My first Christmas morning in St. Louis, I must have been about nine, my stepfather Bob, Mom, little brother Mark and I drove out to see Bob’s Aunt D. We’d just moving from Washington DC, where it was warmer. St. Louis that morning was bitter cold, the sky leaden, air snowy. Aunt D had hit upon hard times but managed to find a house behind Grant’s Farm for her and her children.
It was a tar-paper shack. Aunt D and the kids were delighted to see us, ushering us into the front room. There were no lamps so the room was shadowy but the gas space heater was cranked up high, casting a warm glow as well as making the place surprisingly toasty.
In the bag of gifts we brought, besides a turkey, bread, milk and eggs, was a poppy seed cake my Mom had made. Aunt D grabbed plates and forks and we all tucked into the marvels of Polish baking. Despite the gloomy surroundings Aunt D shined. She had a rosy disposition, unlike her nephew, which filled that impoverished room with far more sunshine than our more middling apartment.
They had a lopsided fresh-cut scrub pine tree, wedged in a bucket, festooned with old-fashioned ornaments: strung popcorn, some hand-cut tin stars, made with tin snips from the lions of Lyle’s Golden Syrup cans. Nestled underneath the tree were several presents wrapped in newspaper...no tape, a little string, the edges neatly folded and tucked under so they were securely wrapped. Penciled in a corner was the recipient’s name.
The newspaper gift wrap was shocking to my more pampered eyes. I’d never seen a present wrapped in anything but wrapping paper. I’ve no recollection what Aunt D gave us. That recycled newsprint was my memory gift.
I haven’t bought wrapping paper since 2003, a very expensive year for us. The hidden gift of that hard year, like the visit to Aunt D’s, was a reawakening of more simple values. I’m ever on the lookout now for clever ways to make cost-free wrapping paper, for I’m a keen devotee of lovely wrappings. Check out my next blog, Newspaper Bow for a photo guide on how to make this bow.