Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 12.16.14
Stanstead, Quebec


The Christmas parcel

"Parcel went to the post office before 5 p.m. today," my mother e-mailed me from Nova Scotia. That puts me on high alert to get to our post office on Thursday or so. Mom will want to know when it arrives.

The parcel, I know, will be a box wrapped in brown paper and taped up like a hostage. We'll have a team of Navy SEALs on standby to breach the packing tape if need be. Our address will be clearly marked on the paper. When we penetrate the paper and packing tape, the address will also be written on the box itself.

"Please note all the tape," Mom wrote, as if it could be otherwise. "I always hope that the paper does not get ripped, and that is why I put an address on the box as well."

I wrote back: "The writing on the box is the best part. And the tape!" Mom replied: "Remember, I had a good teacher in mailing parcels" -- her own mom, whose hyper-parcelling was likewise legendary -- "those big parcels sent to England during WWII and knowing they would be on a ship for who knew how long."

How Mom's parcels might be subject to U-boat attack en route from the Maritimes, I'm not quite sure, but they are coming to Quebec, and that's essentially foreign territory. Never in all the years we've lived in Quebec has the box arrived anything less than pristine. And good thing. Because inside are our presents for Christmas Day. Very nice. But that's not all. There are also treats. Treats for right now.

Every year, Mom sends Christmas goodies. The content has varied over the years. For some time, there was homemade peanut brittle and something called "yule log." This was semi-sweet chocolate, coconut, walnuts and -- pièce de resistance -- coloured marshmallows, log-shaped and wrapped in wax paper. It was a recipe that recalled those Kraft commercials, the ones with the hands that I will ever associate with "The Carol Burnett Show."

We haven't seen the yule log in years. Marshmallows went out of style, maybe. (As if!) They were replaced by truffles -- mocha balls rolled in cocoa that my son James can eat his weight in, given the chance. My mom likes sticking notes on things almost as much as she likes taping, and she will remind James that they are to share, with three exclamation marks!!!

But the one constant has been Scotch cakes, what the rest of the world outside calls "shortbread." In fact, do an online search for "Scotch cakes" and Google kind of looks at you funny.

But Scotch cakes they were growing up and Scotch cakes they remain, unchanged since my youth. They will arrive perfectly round and flat on top, likely punched out with an old condensed milk tin that Mom has used for years exclusively for this purpose. There will be a button of pink icing on top of each. They will arrive in an old greeting card box, and the layers of cookies will be separated, again, by wax paper. We've sent parcels through the mail ourselves. We've sent my parents Quebec maple syrup and cheese and ice wine -- er, I mean, "flavoured vinegar," Canada Post. When our eldest daughter was in Malaysia for Christmas, we sent her a box filled with treats and Canadian goodies, and I'm not even going to hint at the things we shouldn't have mailed, Canada Post. Besides, the postage we paid to mail the thing could have covered a good chunk of a plane ticket home, so you're welcome.

Christmas parcels are as close as you can get to a loved one if you can't be there yourself. They take effort. They involve shopping, wrapping, baking, packing, taping, more taping, and just a bit more taping.

My mother is 84. Even last year, when Dad wasn't well, she went ahead and sent her parcel, even though she shouldn't have. And I think I know why. Sending the box of goodies is like pulling that ancient Christmas garland out of storage year after year. It pulls a line through the years, from this troubled time with its worries and stress and aging, all the way back to childhood when Christmas and everything about it was wonderful. And we remember the hope we had back then, a hope that good things will get passed along.

And, of course, eaten.