A Shoe Box full of Treasure

I closed the front door on Friday afternoon for the final time with a satisfying bang. My work was done, and everything resolved just in time. My Twitter followers are doubtless also breathing a sigh of relief. But the outcome is a caring and positive one, at a time where Austria heads towards a second lockdown in under 36 hours from now. My army of deliverymen (not an Amazon white van in sight!) came and collected their allotted number of shoe boxes, and took them off to their own homes for onward distribution. For me, it was the culmination of weeks of mails, collections, carloads and turning my spare room into an outpost of Santa’s factory at the North Pole.

Normally, I would not have started planning Operation: Christmas Cheer by now. But 2020 has been no ordinary year. And my setting myself a target of having everything finished by the end of October might just have proven itself to have been a masterstroke. The circumstances have actually helped my plan. Below I’ve only mentioned some of the suppliers who have helped out – I think there were twenty in all.

A wholesaler of portion-sized jam jars came up trumps, donating a lot of jams that he’d ordered for a hotel, which has shut its doors for good. Miniature bottles of schnapps have also been procured in a similar vein (a company has gone under that was using them for parts of its Christmas giveaways, and my contact was very happy to unload about 1,000 miniatures of various schnapps). I also managed to secure some insect hotels and bird feeders and a couple of bird boxes.

Similarly, a supplier of “individual bottles of wine” (in that 175 ml / quarter bottle size) was happy to provide 300 bottles free of charge, left over from Christmas hampers. A shoe shop that was closing down due to the owner retiring supplied me with 150 shoe boxes and lots of coloured tissue papers. Others supplied items at cost (bags of Lebkuchen, shampoos and soaps) and last but not least, a hamper supplier also donated a lot of excess ribbon.

So all this goodwill was assembled and boxes filled for sending out to the infirm and elderly, through my model railway club. The club’s activities have been cancelled for the foreseeable future (including our Christmas dinner, at which we usually have a great time and is a “Christmas substitute” for some of our members and their partners. As clubs and associations have found their activities cancelled, particularly for organisations that have ageing and infirm memberships, our care packages have become even more important than previously.

The fact of the matter is a simple one: Christmas 2020 promises to be a vastly different one to any in my lifetime. I’m not old enough to remember Christmases during World War II, and grew up in post-rationing Britain so have little experience of Christmas in adversity, but do remember having a lonely Christmas in the 1980s, holed up with a ‘flu’ in South East England and unable to see family members. This year, it could well be a virtual Christmas – over Zoom, Whatsapp or Skype – for many. That was why for me, someone who remembers Christmas in less commercial times, it was necessary to ensure that some Christmas cheer at least is guaranteed for those who are currently least likely to have some otherwise.

Shoe boxes have a special connection for me. As a boy, moving frequently, I remember my parents telling my brother and me not to get too attached to homes and possessions. My mother did on one occasion give us a shoe box each and told us, that we could take whatever fitted into a shoe box, as there was space in our packing boxes for a shoe box. At the time, we lived near a wood, and my box included some pine cones, some fragments of a bird’s nest, a snail’s shell and a few other “exhibits” from my very small personal museum (I come from an era when any collection seemed to be considered a museum), an old exercise book that I had used to draw rough maps of the woods, and a stamp album.

And on that note, I must get out for my afternoon walk – as part of my preparations for the forthcoming lockdown I am back into morning and afternoon walks, although this morning saw me charging around cemeteries, tending family graves with my wife, as we are the fittest. But that is another tale. Stay safe everyone!