The Christmas Box
Copyright 2018 by Lorrie Wolfe
As far back as I can
remember, every year in mid-December, my father received a mysterious
package. Back then, in the late 1950’s, any kind of package
would have been noticeable because our mail consisted of a stack of
window envelopes and his magazines – Architectural Digest,
Modern Photography, Audiophile, and Time — with only the
last being shared territory with my mother.
Boxes were an altogether
different story. We weren’t the kind of family who ordered
things from catalogs. There was no box-of-the month club. Presents,
if they came in boxes at all, were generally bought on deep sale and
placed in a box that had previously held something completely
unrelated, so that you had the dubious pleasure of unwrapping gift
wrap (also previously used and carefully ironed) and then wondering
what possibly might emerge from your brother’s sneaker box, or
the one labeled “Quantity 6, 200 ml” addressed to the
Dad’s package was
all I knew of Christmas. We weren’t poor, but we were Jewish.
The lavish frenzy of Christmas was as unknown and foreign as
I looked forward to Dad’s
annual package with lust and salivation. When it arrived, no matter
what time of day, it waited till he got home from work at 5:30. The
package was addressed to him, and opening mail was a sacred rite only
to be performed by the addressee, on pain of immediate punishment by
the U.S. Postal Service…or my mother.
Eight inches high, a foot
across and half again as wide, the box waited on the dining room
table until he’d had his post-work ritual twenty-minute
sit-down-and his “relax” scotch-on-the-rocks in his
Danish modern armchair, by himself, in the quiet living room. He
removed his tie, folded it in thirds, and laid it on the coffee
table. He unbuttoned the collar of his still-pressed white shirt,
while my mother continued dinner preparations in the kitchen. All
afternoon, I had hovered around the box, reading the label that
proclaimed its fresh and unused truth, its far away origins, and
unfathomable and nameless return label.
The box was pale gray, a
color I interpreted as elegant rather than utilitarian. Its Kelly
green and deep Concord grape script announced “Fragile”
and “Handle with Care” and declared it had journeyed all
the way from Washington State, confirmed by the black circle stamped
by the Post Office. It was sealed with wide, clear tape.
When at last my father
emerged, softened by scotch and silence, the family – me, my
older brother and sister, grandma, and mother – gathered in
reverence around the dining room table while he took a small silver
pen-knife from his pants pocket. Carefully, he slit the tape.
I had a moment of fear –
what if the box held, not the promised delight, but something
ordinary and inapplicable to me, like electronic parts for his
stereo, or some new camera lens or photographic paper?
But the box never
disappointed. With the lift of the padded lid, came a smell so
distinctive, so unbearably sweet, that I recognized it after a year
of separation. The box top, still attached along one edge, flipped
back with a quiet thwack onto the dark walnut tabletop, as if
relaxing after performing its vigilant protection across six states.
Green translucent strips of excelsior, that I would have recognized
as Easter basket grass if we had celebrated Easter, lay in a curly
nest across the entire surface. The strips sprang to life at escaping
the lid, releasing another wave of delicate scent.
Dad gently scooped the
excelsior into the lid where it caught the light and sparkled against
the pale gray cardboard. The smell that wafted up was unbearably
There in the box, each one
beautifully nestled in its own bunting of white tissue paper, lay a
dozen pears. Three high and four across, all angled at precisely the
same dapper tilt, they rested, held in a cup of purple cardboard
shaped to each of their magnificently curved bodies.
These were not just any
pears. Not like the small, veined creatures my mother brought home
from the store, pocked with soft brown bruises that oozed at a touch.
Not the yellow pyramids that turned to mush in the lunch box. These
were the Marilyn Monroe of pears, abundantly curvaceous in all the
right places, the Platonic Ideal of Pears, the model to which all
other pears aspired, and they arrived every year, delivered unharmed
by neither sleet nor snow, by the grace of the unstoppable U.S.
They were huge, as big
around as a softball, their full hips as generous as a grandmother,
their muscular tops as pert and sleek as a greyhound.
The pale green of their
skins glowed as gently as Italian leather boots. Surely, I thought,
such fruit must come from an enchanted garden, one maintained by
fairytale farmers, and guarded by painted wooden soldiers who would
spring to life at any threat to their treasure.
The box’s abundance
was not dispersed all at once, but hoarded like the treasure it was,
to make it last. Each pear was parceled out throughout the holiday
season in carefully cut halves and measured quarters, tiny slivers of
pithy center cut carefully away to leave the greatest possible amount
of meat and its jaunty brown stem intact.
Oh, those scrumptious
bites! The first few days, the pears still green and slightly
crunchy, their sides giving way to teeth with a soft click that
started with the incisors and lasted all the while the bitten chunk
pressed between molars and across the tongue. Each day the pears took
on a new hue, emerging from the box more golden, as if
Rumplestiltskin’s princess had spun her blessed straw into
their golden skin each night as we slept. And each day, the crunch
reduced itself ever so slightly so that the pear responded more
quickly to the initial bite, turning to exquisite pastiche as
it dissolved between the press of tongue and the roof of the mouth.
What a treat to find at
dinnertime a first course of a half pear decorated with a bright
maraschino cherry or a single pecan resting in its concave center. A
pear slice after dinner would be presented with a wedge of white
cheese, Edam or Gouda still wrapped in its red wax skin. How grown up
it all seemed — this feeling so cosmopolitan, so urbane.
I never knew the name of
the enigmatic sender of the pears. I only know that the magic of
arrival, the smell and flavor of those pears meant for me a moment of
grace, of luxury, and an understanding of the universe’s
abundance. It afforded me a glimpse of that mysterious, unfathomable
Lorrie Wolfe is a
technical writer and editor living in Windsor, Colorado. She is
passionate about volunteers, creating community, and about the power
of words to unite and move people. Her work has appeared in Earth’s
Daughters, Progenitor Journal, Tulip Tree Review, Pilgrimage, and
Pooled Ink. Her chapbook, Holding: from Shtetl to
published by Green Fuse Press in 2013. She edited and contributed to
the 2017 poetry anthologies Mountains, Myths &
Memories and Going Deeper. Lorrie was named
the Year at Denver’s Ziggie’s Poetry Festival for
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Another story by Lorrie
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