The Christmas Box




Lorrie Wolfe

 
© Copyright 2018 by Lorrie Wolfe



Photo of a grey Christmas box.

As far back as I can remember, every year in mid-December, my father received a mysterious, special 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 nearby pharmacy.

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 Thailand.

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 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 waft 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 delicious.

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. There were the Platonic Ideal of Pears, the model to which all other pears aspired, pears delivered unharmed by neither sleet nor snow, by grace of the unstoppable U.S. Postal Service employees.

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 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 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 holiday, Christmas.

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 Santa, was 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 Poet of the Year at Denver’s Ziggie’s Poetry Festival for 2014-15.5


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