Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page.
Knock and Wait by Gwen Grant
[The narrator is at an Open Air School – a sanatorium for children – in 1948, and Christmas has come round]
They put up a tree in the hall and we made things for it, like silver stars and reindeers. I made an angel and Golda made a snowman, because it started snowing just before Christmas. I was freezing and I couldn’t get my hands or feet to stay warm at all.
Anyway, we had this tea party with Christmas cake and sweets and crackers. The crackers went bang when you pulled them. Not like the crackers at home that our Joe makes out of newspaper. They go pht! tear! And out drops one sweet or a marble. I liked our Joe’s crackers very much.
These crackers had very pretty things in and bits of paper as well.
All these bits of paper said something on them and mine said, “It is better to give than to receive”, so when Sister Sweet hauled me up in front of Miss Collingwood for giving this kid a thump for pinching the whistle which was in my cracker, I showed this paper to Miss Collingwood. “It says here,” I says to her, “That it is better to give than to receive,” and Miss Collingwood said, “Nonsense! You know perfectly well it doesn’t mean giving other people black eyes.”
commentary: Festivities at the sanatorium are featuring a lot in these special seasonal entries, but then it is fascinating to read about the institutionalized Christmases, where people were mostly separated from their families.
Gwen Grant, the author of this book, had to go away from her family as a child because of illness and live in an Open Air School (see her website here), and Knock and Wait is based on that: in this case it is anaemia rather than TB that is the problem, but the experience sounds much the same.
There is a scene where the children audition for a Christmas concert, but sadly the actual event doesn’t feature in the book.
I think it’s true that we never find out the narrator’s name in this book: on the rare occasions where you would definitely expect to learn it (eg in a letter) her brother calls her Tin-Ribs, and she signs her own letter ‘your daughter’. She has a friend with the splendid name Golda Miranda.
The usual hat-tip to blogfriend Daniel Milford Cottam for alerting me to this book – there was an entry on it earlier in the year.
New Year crackers rather than Xmas ones - card from the NYPL.