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A Homestead Christmas

Published November 01, 2007        by Nicole

Christmas was a jolly time that year. We had spruce boughs, brought from the Sand hills, across the doors and windows, and streamers of red tissue paper and red and green balls, made from tissue cut in circles, folded and sewed together. Mrs. Lundy had showed Hannah how to make these, when Hannah had stayed with her in the summer holidays. Mr. and Mrs. Lundy had a gift basket and craft store about a mile east of Millford.

I remember particularly the dessert apple-jelly tarts that we had at Christmas and how delicious they were. The apple-jelly was bright red in color, for snow apples were now sold in Mr. Lundy's store and mother had used only the parings and cores for the jelly, and the other part was made into apple sauce. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Burnett, Nina and Frankie, were our guests that year. A long table was set and no one had to wait for the second table.

Christmas Day has always been a favorite of mine with the gourmet Christmas cakes and apple-jelly tarts of those first days in Manitoba.

The front-room always got a new coat of white-wash on the log walls at Christmas, and everything was scoured as white as sand or soap could make it. The hand-knit lace curtains, brought from Ontario, were washed and starched and stretched on home-made frames, so they would hang straight and reach the floor. Short curtains were considered slightly indecent. The two long widths of rag carpet in bright stripes with orange warp were brought out and laid on the white floor, with the good mats, one hooked and one braided. The home-made lounge had a covering of dark maroon canton flannel and was well supplied with patch work cushions, crazy pattern of silks and satins and two log cabins, one made of "stuff pieces," the other one prints. There were two book-cases made with spools, painted black, and set with shelves and a "what-not" of five shelves, on which stood china ornaments, a wooden beach shell box, with a green plush pin-cushion on the top, apples filled with cloves, and cups and saucers (honorably retired from active service because of cracks, or missing handles, but with these defects tactfully concealed in the way they were placed), colored glass mugs, and on the top, a bouquet of prairie grasses, set in a frosted glass vase, a lace pattern on deep blue. I remember it well, for I broke it years later, when bouncing a ball on the floor. Who would have thought a yarn ball would bounce so high?

When the weather got cold, the kitchen stove had to be brought into the big room, and it was a family grief when this change had to be made. If the weather did not come down too hard, the stove was kept out until after Christmas. Later when the storm doors and windows were added, and a bigger heater bought, a fine big barrel of a stove with a row of mica windows around its middle through which the coals glowed with all the colors of a sunset, the kitchen stove remained in the kitchen all winter.

But even when the kitchen stove was in the middle of the big room, there was a cheerful roominess about it. The wood box papered with pictures of the Ice Palace, in Montreal, when covered with two boards over which a quilt was spread, made a nice warm seat and when we got the hanging lamp from Brandon, with a pale pink shade, on which a brown deer poised for a leap across a chasm, through which a green stream dashed in foam on the rocks, the effect was magical and in the pink light the white-washed walls were softened into alabaster.

We had two new pictures now, enlarged photographs of father and mother in heavy oak frames with a gilt edge, done by a traveling artist, who drove a team of mules and carried a few lines of tinware. Every family in the neighborhood had taken advantage of his easy plan to secure a lasting work of art. You paid only for the frame and received the picture entirely free though this offer might be withdrawn any minute for he was doing this merely to get his work known. He said there was no nicer way to give one's parents a pleasant surprise, and the pictures would be delivered in time for Christmas. When they came, we all had a surprise. We had thought that the seven dollars and thirty-five cents paid for both frames but we were wrong. Each one cost that amount and even at that the artist was losing money. The pictures were accepted and hung on the log walls, and in the declivities behind them were kept tissue paper patterns, newspaper clippings, and other semi-precious documents, thus relieving the congestion in the real archives, lodged in the lower regions of the clock, where notes, grain-tickets, tax receipts were kept.