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Run up to Christmas

Auntie’s Christmas parties

Every year, Auntie and Harry Jukes held two Christmas parties. The first was for the children who gathered in their home during the year, helping out with the chickens, taking journeys to collect apples for toffee apples and plucking chickens to be sold for the dinner table at Christmas. The other one was for family and very close friends; although only a child, I made it to both. The children’s one was very traditional with squash, sandwiches, cake, jelly, trifle and lots of fun. The children, usually the Sharrotts and myself, plus a few assorted others, would gather at Auntie’s during early afternoon to play traditional games, such as spin the bottle and pass the parcel; each child ensured of a small present. We couldn’t play games that involved chasing round because the gas lit ‘middle room’ at 578 Parkfield Road was crammed with Victorian and Edwardian furniture.

I well remember playing on a harmonium that was to be passed on to the Bilston Spiritualist Church where the old couple were members; Harry being a spirit healer. Then there was the Victorian chiffonier that held domed displays and all sorts of knickknacks, including an early copy of Mrs Beeton, how I wanted that book in later years, but it wasn’t to be, so when the house had to be cleared, I adopted the aspidistra from the front rom in its china planter instead. Anyway, we had a fine old time in the old house giving the childless couple the company of children for a short while, as we filled the house with games and laughter. The adult party was mainly for family and it seemed that very few members of the family had youngsters, although I do remember one boy being there. I was invited because I was too young to leave alone in our house and was always regarded as a young adult, even at a young age, for these events. The house would be warm with the gas light giving a Victorian glow to the furnishings.

For this special party the front room was opened up and a bright fire, matching the one in the middle room, lit to warm us all. We would feast on home reared turkey, roasted and sliced into sandwiches along with a rich fruit Christmas cake and whatever goodies Auntie could find. The tea flowed freely for those who wanted, but most indulged in a glass of home made wine; even I was allowed to take a small glass of elderberry – nectar. I was also privy to the conversation that goes on between adults at such times as I sat on the leather chair in the corner of the front room, between the roaring log fire and the stand that held the Victorian aspidistra. These were the parties when I got one of my main Christmas presents. Imagine my surprise when one year I got a huge doll’s house made from wood supplied by the local wood working factory and built to resemble the house on Goldthorn Hill owned by Mrs Hazeldine, of the coach company. Everybody admired it and I was the envy of my friends for a very long time. It wasn’t until later years that I associated the time my dad spent in his workshop with presents like this and the desk and (padded) stool I received a year later. I always admired Mrs Hazeldine’s house when I helped deliver the milk and she was very nice to me when we met, so my doll’s house was her house. The house still stands, but has been changed out of recognition and the doll’s house is still with me, but I feel that the time is coming when it must go to another home, one that will restore it and show how presents used to be – preferably a museum.

© Eileen Ward Birch