Christmas of 1953 was the most memorable one of my whole lifetime. My sister and I worked at a Chinese café on Water Street West and boarded at a house two doors from our place of work. My sister Clara was 14 and I was 15. Our room had a middle size bed, and a one-person size bed in which a cute little red-haired girl from St. Mary’s Bay slept. Her name was Bridie. When she first came to stay with us we thought we had a threesome to help us say the rosary before bedtime – providing your knees didn’t freeze to the canvas floor. But the first time she said the “Our Father” prayer, she spoke so fast that Clara and I burst out laughing. This only made Bridie cry, so we decided to buy her a set of rosary beads for Christmas.
There was no snow on the ground that Christmas, but there was frost on the window made by the wand of ol’ Jack Frost and the freezing breath of ol’ Mr. North wind. Some of the customers gave us cards and gifts, and I got a card in the mail from Jimmy Lawrence, the kid ranger who was already a legend in his own mind because he played a mean guitar and sang like Hank Snow. “To Annie with love, Jimmy L,” it read. You’d think I had gotten a card from Cary Grant, who that year was proclaimed the handsomest man on earth.
Clara bought a little two-foot Evergreen tree and a stand and set it up near the window. We bought two dozen green, red, blue and silver balls to decorate it and a string of “honest-to-God” real electric lights. Topped off with silver strands of aluminum icicles, it glowed and twinkled in the dark. John from “up the shore” gave me a dollar, out of which I bought a knitted white and pink cap, wrapped it in white tissue paper and red ribbon and put it under our fabulous little tree.
We looked to the café for heat. I spent most of my time leaning on a mall oil heater near the wall to warm up my bones. One of our customers, John, gave Clara a dollar, and another, Mr. Leon, gave both of us five dollars (although Clara usually served him). He was new, over from Germany and had opened a men’s clothing store next door. I was his customer many years later because I never forgot his Christmas kindness. I bought gifts for my brothers and sisters and Clara gave Mom most of her pay cheque. She had such a good heart. She wasn’t here last Christmas. She went to her mansion in the sky the summer of 2004. And that cold, crisp Christmas Eve of long ago will live in my memory till I claim my mansion in the sky.
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