(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters to his sister, from the front. Here’s more from Kathy, in response.)
…..Dinner went off without a single noteworthy disaster, if I leave out the part where the heat from the coal stove in the kitchen made me sweat all over the pretty red wool sweater I’d knit especially to wear with the plaid skirt. (I just want to mention here that it’s lucky we have a gas stove to use in the summertime, or we’d have to do the cooking stripped to the waist…and I’m sure there must be some sort of law against that kind of behaviour!) Of course, Mom was having such a good time dancing that she quite forgot to help in the kitchen, which was probably a good thing because the potatoes had no lumps this year.
…..My baking efforts before Christmas had yielded enough successes to make a fairly impressive showing for dessert to anyone who hadn’t had to suffer the failures. And, of course, no degree of rationing could prevent Grandma Marshall from sending over our yearly slab of dry, crumbly Christmas cake. I know you’re imagining it as you read this, and congratulating yourself on yet one more year’s escape. Don’t be too smug; someday you’ll have to return, and the Christmas cake will be waiting. I’ve set your share aside.
…..When we’d eaten all we could manage, Mom and Dad offered to clean up in the kitchen so I could break out the new Monopoly game. A quick phone call brought Jennie and Helene Majewski over from next door, and the timing was perfect, because Helene’s boyfriend had just dropped by to bring her a gift and was happy to come along. Mrs. Majewski sent over a tray of the most delicate, flakey Polish pastries twisted into graceful bow-tie shapes and sprinkled with icing sugar. These little beauties were perfect to top off a Christmas dinner. They were light as air and merciful to our full stomachs. And it was so amusing to watch the men inadvertently crush them in their clumsy fingers and sprinkle the crumbs down their chests and into their laps. Impromptu entertainment—always appreciated.
…..The turkey carcass still dominated the kitchen table, so I spread the game board out on living room floor and we all sat around it on the carpet. The Quebec heater in the front hall kept the room cozy enough, and you just can’t beat coloured Christmas tree lights for atmosphere. I left the radio on, playing carols in the background, but soon we were too immersed in cut-throat real estate finance and general horsing around to hum along.
…..Just as the game started to get a bit rowdy, there was a quiet knock on the door. Mr. Majewski stood on the doorstep, in his shirtsleeves but as unbending as ever.
…..“Oh, Mr. Majewski,” I blurted, “I’m so sorry! Are we being too loud?”
…..“No…no…” he assured me. He held out two wine bottles. “I bring wine. Good dandelion wine. I make. Enjoy. Have Merry Christmas.” He turned to march back home.
…..“Thank you so much! But please…won’t you come in? Perhaps your wife would come too. We’d love to have you…”
…..He turned and I think he smiled, just a little. “No. Thank you. Merry Christmas. Enjoy!” And away he went.
…..“Merry Christmas!” I called. They must have been listening to the racket through the wall and enjoying the party together. I think that’s kind of sweet.
…..“It was your dad,” I told the girls. “He brought us a couple of bottles of dandelion wine! I’ve never tasted dandelion wine. How’s it made?” I brought glasses and poured for everyone.
…..“He uses the blossoms,” Helene said. “It takes bags and bags of them.”
…..“Oh! Is that what he was doing? I saw him in Bellwoods Park last summer. He does so much gardening…” I said, “I thought maybe he was just weeding or something.”
…..“Yes,” Jennie admitted. “We begged him not to, but there aren’t nearly enough weeds in our lawn. It’s so embarrassing!”
…..“Are you kidding? This wine is delicious! He’s a genius!” It was unanimous.
…..When she saw that we were sincere, she relaxed. “He will try just about anything, you know. He came home one night last spring and announced that the price of soap had gone up, so we were going to make our own! We asked whether he knew how to do it, and he said that fat and lye and a couple of other bits would do the trick. So my mother pitched in under his supervision, and brewed it all up in a big kettle on the kitchen stove. It took ages.”
…..We were suitably impressed. “So…did it work?”
…..She laughed. “No…of course not! It wouldn’t lather and it stunk something terrible! He had to bury it in the back yard.”
…..I can’t guarantee what kind of soldier Mark will be, but in peacetime, he could make his fortune as a real estate speculator. He had been gathering in our cash all night long, and by the time he finally had to leave, he was a very wealthy man. I wish you’d been here, Tommy. You’d have given him a run for his money!
…..When he went in to say goodbye to Mom & Dad, they were sitting in the kitchen, sipping their wine and laughing and talking together. The lights were turned off, and there were three candles on the table lighting the room. I was about to tell them they should have joined us in the living room…but it didn’t look like they’d missed our company much.
…..“Folks, thanks so much for letting me share your Christmas,” Mark said. “When I couldn’t get home, I thought…well…I was feeling pretty low.
…..“But I’ve had a great time…a really wonderful time. I hope you won’t take this wrong, but folks back home tell each other that people in Toronto are cold and unfriendly. I don’t know…maybe they feel uncomfortable here because it’s so big…
…..“They’re wrong. Nobody could have been warmer… Well, I’ll just tell them, when I get back, that’s all! Thanks for including me in the fun. I’ll remember…”
…..Maybe we’ll see him again some day, although Thunder Bay is an awful distance from here. You’d like him. Well, I hope he’ll be okay.
…..Tommy, if only you’d been here, it would have been a perfect Christmas! Sorry I couldn’t save you some of the wine (I’ll leave you to imagine just how hard I must have tried). But you might try making friends with Mr. Majewski when you get home.