A CHRISTMAS MEMORY BY ANN PRINSLOO
Over the years we seem to have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. I am now 71 and every year we seem to be getting earlier with the sale of cards, gifts and decorations.
I always felt we got bonfire night out of the way and then later in November things would start to appear relating to Christmas.
My story is from the 1950s when I was in my early teens. It was Christmas of 1952, my parents had an off-licence shop in Armley (Leeds). As an only child I didn’t have to share Christmas with anyone, this didn’t mean that I was spoilt, I have always enjoyed giving.
We were sat around the dining table discussing what we could do for anyone else at Christmas. As we were the proverbial ‘Open All Hours’ it meant apart from Christmas Day we had to work.
Boxing Day was Sunday opening, no market for the greengrocery and no bake house. After a great deal of thought my father approached the local children’s home, I believe it was called St. Mary’s and was situated up Stanningley Road in Armley. As we are not Catholics, the priest came to see us to check we were suitable; we then visited the Mother Superior. We had the permission, now we had to decide how to occupy four children aged four plus. We asked our customers with children in this age group what was now popular at parties, not that many parties took place as these were still lean times. We made lots of preparations, we knew we were having three boys and a girl, so we bought presents and had some games lined up, yes, passing the parcel was popular even then.
The day arrived and we were all excited and a little apprehensive, the trimmings were up, stockings hanging on the fireplace. My father and I went to collect the children; it was in the days before seat belts so they all sat in the back. I can remember having a lump in my throat as I found it hard to take in that these children were unwanted. When they arrived they were a little overwhelmed, it didn’t take long to get coats off and take them upstairs to where we had the lounge. We then introduced ourselves, told them where the loo was and the party began.
It seemed to pass very quickly and was soon lunchtime, we had our dining room downstairs so we all went down, pulled crackers and then we had lunch. After lunch they had their stockings and of course other gifts. All too soon they had to return to the Home. My father said we can’t leave the others out so we went back with boxes of sweets and biscuits.
All in all it had been a very fulfilling day, my father was delighted with Christine and when we came back home he said to my mother that he would like to have her out on a more regular basis. So they went through the procedures that were in place at that time.
Christine was allowed to come to us for one day at the weekends, this was a life changing experience as our weekends were now geared around her, shopping trips to Leeds with my mother and me, what pleasure it gave us and how she was changing into a more self assured little girl.
It was nearly Easter and my parents were aware that at five she would be moved to another orphanage, this was slowly creeping up and so my parents felt that they should try and adopt her. As we were not Catholics we knew we would have to bring her up in her own faith. The priest came to see us and he could see no problems.
We collected Christine as usual and it was a Sunday, for a long time she had been calling my father, Daddy, which I think gave him a buzz.
When we arrived home she became very weepy and couldn’t explain what was wrong, there was no consoling her, so my mother rang the Home and it was decided she should be returned. My mother went along with my father and I looked after the shop.
They had seen the Mother Superior who said they were not allowed to discuss the child’s circumstances, but in this instance she felt she would have to inform them that after four years her mother had returned and was able to look after Christine as she was getting married.
We were all very distressed as she had become a big part of our lives and we had hoped that she would be with us permanently.
The point I am trying to make in sharing this story is that we should not always expect a return from giving! And we should not always expect to receive.
We seem to have lost the true spirit of Christmas!