Catholic Herald, 14 December 1990
At least 20 years ago, a Mill Hill priest appealed in our church for the missions. He looked like a Christmas robin, beady-eyed, rosy and energetic.
His faith in the generosity of the congregation was infectious. Everyone tipped the contents of their purses into the basket and the collection was an all-time record.
Exchanging pleasantries on the way out, my husband told him that, like everyone else, we had given all we had. The priest assured us, with a beaming smile that we would be repaid a hundredfold. (Umm, I’ve heard that before). Two days later a tax-rebate arrived for precisely 100 times our donation. As we were at the time even more than usually strapped for cash, I’ve never forgotten my skepticism and still remember the relief of being able to settle several small but pressing bills.
It is difficult to disentangle the theological virtues, so enmeshed is one with another. But I knew that it was mainly in the spirit of hope that I wrote in November about Kostowiec, the home for abandoned and orphaned girls in Poland.
The Mill Hill priest would have had no doubts about the response – I was gob-smacked (that’s a vulgar way of saying flabbergasted). An expressive term, even better than bouleversé, as the French rather elegantly put it.
Oh me of little faith! Didn’t you know that Herald readers conceal hearts of gold! Cheques have tumbled in from all over the UK, and Ireland, and so far the sum of £1,316 has been transferred to the good sisters.
Post permitting, I hope to be able to report in January which project the nuns have earmarked for the money. What I couldn’t tell you in November, for fear of being accused of simony in reverse, is that every single week a mass is said for the intentions of benefactors. That means you. Thank you.
It seemed a good wheeze to advertise the appeal among the Polish community living in the UK. A kindly person made a stylish translation which has so far been published in Gazeta Niedzielna.
I was reluctant to ask the Poles to dip into their pockets, but Kostowiec is so special I thought they would like the opportunity to share in its support.
The UK Poles have been sending money and parcels back to their homeland since the end of the last war. No-one can calculate the sum of their contributions but it must run into millions, and it looks as if this must continue for some time in view of the precarious economic situation there. Kostowiec is just one small instance in a nation struggling to get back on its feet, in freedom.
If you can remember as far back as last December, my Chronicle had a Polish flavour too. In it, I suggested readers might like to follow the example of Our Lady’s Convent Junior School in Abingdon, where two classes “adopted” a needy Polish family.
This support has continued throughout the year and a bumper Christmas parcel has just been dispatched.
How could I have doubted the response to Kostowiec when I knew how many readers took up last year’s suggestion? Incidentally (this is really greedy), if anyone has embroidery silks, wools, felt, canvas or sewing kit mouldering unwanted in a bottom drawer, I happen to know of some Carmelites . . . the cheek of the beggar knows no bounds.
The noble art of stitchery demands nimble fingers and a clear eye, attributes usually associated with youth. Now that we have a Prime Minister who is actually younger than I am, I have to admit that tempus fugit.
But the sunset years hold hidden promise. In Sainsbury’s car-park the other day I spotted a rear window sticker which read: Just Retired, Spending the Kid’s Inheritance. Two jolly pensioners, sun-tanned and clad as for a round of golf, were stuffing the boot of their Nova with a choice selection of goodies.
Were they off to Jamaica, or Kotakinabalu for the Christmas holiday? It’s a tempting thought. To get away from crowded shops, the choosing of presents, endless cooking and squabbling relations.
One hears that there are more family rows at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Every magazine worth its salt runs a feature on how to take the hassle out of X’mas.
What a fine pickle we have got ourselves into if we cannot celebrate, once a year, together, in peace and goodwill. So – if the tree sheds all its needles on December 21, or if Aunt Mildred decided she will say for a fortnight after all, or if the turkey hasn’t de-frosted and won’t fit in the oven anyway, or you forgot to buy crackers, or a card for father-in-law, or worst of all, if the entire family comes down with ‘flu – it helps to remember the simplicity of the stable at Bethlehem. No decorations. No guests. No feast. Only glad tidings of great joy and loud hosannas.
Such moralising reminds me of the opening chapters of Little Women, when the girls bewail the lack of presents, and the fact that Marmee has taken the mouth-watering Christmas dinner, turkey, cranberries, the lot, round to a poor immigrant family.
Luckily the Marches have an equally good neighbour in kind old Mr Lawrence, who replaced the lost dinner with an even finer one.
Do children today still read Little Women? More durable than Mutant Turtles, it was a lovely book to have read to one, especially if the reader could adopt a soft American accent.
Here is a gentle game to play at Christmas when the telly is scorching. Everyone writes down in order of preference their ten all-time favourite books. Like a literary Desert Island Discs. Players must play it straight and honest and not try to score points for intellectual pretension.
The chances are that the favourite book will the one that was either read to them, or by themselves, at a very early age. There are no winners or prizes for this game I’m afraid, but it’s interesting to compare notes and many a forgotten title may be rediscovered.
For added zest, the players can include the two traditional luxury items – with a bookish flavour of course: bi-focals, a lecturn or an angle poise lamp perhaps.
One book you won’t find, because it’s only just been published, doubles up as a handy last minute present. (I have it in mind to keep Aunt Mildred quiet). The Little Russian Cookbook (Appletree Press, £3.95) is written by two Russian-born ladies now living in England. It contains more than 50 recipes simply explained and is beautifully illustrated by Anne Farrall.
Whatever you make this Christmas, wherever you go; have a very happy one.