December 24, 1943
…..I just couldn’t wait for another letter…I had to wish you a Merry Christmas!
…..But first, I want to set your mind at ease. The Toronto Star tells us tonight that a major tragedy has been averted for British troops. The army catering corps has announced that more than ten tons of Christmas pudding will be available Saturday. They have managed to produce about seven thousand three-pound puddings in record time with makeshift supplies. I assume they will share with you Canadians…it is Christmas, after all!
…..Makeshift supplies…hmm…I wonder how that can be interpreted. The implications are a little disturbing. What, for example, will they have substituted for the raisins, if raisins were not available?
…..Never mind! Enjoy your share and remember that if you were home waiting for Mom to bake you a pudding of any description at all, you’d starve to death.
…..I, on the other hand, decided this was as good a time as any to hone my baking skills…while a good part of the population was taking cover overseas. I’m sure by the time you’re home I’ll have gotten the knack of it, but it may be just as well that you’ve missed some of my more dramatic failures. I think I’ll be able to offer you some pretty impressive Christmas shortbread cookies someday, but my mince tarts…not a resounding success. If you develop a taste for mince tarts, you’d better find yourself a wife who can be coaxed to take on that challenge.
…..Last Friday, Dad surprised us with an early Christmas gift.
…..“I’ve got three tickets to the Christmas Pantomime at Shea’s Hippodrome, ladies. Transform yourselves! We’re going out to dinner!” I think he might have hoped it would make up to us, a little, for the fact that you weren’t likely to be home this year.
…..I’d just gotten home from work and I had thought I was tired, but it turns out you are never too tired for a Christmas surprise!
…..“Oh, Fred.” Mom pretended she was peeved. “I’ll never be able to do anything with my hair on such short notice…why didn’t you tell me?” (Did I tell you that Mom has stopped insisting that I call her Pearl? I guess she realized that a rose by any other name won’t hold its petals a day longer.)
…..Mom and I jostled around upstairs getting dressed while Dad shaved at the kitchen sink in order to keep out of the line of fire, then sat with a big grin, waiting for us to repackage ourselves in suitable holiday trimmings. And when she finally made her appearance in the front hall (beating me by a full three minutes), Mom had tamed her hair and looked stylish and trim and as pretty as I’ve ever seen her.
…..“You haven’t aged a day since I met you, my Pearl,” Dad fibbed. He pulled a gold-ribboned Christmas corsage out of the ice box and pinned it to her coat. (It didn’t really need to be kept cold…the white roses were paper…but I guess it was as good a place to hide it as any, and the gesture made a good effect.) He had a sprig of holly in his buttonhole, and had somehow conjured up a brass-handled cane fit for a duke.
…..“I didn’t get a corsage for you,” he whispered to me as Mom ran back up the stairs one last time to retrieve a vagrant earring. “I wanted your mother to feel special tonight. And you’re always special, y’ know.”
…..I did know.
…..We took the streetcar downtown to Bassel’s restaurant and got a table by the big front window where we could watch the last of the holiday crowd jostling by along Yonge Street with their bags and boxes. Such a lot of people determined to find just the right thing to give to someone else…the energy is effervescent. It’s as likely to fill the Salvation Army kettles on the street corners as alcohol guilt, and the donors enjoy the giving more.
…..We preferred to walk to the theatre so the Christmas spirit could fall on us like snow flakes. The Christmas lights twinkling along the way…the drifts of Christmas music tumbling out of the doorways…the tinkle of bells from who knows where…it was magical! By the time we reached Shea’s, we were all grinning like fools.
…..And the show was wonderful! Girls and glitter and dancing and music (There can never be enough Christmas music!)…and jokes. Lots of zany jokes! Everything was red and green and silver and gold and sparkly. There was even a charming bit of ballet from The Nutcracker Suite. I think you would have liked it, Tommy. No…don’t protest…pretty girls showing their legs. How bad could it have been?
…..Going home later, the streets were quiet and a few fluffs of snow settled on us. Even Mom didn’t mind getting snowflakes in her hair…they were like gift jewellery!
…..And if we scrunched our eyes, we could see halos around the streetlights.
…..On Saturday evening, Dad and I went out to buy a Christmas tree. They’re not so easy to find any more. Few farmers can afford the gas to truck them into the city, and the best ones are snapped up quickly.
…..“Make sure you get a good one,” Mom directed. As always.
…..“Pearl, why don’t you come with us?” Dad suggested. As always.
…..“Oh, no…I’m not going out in this cold! Just make sure it’s a good one.” Sound familiar?
…..So we went out to the only lot in the neighbourhood, and Dad stood patiently in the cold for about an hour and a half holding up tree after tree, showing side after side, while I criticised each one in turn.
…..“That one’s too skinny at the top…that’s too small…that one’s lop-sided…not that one. Wait, that one looks good…turn it around so I can see the back…oh no! That won’t do at all! Let’s see what they have around the side, there.”
…..Finally we found the finest tree left on the lot. But it was too tall. And the bottom branches were a little sparse.
…..“So,” Dad ventured, “if the bottom was cut off, the tree would be perfect.”
…..“And it would be the right size?”
…..I saw his point.
…..“Will your mother be satisfied with this one?”
…..“I doubt it. But it’s the best tree they’ve got. It’s a great tree!”
…..So we dragged the tree home, Dad cut off the objectionable bottom section before Mom could be offended by it, then he brought it in and I steadied it while he bolted it into the stand.
…..“It’s tilting too much,” Mom commented. As always. “No, towards the window. A little more…a little more. There! Are you sure that’s the best side? Turn it around a bit…oh, that’s better. Wait…from this angle, it’s tilting the other way.”
…..By this time, I had pine sap on my sweater sleeve. It was much more fun when you held the tree. And Mom still wonders why we bought a crooked one. She says it bends at the top.
…..The next day we pulled the decorations out of storage and trimmed the tree. After he installed the lights and draped a fresh popcorn wreath (I could have used your help on that one…what were you doing? Lolling about in the sun, no doubt.), Dad was content to watch while I did the rest. He would have just parked the decorations on any place at all, anyway, and I’d have to move every single one to a more attractive location. And Mom…well, Mom directed the show and provided the hot cocoa. By the time Dad perched the star on top, the tree looked like Christmas. It was beautiful. As always.
…..And yes, I made sure to put your favourite decoration on the tree…that shabby old gold tinsel twist you call a bow, with its ratty little red velvet ribbon. And even that looks good! It’s all in the positioning. You just have to find the right place for it. Somewhere at the back works best.
…..At eleven o’clock this morning, the entire employment office was sent down to the main floor to enjoy the annual Simpson’s Carol Sing. They stopped the escalators for the occasion, and the steps were studded with elevator operators, looking so smart in their uniforms–I used to love to be a part of that. The band played for an hour, and everyone was welcome to sing along, no matter how badly. And some special kind of Christmas magic made it all sound good.
…..When we got back up to the office, it had been transformed! Red and green streamers festooned the walls, with bells and stars, and Christmas music playing on a radio somewhere. There was a tree and poinsettias and a big wreath on the door.
…..And the feast! A table was laid out with punch and fancy sandwiches so pretty I hesitated to eat them…but not for long. There were petit fours and strawberries dipped in chocolate. And there was ice cream…but it was in the form of little men dressed in tuxedos, with tiny bow ties and everything. (And I thought I was doing well to wrestle shortbread into the shape of stars and wreaths!)
…..It was the very best that the Arcadian Court Restaurant upstairs provided for the outrageously rich…and our Manager had arranged it all for us!
…..It was a wonderful party. We laughed and sang and recognized the very best in each other—at least for a little while—and at two o’clock the Manager sent us all home for Christmas.
…..Before you ask, I thought of smuggling out some leftovers to pack for you…but the little men would have melted and made a mess of everything. I’ll send more toilet paper…but it doesn’t seem like much of a substitute, now that I see it written down.
…..We listened to Dickens’ Christmas Carol tonight on the radio, as always (you just can’t get enough of old Scrooge…am I right?), and it’ll soon be midnight. Mom and Dad are already asleep, but I’m just going to dash out and drop this in the mail box, then get to bed or Santa Claus will pass us by.
…..You should have been here, Tommy. I wish you had been here. Please take good care of yourself….
…..Oh…I forgot to mention that the ground is bare in Toronto and not a flake is falling, but I don’t mind. We’re economizing on snow this year to make sure there are white Christmases enough to go around when you get back home.
…..Until then, I’m sending my very best wishes…the shiny, bright ones from the top of the pile.
…..Merry Christmas, Tommy.
With lots of love and holiday hugs,