Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"The Candy Lady"

By Reverend Jesse Halsey

One rainy day in mid-October, when the rush of early month accounting was over, when the office had been put to rights, and sundry postponed correspondence dispatched, Miss Greatheart set herself to such a task as all liberal spirited, but small pursed, people are occasionally, when some appeal is pressed home to their hearts.

The Children’s Home at Dr. Greyship’s northern Mission must be supplied at Christmas. Heavy demands on the never overfull treasury, for necessities of provisions, medicine and hospital equipment, had left it so depleted that the coming of Dr. Greyship in the winter seemed the only solution of the bookkeeper’s problem. The policy of making further demands on the small borrowed balance at the treasurer’s demand, seemed highly unwise. Flour must be sent—but toys could be dispensed with. Paregoric and diverse other members of the family Pharmacopeia they must have; but candy, well candy was not an item that appeared in the budget. It was impossible.

By careful scheming enough toys had gone on the, as usual, belated schooner and every child would be supplied—every child in the orphanage with a slender surplus for the near-by hamlets. But the candy had been omitted that year in the schooner shipment, and now the time had come for the last shipment of the winter to go North by the Black Cross boat of Saturday. Was there no one who would do it?, she asked herself. Old Mr. Barnabas had sent a thousand dollar’s worth of flour in face of the starvation winter after a poor fishing season, and she had no heart to ask him for candy--bread was so much more important.

There was something in the air that day with its chill dampness and its early presagement of winter that made the little restaurant ‘round the corner seem almost homelike, for it was at least warm, and the office building with this sudden demand of the early “cold snap” on it summer corroded heating plant, gave scare comfort to its inmates.

It was Friday, the day when during the fall the restaurant featured pumpkin pies. Possibly they were better than usual, possibly the happy presence of the lady manager of the “Looking Glass” candy store on the Avenue, who had been displaying the first samples of Christmas candy, made Miss Greatheart’s mind turn to the missing box in that consignment of Northern freight. At any rate on her way back she was tempted to turn in with her table friend and see the pre-holiday display of sample lots. So many varieties! So many packages in varying shapes, designs, and sizes but nothing better than “American Mixed” and nothing more “Christmassy” than a big red brick from Santa’s chimney. “The price?” “Sixteen cents in pail lots, brick boxes, a dollar a hundred.” “Sixteen cents!” and “Looking Glass” brand had stood first in the recent pure food show! In rapid calculation she figured the cost “only six or seven dollars” and placed an order of three pails for immediate delivery at the Black Cross docks. She would pay for it herself!

Lighting the gas to help out the radiators on her return to the office, she sat down with a sense of satisfaction to answer the new mail. The orphanage children would have their candy. A self made telephone directory of the directors and special friends of the Mission lay before her and as she turned to it for an address the thought flashed through her mind—“Why not give them a chance on the candy, too—there is still time.”
Letter from Emma E. White, November 1911

Thirty calls—most of them in the downtown office district, were made. Line busy. “Party out” and all the rest fell to her share that afternoon but with gentle persistence she kept at it. Only one refusal, and four were out of town, so that by five  o’clock twenty-five had pledged their help in varying amounts from five to twenty dollars.

The “Looking Glass” shop closed at five thirty. By ‘phone they informed her that it would be impossible to fill such an order that night. “But it must be done.” The Black Cross boat sailed the following morning at ten. At length the interest of the city sales manager was solicited and he pledged his best efforts to bring in from the Jersey factory the unusual amount of seven hundred pounds of American Mixed. Six girls in the Avenue shop, when they heard the project of “candy for every child along the shore” enthusiastically volunteered to stay and help the manager and Miss Greatheart get the boxes ready, and to tie the numerous other packages that with her surplus Miss Greatheart was able to buy.

Late that night by special drayman (who reached home from the over-river docks at four next morning and who sent no bill when he found the nature of his freight) the huge packing cases, extra strong and heavily ironed, were deposited on the wharf of the Black Cross Line.

Freight for Saturdays sailing is supposed to be “cleared” through the Custom House on Friday, but at the opening hour Saturday morning Miss Greatheart confronted the shipping clerk, and explaining her errand, readily got the clearance papers and at nine thirty saw the cases swing down into the hold of the big steamer.

Late in November, the mail boat, which has familiarized the natives with the name of one of Shakespeare’s minor characters, was due with us, in the North Country. It was the last trip when she would be able to break the ice up through the harbor to our little log wharf, and everyone in the district who had anything to send for (or anything to send with) had ordered his last provision shipment for the winter, forwarded on that boat. We had been having several days of “dirty weather,” with cold unusually severe for that time of year. Our first snow flurries always come in September but it is unusual for ate November to find us completely snowed in. The harbor had been frozen over for ten days, and some of the old salts feared that the steamer could never force her way up to the wharf, which meant much extra work for our men as everything would be landed on the ice a mile down toward the harbor’s mouth.

About midnight on the first of December, our steamer sounded her deep whistle and long before the echoes of that twice repeated long blast had died away through the hills, lights were blinking out through the windows all ‘round the harbor. Long before her slow ice-breaking journey was completed the whole harbor had congregated to welcome her. Men and women and boys, girls even—everyone save the aged and ailing—were there, for was not this the last boat before Christmas, the last one at any rate that we could be sure of, and possibly the last one of the season, so the old men said, for winter had “set in wonderful arly.” The moon just past the full threw a ghastly light over our whited landscape, for even the red roofs of the trim mission buildings were no longer lent their relief to the winter monotony. Even olf Fishin’ Head whose black rock stands out through many winters untouched had been coated with an early “glitter” and reflected back the colorless sameness of the snow covered harbor.

But everyone was happy for everyone expected some package, large or small, to be disgorged from the cavernous hold of the steamer. All night the oft-repeated order of the mate, “Lower away,” and the chug of the steam which sounded through the crisp air. Men with lanterns here and there were jostling through the ever-increasing accumulation of boxes and bales on the wharf’s end, peering at address marking, to laboriously spell out a name. Many an old skipper worked with a boy at his side who had “larnin” enough to read. Mission had were loading komatiks and drawing them away to the store with the crunch of the runners on the snow, all working with a rough boisterousness characteristic of the people—even in times of depression and especially snow for was it not nearly Christmas!

At last, with the wharf groaning with boxes, barrels, bales and puncheons the steamer sounded her warning note of departure. The sling is thrown down into the hold for the last time and out at length swing two great cases, iron bound and sturdy, bearing the mark of the “Looking Glass.”

By noon, dogs and komatiks with oft-repeated trips had nearly cleared away the wharf and Uncle Jim declared there was room for nothing more.

The barn loft was filled, every available space was taken save one corner of the workshop where our two boxes were finally deposited, her to remain until there is time to “clear away.” Some days later when things had been made “ship shape,” by Joe and his helpers the cases were brought into the store and opened. “SWEETS!” is the general cry when the broken cover discloses the contents, and such a quantity—“A wonderful sight on it.” No wonder the boxes were heavy---“seven hunder’ pounds of it!” At last the mystery of the big boxes is solved.

News is soon carried to Dr. Littlejohn at the hospital and the order is to have it brought “right up,” and when all had been unpacked and stacked up in one end of the dispensary, it had the appearance of country grocer’s storeroom.

By nightfall everyone on the staff, and everyone in the in the harbor had heard the news and there was much speculation among the harbor folk as to how the mission people could eat with such a quantity of sweets.

As soon as hospital duties permitted all the members of the little mission colony were called in to help fill the boxes for distribution, for Miss Greatheart had not forgotten those read bricks, white edged to simulate mortar, to act as containers for the goodies.

In fact, we never knew until Christmas Day how much those cases did contain, for there were several boxes of varying sizes marked “Doctor In Charge—Private” which when opened on Christmas Day proved to be boxes of the best “Looking Glass” chocolates for each member of the staff, and to one house where there were little children there came a five pound box of little colored candies that furnished decorated cakes and cookies for every party for a year or more.

Two evenings were spent in filling and tying these boxes and when they were piled tier on tier in a corner of the room, old George Jouley, my helper in chimney building, said, “it looked like the skipper war goin’ to bi’l’ a fire hearth in the ‘ospital!”

The ready memory of the Doctor furnished lists of the number of children in every family down along shore—and up shore, too, so that bundles were sized according to the number of children in each hamlet. Toys had been boxes by Uncle Duke for the youngsters of each community and these with the candy made up a pack that no Santa need be ashamed to carry. “No Santa”—is there more than one? Most assuredly, at least in this country of the North, for every doctor who travels during the winter, when his professional day’s work is done, delights to impersonate “Father Christmas” and distribute the gifts that have been sent on ahead by the last mail boat or which he has brought with him. The parson does the same on his journeys, other members of the staff go purposely to the nearer villages so that before March every little place far and near has had its Christmas tree.

But such a Christmas as that was. Dolls had been seen before—occasionally at least but—candy! When had Jim Saxon, or little ‘Lish Bumper, or Effie Gray had a whole box of candy all their own? And candy gone the brick box is preserved in some homes to this day, as a reminder of its sweet contents and—oh yes! the favors—little cats and dogs and elephants and what not, cast in lead and gilded—(the sort of thing you have so often contemptuously refused when you took your change from a purchase at the Looking Glass store)—these tucked away under the last layer in the box and found only after the candy had disappeared, these are still prized “down along” the shore in dozens of homes and worn as watch charms (where watches exist) or are hoarded with the few treasures that the kiddies possess, as memorials of the “Candy Christmas.”

All winterlong, we wondered who our generous benefactor was. Dr. Brumell had gone home to England via New York and it was “just like him to do it.” Some friends had visited us the previous summer and “Very likely they did it”—but no one guessed the right one.

Little Billy Bunker who had been staying at [our house] during the Christmas season, and who had had a liberal share of the candy consignment, asked who sent the candy and not being satisfied with that “true and inclusive answer ‘Father Christmas,’” said that ‘it must have been the Candy Lady,’ and this was the only solution of the mystery that any of us had until the next summer, so that all the winter through we spoke of the “Candy Lady’s” gift and even now the children in some of those little homes are whispering their pre-Christmas wishes and hoping that hey may have another Christmas like that one which Candy Lady sent.

On my trip the next year “to the States” and only in a circumstantial way, when clearing a shipment at the custom house with the same clerk who had put through the heavy boxes of the previous winter, did I learn who the true donor was, and this story is here set down in my poor way, at this Christmastide, in appreciation of the characteristic thoughtfulness of our late secretary Miss Greatheart.

*Emma E. White was described by Jessie Luther as "secretary and devoted friend of the mission"; Luther's biographer, Ronald Rompkey, notes: "Emma E. White (d. 1944), assistant librarian at the Congregational Library from 1888 until her retirement in 1934, had formed a committee with the Rev. C.C. Carpenter to support Grenfell and urged him to come to Boston and raise money. Miss White, as "secretary," conducted Grenfell's business there after hours. It remained his "office" until 1915 when Grenfell opened a separate one at 20 Beacon Street.

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