THE thermometer went down two clapboards and things buttoned up some good for Christmas, unseasonably early even for rugged Maine, and I spoke to my helpmeet thusly: ``Maybe I should-a ordered some Christmas candy!'' So we had a good laugh remembering the chilly year of No Long Underwear, and the Hard Candy Christmas that went with it. Back then, in the days of a barn full of cows, cordwood cutting, and the long months between our July summer and maple-sap time in the spring, we did a lot of trading by mail with what we called Monkey-Ward. Maine winters seem not so drastic now, but in those days along about September I'd climb into my two-piece insulated winter longies, pull the string tight at the equator, and live in comfort until spring.
I would order these necessities as needed along in early September, and until the Year of the Christmas Candy, Monkey-Ward always responded with good quality, efficient dispatch, and a fair price. But the year of the Christmas Candy was also one of the years of the war, and there were shortages. Instead of my longies I got an apologetic card that said my items were out of stock and would I please reorder in 20 days.
The endemic computer error hadn't been invented then, so I plunged ahead with every expectation of success. After 20 days, I got another card telling me to reorder in 20 days, and after enough of this our mailman, Charlie Smith, took an interest and would greet me at the RFD box with, ``Not today!''
The weather was now falling apart and I was in dire need. I wrote a couple of letters explaining my problem, and then one morning Charlie held up a card and waved it at me as he pulled up at my box. ``On the way!'' he called, and the card told me my shipment was coming. It was now just before Christmas.
Two days later, Charlie left me a bundle from Monkey-Ward, and when I opened it I found 15 pounds of hard Christmas candy. I wrote immediately, and just as immediately Monkey-Ward sent me another bundle that contained four bicycle tires, 10 violin strings, six perforated rolls of ``Yes! We Have No Bananas'' for a player piano, and a small bottle of varnish for a flyrod. So I took the hard candy down to the schoolhouse and gave it to Mrs. Purrington, who doled it to the youngsters.
The bicycle tires, etc., I mailed back to Monkey-Ward with a letter pasted outside the bundle that was testy. I emphasized the severity of the season and my great desire to avoid exposure.
Back came a letter saying I should reorder in 20 days. I did, and Charlie brought me another bundle that astonished me with a box of lilac toilet soap, a package of sticky flypaper, a tube of tennis balls, and an enamel teapot. In those days the cheapest way to mail parcel post was from an RFD box, so I put things back together and Charlie obliged.
By now, thanks to Charlie and my own natural proclivity for telling a story, everybody in town knew about my long underwear, and I would get a joshing when I stepped into the barbershop. ``They come yet?'' I'd get, and I'd chatter my teeth. Winter was snorting at the keyhole. Then I'd write another letter.
All through this, Monkey-Ward maintained a pleasant dignity, and did not murmur or repine. They were so constantly amiable that I felt guilty about making a nuisance of myself, and when I reordered again and again every 20 days I made myself sound friendly.
Soon we had bare places in the fields and buds again on the dooryard lilacs and the maple-sap buckets had been washed and stored. It was nearing the time to shed the longies. So now came a letter from the general manager himself, thanking me for my patience and saying my order was being processed that very day.
The next day, Charlie brought me my bundle with three sets of insulated winter underwear. The next day Charlie brought me another bundle with three sets of insulated winter underwear. That somewhat ended the transaction, except for a couple of things.
First, I wrote a letter explaining that I had paid for my first three sets when I first ordered back in September of last year, but I had received an extra set of three and I would keep them against next winter, and I was forwarding payment. Except, I added, that I had paid postage to return unwanted merchandise sent to me in error - bicycle tires, tennis balls, and violin strings, to name a few, and I was deducting this amount from my remittance.
I was also, I said, paying for 15 pounds of hard Christmas candy which had come to me by mistake but which I had kept and donated to the school. I thanked Monkey-Ward for taking good care of me, wished the corporation all success, and promised to continue my trade in the future.
Four days later, Charlie dropped off another 15 pounds of hard candy.