Wilma and I sit at the kitchen table grazing over breakfast. She asks, “What are your plans?” I take a sip of tea before responding, “Not sure, thinking about Christmas shopping.” “You old fart, why do you leave it to the last two weeks!” All I could do is shrug thinking what’s the rush. I glibly say, “Its not like I’m buying the Taj Mahal, there’s still 12 days to go. “Fred!” she said giving me her patented frown quickly followed by a wink from her left eye. Those hazel eyes always gave me pause to gaze and think, how did I get so lucky.
Can ole Saint Nik fit through this tiny space?
Hauling my achy 70 year old carcass out of the oak chair, I look at her with the intensity I did 50 years ago. It hadn’t faded at all. “I’ll get to the mall and cross a few names off a very short list.” I leave the kitchen as she takes a sip of Earl Grey tea from a floral bluebell painted china cup her grand-mother first used in the late 1800s. Who knows how many thousands of gallons of tea we’ve drank.
I head to the front door checking on the mail. Thankfully, we still get it delivered. I pull open the door and push the screen door outwards stepping onto the porch. While reaching for the mail box, I notice a package sitting on the top step. I didn’t think we were expecting a delivery, who knows, its that time of year. I slowly bend over reaching down toward the package hoping my back doesn’t act up. Then I remember what Wilma said, use the knees. Good advice, so I bend down on one knee next to the package. It was then that I realize its wrapped in Christmas paper.
Its not that big, maybe five by eight inches and two inches thick and neatly wrapped in Christmas tree green paper high lighted by clumps of mistletoe and cranberries. A little paper tag shaped like a Santa Claus dangles from a red bow stuck to the upper left corner.
Picking up the package, I reach for the railing and haul myself upright. I look into the mail box, what a surprise, its empty. Usually its full of junk fliers that go straight into the recycle box. I pull the screen door open stepping inside.
Ambling into the kitchen, I see Wilma reading the newspaper. My grand-kids keep telling me that newspapers are online and free. Wilma and I talked about it but decided the real thing was more our style. The oldest grand-daughter laughed when she heard that. I remember her saying, “Grandpa, you don’t have any style.” I scoffed telling the story of wild beatnik days when Wilma and I first got together. The grand kids always groaned when that story came out complaining they’d heard it a million times. And, I always said, here comes one million and one.
I place the Christmas gift on the table, “Expecting a package?”
From behind the paper, Wilma murmurs something I can’t hear.
“Please put down the paper, you know I can’t hear so good,” I say.
“So good, your mostly deaf,” she laughs setting down the paper. She spots the package, “What’s that?”
“It was on the front porch. Who’s it from?” I ask.
“How should I know! Did you look on the tag?.”
I reach for the tag flip it over. In blue ink and a very neat script, it reads, “A sweet Christmas treat.” I read it out loud.
“Who would just drop it off and not deliver it in person,” she said while reaching for the package needing to inspect it. “You didn’t make that up did you, that’s what it says?”
I hand the package to her, saying, “Hey” with attitude. The sub-text being that if I had wanted to pull a prank it would have been a lot better than this one.
Wilma reads the tag. Frowning she looks at me, “What should we do with it?”
“I say lets open it, a sweet treat,” I exclaim.
“Its not Christmas, 12 days to go,” she says.
I reply, “Its a surprise from, who? Who would just leave a Christmas present on the front porch?”
“Probably one of the neighbours.” Wilma inspects the tag flipping it over looking for clues. She turns her head to look at me. The left corner of her mouth makes a small twitch.
I smile at her, “It is Christmas.”
She uses immaculately manicured finger nails to slice the tape off the end and back of the package. She unfolds the Christmas paper, “Ohhh!” Lifting out a light brown box tied in a dark green ribbon, she eyes the little sticker holding the top closed. She shows it to me. It reads: Galbraith’s hand-made chocolate.
Wilma looks me in the eye, “Keep your fingers out of this. Save it for the grand kids.” She nods her head for emphasis.
“Why does everything have to be for the kids? Don’t I get a little fun and happiness once in awhile!”
“No. Now get outta here so I can clean up,” she commands.
The next morning after breakfast, I push open the front door reaching for the mail box and lifting the lid. Today the junk mail barely makes room for three Christmas cards. It takes two hand fulls to pull the stuff out and then turn toward the door. I almost missed it.
Another beautifully wrapped Christmas gift sits on the top step of the porch. This time the package is tall, four or five inches square like a box used for a bottle of single malt Scotch. My heart skips a beat at the thought. The wrapping paper depicts an outdoor Christmas scene with skaters on a pond, kids tobogganing, families standing around an outdoor fire and a decorated fir tree.
I pick it up, noticing it was lighter than the one from yesterday. I guess its not a bottle.
Setting it on the kitchen table, I clear my throat.
Wilma looks up from the paper. Her mouth moves silently uttering, “Wow!!!” Without hesitating she uses a table knife to cut the tape and unwraps the box. She pops open the top looking in. “Ohh!!!,” she exclaims while gently lifting out a star topped cardboard Christmas tree festooned with various types of coloured tea pouches. Wilma gets up from the table heading to the living room where she sets the Christmas tea tree on the coffee table. The decorated Christmas tree sits in the corner. A few brightly coloured gifts sit underneath it.
I follow behind her musing, “Who’s doing this?”
Wilma waves me off returning to the kitchen. I stand there looking at the tea tree beside the box of chocolates from yesterday, my mind whirling away trying to target possible suspects.
The third morning I head out to check the mail and the first thing I notice is a large poinsettia sitting on the top step. I figure it must not have been there long, so I take the three steps to the sidewalk as quickly as I can walking toward the front street looking around to see if I can spot the person who dropped it off. No one, not a car or person on the street. Its quiet and empty.
I head back to the house pick up the poinsettia and take it inside. While shuffling to the kitchen, the large red and green leafs brush against my face tickling my nose.
After setting it on the table, I sneeze, which causes Wilma to look up from the paper. Her hazel grey eyes grow bright and wide. She drops the paper and without saying a word picks up the plant taking it to the front room. She returns with a couple of wilted green leafs in her left hand which she drops into the garbage can. I give her a questioning look. She says, “Don’t ask, I haven’t the faintest idea who is doing this. I asked Betty, it wasn’t her.”
On day four, Wilma retrieves a gift box containing four glass jars with light green mint sugar candy drops. I take a jar preparing to pull out the glass top. Wilma slaps my hand, “Wait for Christmas day,” followed by a sly wink and smile.
The box sitting at the front door on day five contains two hand knitted woolen scarfs made from white sheep’s wool. A bit itchy but they’ll be warm. The label reads: Joseph’s Prairie Farms.
On day six, I get up early staking out the front door to see if I can spot who’s dropping off the gifts. Well before my usual waking time, I peak out from behind the living room curtains ready to wait. A box already sits on the porch. I mutter under my breath then retrieve the box taking it inside to the kitchen.
Later when Wilma was up she opens it. Inside are six medium sized pieces of hand-made lavender and coconut mint soap. Great scent, but not sure I’ll use it.
The next day I go with the flow and enjoy the surprise. When I step outside light snow covers the sidewalk. Another small box wrapped in sparkly red paper sits in the usual place. I kneel down pick it up and amble back it into the kitchen. Wilma sits with little girl expectation on her face, “Your turn to open it.”
I pull a pen knife from my pants pocket opening the small blade and slicing the tape freeing the paper from its constraints. Inside the box, seven long tapered candles. It takes a few seconds, then I smell the fragrance. The pungent scent of jasmine makes me smile and think about past Christmas’s with their colours, smells and tastes.
On day eight, the gift box contains a tall sealed glass jar with eight red and white candy cane cookies. It was all I could do to not open it and munch away thinking the grand-kids wouldn’t even know.
With five days to go before Christmas, the coffee table over flows with the accumulated gifts from the mystery donor. On this day, the gift box contains nine Mason jar lid coasters. The speckled brown cork inserts stamped with various coloured images of tree ornaments.
Wilma picks up a lid, “That’s pretty unique. You can use them on poker nights.” She lets out a chuckle.
The day 10 box was, so far, the largest and heaviest. I almost dropped it while trying to get through the screen door.
I plop it down on the kitchen table. Wilma turns from pouring hot water into the tea pot. I pull out the pen knife, cut the tape and pull open the top flaps of the brown box. Inside, five jars of homemade pickles and five jars of strawberry jam. The label on each jar reads: Kapula Preserves – Fruit & Veggies.
How did whoever was doing this know strawberry was my favourite?
Ever since I tasted my grand-mothers preserves I’ve been hooked. So good on warm fresh bread spread with butter. Images and smells from long ago flash from my memory bringing a smile to my lips and a tear to my eye while thinking there was nothing like Christmas when you’re young.
The next day, the 11th, I push open the door spotting a large box wrapped in snow flake paper.
Its over two feet square. In the upper left corner a big red bow and another Santa Clause tag dangling from a string stuck underneath it. A narrow green ribbon twists around the box in both directions.
This one takes a little bit of doing, kneeling I grab it with both hands. Standing upright, I sway a bit then steady myself. A deep breath and its into the house.
As I stumble into the kitchen my gasping attracts Wilma’s attention. She immediately jumps up hurrying the grab one side of the box. She looks at me with the combination of ‘are you alright!’ and ‘what are you thinking!’. We set the box on the table. I sit to catch my breath and rest. Yikes, I think, it doesn’t get any easier.
Wilma brings me a glass of water. I take it with thanks and drain it in three gulps. After setting it down, I wipe my brow with the back of the shirt sleeve. She looks at the tag flipping it over. Nothing but the neat blue ink script that reads: May the Christmas Spirit carry you through the whole year.
Pulling a paring knife from the knife rack, Wilma cuts through the the tape and gentle unwraps the brown cardboard box. It contains a large two gallon tin can with a red lid.
Finally able to stand up, I fold back the box flaps. Wilma reaches in lifting out the can. I pick up the box setting it on the floor.
Wilma turns the can around and around. On the sides are, what appears to be, hand-painted Christmas themes – reindeer, Nativity scene, trees, snow skiers and ice skaters. Its topped with a red lid.
I step beside Wilma, “After all that work I’m not waiting until Christmas Day to open it.” With that I grab the lid prying it open. Stepping aside so Wilma can see the contents, I reach in grabbing a hand full of poppy-cock, a combination of popcorn, butter, nuts and cornstarch. A golden delicious sticky gooey mess that leaves one licking their fingers to savour every sweet crunchy bite.
On the 12th day, Christmas eve, the morning was cold and the air sharp on my lungs as I push open the door to see what surprise was in store. A big smile breaks out across my face. What a surprise!
Wilma strides up beside me putting her left arm around my waist giving it a hug.
A resounding and loud “Merry Christmas!” erupts from what appears to be a dozen people standing on the porch. I didn’t know any of them. They weren’t from the neighbourhood. Hadn’t seem them at the mall.
I look at Wilma, her face beams. A big smile on her face, one I hadn’t seem since the kids were little.
Bundled in colourful Christmas elf costumes, six children and five adults break out singing:
We wish you a merry Christmas
- And a happy New Year.
- Good tidings we bring
- To you and your kin;
- We wish you a merry Christmas
- And a happy New Year.
Dressed in a red Mrs. Clause outfit, a woman who was clearly the grand-mother steps forward, “May the season of families bring you peace, happiness and joy! Each year our family chooses another family, at random, to bring the spirit of Christmas too. We appreciate your confidentiality in this matter and only ask that you do not reveal our identity so that we may continue to practice this family custom.”
I nod ‘yes’ and Wilma says, “Absolutely, thank you very much. Thank you, its been a fabulous treat. Merry Christmas!”
I finally manage, “Thank you, Merry Christmas and a great New Year.”
The entourage picks up singing the Christmas carol while turning to walk down the sidewalk to the street.
A small child of 4 or 5 turns waves calling out, “Merry Christmas!”