way back. We sang in joy and with a new sense of the true meaning of Christmas. We took turns sitting with our arms around the box to hold it on the flat-bottom sleigh. It was a joyous day. The sun was shining, fresh snow had fallen the night before, the air was crisp and cold … it was going to be a wonderful Christmas after all.

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