The 10 cent Christmas

My aunt Florence had a stroke and had to go into Betel, the nursing home in Gimli but, if she were still with us, there’s a story that she would tell. She told me about it many times and I was always happy to hear it again.

When my aunt was a recently married bride (she was 18), she and her husband were very poor. They lived in a shanty. Jack was an ordinary airman in the air force and the pay was not intended to support both him and a wife. However, my aunt was beautiful and he was dashing in his uniform and they, like many young couples, were full of hope for the future. Love, they believed, could overcome al l problems.

Their first Christmas Eve, all they had between them was 10 cents. Mind you, 10 cents still meant something. You could buy something with 10 cents. It was two-thirds of a haircut, for example. It was two-thirds of a ticket to the movie. It was two ice cream cones. Still, it was just 10 cents.

They set up a tree and decorated it with what they were able to make with foil they scrounged from cigarette packages, with tin from cans, with bits and pieces of glass, with chains made from colored paper.

My aunt went to the butcher shop and said to the butcher, “Can I get some hamburger for 10 cents?”

And the butcher, who had known Forence all his life for this was a small town, Gimli, Manitoba, where nearly everyone was related by blood or marriage, even though new interlopers like my  uncle were appearing because of an airbase was being built for the war effort in Europe, said, “Sure, Florence.” And took her dime.

He went to the back, away from the counter and, when he returned, he gave her a package wrapped in brown waxed paper and tied with butcher’s string.

When she got home and opened the package, there was the hamburger and with it, short ribs and steak.