Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Precious Firstlings

"Christmas Cards from the Cremers" is a brief chapter from the book A Nursery in the Nineties, the autobiography of Eleanor Farjeon (1881 - 1965). You may already know that Farjeon wrote the lyrics to "Morning Has Broken," way back before Cat Stevens made them famous (click here to hear). Farjeon also wrote the clever little poem "Cats Sleep Anywhere," which has been illustrated as a children's book many times.

You may be wondering: Why a Christmas post so soon?

Read on, and you will see:

Recalling the Christmas presents that she and her brothers received as children, Eleanor Farjeon writes:

"Among our benefactors were . . . the Cremers. . . .

Mr. Cremer kept the best toy-shop in Regent Street. There had been a Mrs. Cremer; there were two Miss Cremers. As long as old Mr. Cremer continued in life, Christmas brought us cases full of the most fascinating toys. . . .

When Mr. Cremer died, the two Miss Cremers went to live in the Isle of Thanet [the name for the area just north of Dover, not really an island, and not very far at all from London]. At Christmas now "The Cremers" meant cards only. But they were always the first Christmas cards we received--dear little robins perched on babies' cradles, dear little girls in bonnets, with bunches of holly, "To dear little Harry, dear little Nellie [this was Eleanor], dear little Joe, dear little Bertie--with love from the Misses Cremer." They came like heralds, early in December, when Christmas was three endless weeks away. Mother's voice calling: "The Cremers' Cards have come!" brought us running. We looked, and knew that Christmas was coming too.

But posts are so uncertain, and Thanet and London not quite next door, you know, and it would be dreadful to a pair of fond, remembering spinsters should their cards ever arrive a trifle late. To make quite sure, they began to despatch their Christmas cards in November.

"Children! the Cremers' Christmas cards!"


Christmas is not yet due for a full month. We run to collect the precious firstlings (emphasis added).

And years pass, you grow older, the things to be done, the occasions to prepare for, press a little more irksomely each year on ladies who, if they cannot still send cases of toys to little Harry, Nellie, Joe, and Bertie, must never disappoint dear children of their Christmas Greetings.

"The Cremers' cards!" calls Mama, somewhere about Guy Fawkes' Day [November 5th].

We return, one September, from the summer holiday. The golden weeks beside the sea have waned, but London streets are sunny, it is weeks yet to the time of fog, and fires.

Laughing too much to speak, she appears waving the envelope. "No!" exclaims Harry. But there they are, the Cremers' cards have come. "To dear little Harry, dear little Nellie, dear little Joe and dear little Bertie." The robins, and the little girls in bonnets.

Two of us at least are over twenty, and tomorrow it will be October the First (emphasis added).

That was the last of the Cremers' Christmas cards. Then time went back on them" (313 - 17).

Time went back on them. Sigh. One day, it will happen. . . .

1 comment:

  1. Dear Kitty,

    I know Eleanor Farjeon from growing up with battered copies of Kings & Queens and Heroes & Heroines in my grandmother's house (now, even more battered here). Much of what I remember about history (anglocentric though it may be) comes from those poems. Do you know them? (Henry VII begins "Bluff king Hal was full of beans./He married half a dozen queens.)

    Several years ago, we began singing a rousing and lyrical Advent hymn in church "People Look East." Who wrote these charming verses? I scanned the hymnal. Eleanor Farjeon.

    I'll have to find her autobiography.

    Thanks as always for your gleanings.