All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.
Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
...and out comes my Nana Ferne's Christmas package. Few events caused more excitement in the house on Armstrong Avenue than the annual arrival of the big cardboard box from New Brunswick.
In my memory it is always the size of a wheelbarrow, and contains a hundred packages, all individually gift-wrapped. My grandmother worked at a variety store on the U.S. side of the bordertown where my mother grew up, the kind of place that got swallowed up by the Wal-marts and the Dollar Stores. There was a talking mynah bird in a cage that hung near the sales counter, and dusty shelves of synthetic clothing, cheap nylons, tacky bric-a-brac, and garish cosmetics. That Christmas package was a biopsy of the store inventory, rounded out by acrylic handknitted things that might have been hats, or cozies for toilet paper, jars of preserves mined from the walls of my grandmother's earth cellar, and most anticipated of all, a Ganong's chocolate box lined with wax paper and filled with her homemade peanut butter fudge. The damn thing weighed as much as two bricks. I gorged on it so much as a kid, I haven't been able to touch peanut butter fudge in twenty years. Maybe it's time to revive the recipe for my own children.
Like my mother, I married far away from home. Here, so many years and so many miles later, I wrap the Christmas package to go to her house in Newfoundland. If I could tuck myself in it, I would. But since I can't, I make it as beautiful and as special as possible, hoping to recreate some of the excitement of Nana Ferne's package for my sister (her namesake)and her son and daughter (who is mine). There aren't a hundred, or even, dozens of gifts inside. The contents change with whim and fortune. This year, there are just four special things, swaddled and nestled in different bags, wraps and tissue. Bejewelled and ornamented with ribbons and floral picks.
It's extravagant, maybe even sinful, to put so much into wrapping that is meant to be discarded. I saw somewhere a campaign for a wrapless Christmas, and I suppose it's a virtuous thing to do, given the state of the economy and environment. When you can be there to give it, maybe a hug can be plenty embellishment for a present.
My grandmother's package, filled to bursting with things that never cost more than a dollar, was extravagant, too. She loved us extravagantly, and we always knew it, even though we only saw her once or twice a year. That simple, faithful parcel was the emissary of her own full heart, a magi.
A few weeks ago, our Maine balsam Christmas wreath arrived on our doorstep as it has every year for several years now. "Nana's wreath" has become just one of the many ways in which my children are reminded that their grandmother's love for them is evergreen. As extravagant as her mother's was for me, and as mine is for her, my sister, niece and nephew. I hope they they get a little whiff of that when they open my box each year.