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Authors: Jean Little

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BOOK: Untangling Christmas
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Sunday, December 12, 1920

Dear Ben,

I am not in a writing mood. Why did I promise your mother I would tell you everything about your first Christmas? I should have known better.

We are back together, you in the playpen, Hamlet keeping guard and myself writing and grumbling.

Why am I so grumpy, you ask? Fan has gone out for a walk with Con and Wendell Bowman. I do not like Wendell Bowman. He acts as though Fanny is his private property. He is three years older than she is. It is called “robbing the cradle”! I can’t believe he is seriously stuck on her.

That is enough for today.

Monday, December 13, 1920

Dear Benjamin,

Today I discovered how precious you are to me. After I came home from school I spread out a blanket on the living room floor so you would be able to have more freedom. Then the doorbell rang. It was a man wanting Father. Then I took time to run to the bathroom for a moment. After all, you usually crawl backwards and you do it slowly. So I was sure you were safe. Yet when I came back you were gone!

I did not believe it. I looked all over. You were NOWHERE to be found.

Fanny had taken you, of course. She actually took you OUTSIDE to introduce you to her friend Wendell. She did not even put on your coat and mittens or wrap you up in a shawl. When she came back, your little cheeks were so red and your fingers were almost blue.

“Wendell says he’s adorable,” she cooed, plunking you down on the blanket and dashing back outside.

Oh, Ben, I feel as though I’ve lost Fanny as well as Jemma and Jo.

Tuesday, December 14, 1920

Dear Ben,

I got my bangs trimmed. The rest still goes down to my shoulders. Fanny and I look less identical now. I am taller since she was so sick with that flu. Also I
wear specs now because I am short-sighted. You would think Fanny would need them too, but she says she can see perfectly. She had her hair cut in a proper bob ages ago, with disgusting kiss curls on her cheeks and a fringe down to her eyebrows. She said my haircut is nice, but I could tell she thought it was boring. I know it isn’t stylish, but I don’t want to be stylish.

Or do I? Once in a blue moon, maybe. But not really.

Aunt says to be patient and that “I will come into my own.” Whatever that means.

I wish Jo was home more and had time to talk. Since Jemma died, Jo is changed. I guess I would be too if anything happened to Fan. But Jo has moved into a world of medical students and studying and being busy.

I should remember to tell you some Christmas news, Ben. It is ten days from tomorrow. I know because Theo keeps reminding us all. Aunt hung the evergreen wreath on the front door. Soon we will put up our tree.

Wednesday, December 15, 1920

Dear Ben,

I had just got settled down to write to you when Fanny came rushing in and ran straight upstairs. Father marched in right behind her, muttering
something about her looking like a hussy with that muck all over her face. I waited, and after he went into his study she came down with her face scrubbed clean and her eyes red. I could hear Connie and Wendell outside, laughing their heads off.

“Fan, listen to them,” I said.

She stood still for a second, long enough to hear them. Then she glared at me and ran back out. I wonder if they went on making fun of her even after she got there.

Oh, Ben, I do feel sorry for Fan. She has other friends, better ones, but she seems to have dropped them totally since Connie and Wendell came along.

I will stop writing now and play with you for a bit. Theo should be here any minute too and he can join in. We are teaching you Patty Cake, Patty Cake. I remember teaching it to Theo.

Thursday, December 16, 1920

Dear Ben,

Soon you will be able to do Patty Cake. I am very proud of the way you keep trying. You wrinkle up your face and stare at me and Theo and smack your hands together and make noises. You’re almost there.

After supper

Fanny has been invited to go to the Seniors’
Christmas Dance and Aunt says she is too young. Fan is beside herself. She is actually
yelling
at Aunt. What has come over her? She thinks she is being a Flapper. I think she is being a pain in the neck.

Oh, Ben, Fanny and I have always been so close! I cannot bear this coldness between us, especially right at Christmas. She’s going to get her heart broken. Why doesn’t she see what they are really like?

Friday, December 17, 1920

In the middle of the night

Dear Ben,

After we went to bed, Fanny got up and sneaked out of the house in the dark. Father and Aunt had gone to their room and Theo was sound asleep. Hamlet gave one deep growl, but I was the only one to hear him. I got up and looked out the window and saw Connie waiting. Fan was gone for half an hour!

I pretended to be asleep when she came in but she knew I wasn’t. She got into bed without turning on a light. Then I heard her sniffle. She was crying. I waited a while and then I asked what was wrong.

“None of your business,” she said.

I just waited. I knew she’d tell. Then she said Wendell was so furious that she couldn’t go to the dance, he asked Con, and Con said yes.

Well, Ben, I knew Wendell was a rotter, but I am still sorry for Fan.

“I hate him,” she finished. Then she whispered, “I hate them both.”

That is good news, Ben. She went to sleep after that. But I didn’t. I shouldn’t be writing this in your book, but I can’t tell Father or Aunt, and Jo is not around.

You’d think I was Fan’s mother instead of her sister. But her mother is dead and Aunt is busy with Christmas and her baby Ben.

I am going back to bed and, I hope, to sleep.

Saturday, December 18, 1920

Dear Ben,

Christmas is less than a week away. Yet I hear Aunt singing downstairs, and instead of singing carols she is warbling “I’ll be with you in apple blossom time.” I will sing something to remind her that this is WINTER.

Fifteen minutes later

I started in on “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.” Aunt broke off. Then I heard her laugh. Now she is singing “Jingle Bells.” That’s more like it.

Con came by but Fanny had gone out to do Christmas shopping. “Tell her I came by,” said Connie
with a big smirk. I did
not
promise. I think Fanny partly went early so she would not be here if Con came.

Fan said I could not come with her. She must be buying my present. What do you suppose it is, Ben?

I got
you
a ball made of cloth and a set of alphabet blocks. They are perfect.

Fanny just came in and shot upstairs with parcels to hide. And her old friend Margery was with her. I can hear them talking a mile a minute. Oh my, Ben, things are improving by leaps and bounds.

Sunday, December 19, 1920

Dear Ben,

At church, they asked me to help out in the nursery. You were so good. Betsy Walker yelled her head off when she hit her nose on the bar of the playpen, and you crawled over and patted her and made soft comforting sounds until she smiled. We taught the older ones “Away in a Manger.” Well, we sang it to them and they sort of hummed along.

It seems such a happy time, but one of the teachers was crying because her husband still has no job even though he’s been back from the War for nearly a year.

Another of the teachers made me feel selfish for being excited about Christmas coming. She says her children will have presents because they have
grandparents to help out, but lots of children won’t. I wish we could help, Ben, but thousands of men must have hundreds and hundreds of children. I’ll ask Father.

Monday, December 20, 1920

Dear Ben,

Father and Theo brought home a tree. It smells wonderful. We set it up, with lots of trials and errors, and it is halfway decorated.

I brought up the subject of the men with no jobs and the children without presents. I knew we could not help many, but maybe we could help ONE family if we knew of one.

“We’ll think about it, Fiona,” Father said, looking serious and pleased at the same time.

I am very hopeful. Good night.

Tuesday, December 21, 1920

Dear Ben,

Our whole house smells like a forest!

The minute Father finished asking the grace at supper, Aunt told us that she had found a family that needed our help. “I had a feeling you would,” Father said, beaming at her. Aunt told us that a woman was at the library this morning when she was taking back our books. The woman had come in to get warm and
she was looking so despairing that Aunt struck up a conversation with her. Her sister’s family has nothing. The woman herself said she could not manage to help out, because she has four children of her own and her husband lost his leg in the War. Anyway, Aunt said she knew right away that here was our chance, so she kept talking until she learned where the family lived, and all the children’s names and ages. She moved to another table and scribbled them down to be sure.

Suddenly Theo said, “There are lots of presents piling up in the living room. Maybe we could share. I would be willing to give my new striped pyjamas.”

“How do you know you have new pyjamas in there?” Aunt demanded, giving him her fierce look. He smiled like an angel and said the corner ripped when he was moving the parcel and he couldn’t help but see.

Everyone burst out laughing, even you, Ben.

Then Aunt got her scribbled list out of her handbag and we began to fetch things we had hidden away. I am sorry, Ben, but I put your cloth ball into the box. Not your alphabet blocks though.

Father’s Fifth-Form English class had taken up a collection and given him money for a Christmas turkey, so he donated that. We already had one turkey from Grandma and Grandy’s farm. We will pack it all tomorrow and leave it on the family’s
doorstep on December 23 so the mother can stop worrying. They only live a few blocks away. Father put in a pair of socks Grandmother had knitted for him, and a pipe and tobacco. Then Aunt contributed a nightgown she had bought for herself to wear on Christmas. It was so pretty with lace at the neck and hem. Father took a good look at it and I’ll bet he gets her one to take its place.

The oldest girl, Belinda, is twelve, so I gave her one of my precious books,
Eight Cousins.
I loved it when I was that age. I still love it, as a matter of fact.

Fanny says we should make the family some fudge. I felt my smile exactly matching hers. It was marvellous. She felt it too — I could see.

Wednesday, December 22, 1920

Dear Ben,

You took a step! And I was there to see you do it! You let go of the playpen railing and took a step to cut the corner and then you grabbed on with both fists to the other railing. You looked astonished at what you had just done. Then you sat down. I am watching to see you do it again.

You did!

When I ran to tell everyone, guess what? I caught Fanny reading
Eight Cousins
with MY glasses on. I had left them on the table because they were pinching my
nose. I could not believe that my sister, the one with the eagle eyes, was using my spectacles for reading.

I just stood staring. Then Aunt came in and stood beside me, both of us gazing at Fanny in amazement. “How would you like spectacles for Christmas, Francesca?” Aunt said softly.

Fanny went red as fire and dropped the book.

I had just remembered to tell about your first step when you let out a yell at being left alone so long, so I told them and they were most impressed. Then you did it again, which helped.

After supper

The Christmas boxes are all packed. That family will be so surprised to find their names on the parcels. Father made a card that read
With love and good wishes for a Merry Christmas from S. Claus.

Theo stared at the card. Then he said, “You write just like Santa Claus.” Father grinned and said he did his best.

Theo glared at him and shouted, “I’m still hanging up my stocking.”

“Me too,” said Father and gave him a giant hug.

Tomorrow night we are going to take the boxes over after dark and leave them on that family’s porch. Jo and Aunt will stay home with you, Ben, but the rest of us all want to go.

Thursday, December 23, 1920

Bedtime

Dear Ben,

We did it! It was incredibly exciting. There were two big boxes, one filled with food and one with presents. There was some tinsel too and Father slid in an envelope. I think it had some extra money in it for the family to spend any way they like. He put his finger to his lips so I did not ask.

We towed the boxes on our toboggan and stopped a couple of houses up the street. We hid behind a big clump of evergreens. Some places had wreaths on the door but theirs didn’t. It was late and all the windows were dark.

Then Father took one of the boxes and Fan and I carried the other between us and Theo hopped and danced along, hoping we would drop something that he would have to rescue. We did. A box of popping corn. Theo scooped it up in a flash. We were
so
quiet, even though I had a terrible time not giggling. We put the boxes on their porch and skedaddled back to the toboggan. Father stayed behind long enough to knock on the door and then he ran after us. I have never seen him run so fast. We waited until a light went on and then we scurried away before they could come out. I wish we could have waited a couple of minutes
more, just to see their faces.

Tomorrow night we will hang up our stockings, including yours, little Ben, and it will be lovely, but I don’t think anything that happens from now on will be able to measure up to tonight.

Christmas Eve

December 24, 1920

Dear Ben,

Today we have all been busy getting the last-minute things ready and wrapping little secret treats to slide into stockings. You, the SMALLEST person, have the BIGGEST stocking because you have such a pile of gifts. It’s big enough for a giant. Theo put out apples and carrots for the reindeer. Jo stayed at the hospital.

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