During the Christmas season I had to return to my hometown on personal business, and whether it was the season or just being there I was suddenly remembering a Christmas of long ago. The year was 1960.
We lived in a little basement suite. It was hardly a suite, just a huge
room divided by two sheets of plywood. The bathroom down the hall was shared with two other "suites". Our kitchen area, besides a fridge and stove, featured a table and 4 chairs, cupboards and a huge box that my dad made. It was a type of Hope Chest. I always figured when we could afford it maybe someday we would buy a television and it would sit on the Hope Chest. For the present we had the little radio.
The radio was a Christmas present from our parents to my sister Dorothy and I when we were kids. We got it back in the 50's. What a treasure! My sister Dorothy would fall asleep at night with that radio on her chest, which explained the missing piece and huge crack in the casing. Dorothy had fallen asleep one night with the radio on. I guess when she rolled over in bed, the radio took a nose dive and the casing was cracked, losing a piece. Then Dorothy got married and I agreed she should take the radio for her and her new husband. The radio came back to me when I married. Though the radio provided some entertainment that was not our only means of entertainment.
In those days, people visited back and forth a lot, just talking and
playing cards. It was always a treat to be able to afford a pop in the
Shanghai Café. I'm not sure which was the best part of the treat,
getting the soft drink or just people watching.
When we first moved into that little basement suite, I felt so at home.
The Conrad family who owned the house lived on the main floor and I felt so connected to them. Years earlier my oldest sister, Joan, had lived there with her husband and baby daughter. I'd also gone to school with Jerry Conrad, son of the couple who owned the house.
Things had been tough for the Conrad's because they never got to see Jerry grow up and have a family of his own. He was killed. I think it was a farming accident but it really took place so many years back I can't remember any more. It is more important that I remember Jerry. He was such a fine person and when I think of his parents having to continue life without the presence of such a decent, caring human being, it causes a sad ache in me. And when I think of him it touches me even more as I remember what his parents did for us on that long ago Christmas.
In those days the take home wage for one month of work for my husband was $100 00 and after paying for food and rent there was $20.00 left for clothing, medicine, entertainment gifts and emergencies There really wasn't money to buy a car so when it was time for the baby to come I phoned my dad and asked him to take me to the hospital.
Our baby arrived April 21, a little girl, we called Deborah Dawn. I
think she was the loveliest baby in the Taber Hospital. It would have
been nice to have a car to take her home in because that year, the day that the baby arrived a blizzard hit. It's rather late in the season to get that kind of weather but as you know it does happen in our part of Canada.
By the time Christmas rolled around, the new baby was eight months old and we'd invested in an old car. Now the strained budget included $10.00 per month for the car payments. It left very little in the budget for much of anything else and fruit became a treat.
Early that December, the car decided that starting was too much for it. It needed a new battery. Money only stretches so far and there was no way we could afford a new battery so the car sat at the curb with snow piled high on it. This meant we wouldn't be traveling very far in any direction.
We could get the two blocks to the grocery store but walking long
distances in the cold to visit with family was out of the question but
we made the best of it. Perhaps, it was during all those early years
that we were to learn how one can be rich yet have no money!
I didn't drop hints around about our "needs". I didn't complain about not being able to afford fruit so I sure wasn't going to complain about not being able to buy a car battery. I never imagined for a moment that others were aware of our needs and were about to come to the rescue
Over the years there have been a number of memorable events linked with Christmas but way back then I was about to experience one that would remain in my memory always. That Christmas week, the landlord sent his daughter downstairs with an early Christmas gift for our baby. It was a doll, the first doll and our daughter's very first Christmas gift!. Then I was told to come out into the hall and look up at the top of the stairs. Something square and black sat at the top of the stairs. I fairly flew up those steps, excited that it really was what it appeared to be. It was a car battery, a gift from the Conrad family. I was soon running down the stairs, along the hall way and back up another flight of stairs to
tell the family an excited, exuberant and a heartfelt, Thank you. You
had to be there to feel the excitement!
I remember when I was little and mom and dad got me this doll that made a soft crying sound when I squeezed her tummy. I was so thrilled. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world. Well when I saw that car battery I got the same "excited in the pit of my stomach" feeling. That Conrad family must have cut back on their own Christmas spending just to help us out. This was a family who really took the meaning of "giving" seriously.
I've lost track of the Conrad family but I'll never lose track of the memory of their goodness on that long ago Christmas, when batteries were included.