Chapter 10, Christmas Shopping
Wondering about her story, Flossie’s Accident (which I keep wanting to call Flossie’s Head – I think that must be how it has been colloquially discussed over the years), Betsy asks her father how long it takes a letter to go to Philadelphia. He says two or three days. Except that Betsy waits and waits and The Ladies Home Journal does not send her $100. Julia is curious about who Betsy knows in Philadelphia. As an older sister, I know that feeling of wondering what on earth your sibling is up to now!
“The King of Spain maybe,” said her father. He was teasing. For when Betsy, Tacy and Tib were only ten years old and didn’t know any better, they had written a letter to the King of Spain. They had received an answer, too.
Once school gets out for the Christmas holiday, the trio has an important engagement. Every year on the first day of Christmas vacation they go shopping together. This year they decide to invite Winona. They’ve been playing with her a lot and having fun. Now they are amused at how she will navigate their shopping expedition.
“We’ve done it the same way ever since we were children,” said Betsy. “We always take ten cents apiece, and we always buy just the same things.”
“What do you buy?”
“You’ll see,” said Betsy, “if you want to come along.”
They liked to tease Winona because she was such a tease herself.
Winona’s black eyes snapped.
After the mail comes (with nothing for Betsy), they call for Winona and head downtown. The streets are full of sleighs and cutters. They stop in every store and examine everything in detail. They visit Cook’s Book Store where they bought the replacement copy of Lady Audley’s Secret. They visit the harness and saddle maker’s shop where Tib climbs on the wooden horse in the window (there is a little recognition of the negative aspects of technology – the hardness and saddle maker is worried the horseless carriage will put him out of business – and he is likely correct). They visit the hardware store where one can, amazingly, buy a horseless carriage. They visit Lion Department Store, the drug store (where they sample all the perfume), and the jewelry store where they are not allowed to try anything on. Finally, they wind up at the toy store which is full of beautiful dolls, an expensive dollhouse, and much else. Winona is impatient and asks if they can use their dimes for something to eat.
“We don’t. But after we’ve spent them, we go to call on our fathers. And you can’t call on four fathers, without being invited out to Heinz’s Restaurant for ice cream.”
“I suppose not,” Winona agreed. “Well, what do we buy then?”
Betsy, Tacy and Tib take Winona down to the back of the store where there is a table of iridescent Christmas ornaments.
“Nothing,” Tacy tried to explain, “is so much like Christmas as a Christmas-tree ornament.”
“You get a lot for ten cents,” said Tib.
They gave themselves then with abandon to the sweet delight of choosing. It was almost pain to choose. Each fragile bauble was gayer, more enchanting than the last. . .
Betsy at last chose a large red ball. Tacy chose an angel. Tib chose a rosy Santa Claus. Winona chose a silver trumpet.
They yielded their dimes and the lady with the eye glasses wrapped up the four packages.
Betsy, Tacy, Tib and Winona went out into the street. The afternoon was drawing to a pallid close. Soon the street lamps would be lighted.
“Which father shall we call on first?” asked Winona.
“Mine is nearest Heinz’s restaurant,” said Betsy.
They walked to Ray’s Shoe Store, holding Christmas in their hands.
And this is the inspiration for the famous Maud-L Ornament Exchange!
The December streets of Deep Valley are full of sleighs and cutters. A cutter is a lightweight, open, horse-drawn sleigh, introduced in the United States in about 1800. It usually had a single seat that held two people, but some contained a second one, which could be removed or jumped out of the way when not in use, for two additional passengers, and some had a child’s seat that folded out when needed. For the differences between sleighs and cutters, click here.
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