When I walked to the local hardware store to pick up a replacement piece for my ceiling fan, I hadn’t expected them to be open. I’d expected a routine curbside pickup. Once I arrived, I remembered that these stores were deemed essential businesses, and that I would actually have to enter the store to get my purchase.
It’d been months since I’d stepped into a store that wasn’t a supermarket, without my boyfriend on my heels, wanting to get out as soon as possible. It was nice to get lost in that nostalgic consumer’s high, floating up and down and the aisles, looking at all the potential Christmas gifts I wouldn’t be buying this year.
I was drawn to a snowy display case, with a miniature porcelain Christmas village inside. When I was a child, my uncle and I used to put up a similar village in my grandparents’ house each year. Ours was even better than the one in the store. In the North corner of the village, we’d build a big snowy mountain under the white fuzzy blanket, with hidden Kleenex boxes and cotton balls. We had tobogganing village children to slide down it. We had an aluminum foil skating rink in the centre of the town, and cobblestone paths leading to all the stores, to the school, to the church and to the city hall. Our town was even surrounded by a running train that stopped at the Dickensville station.
November through January, I’d spend hours sitting and staring into Dickensville. It was such a magical village. Some villagers were just arriving in town, their arms filled with packages; some were relaxing on a bench in the town square; others having snowball fights or building snowmen. At nighttime, my grandmother would flick the switch and each building would be lit up from the inside. The buildings’ glass windows revealed details inside the houses. Families eating dinners, sitting around pianos, singing carols. I’d keep a running tab of all the villagers, their names, familial relationships, hopes and dreams. I’d write stories about their adventures.
Back at the hardware store, they only had two or three village buildings left in stock so close to Christmas. One was a toy shop and another was a theater that sold popcorn. They also had some decorations you could buy separately like a crowd of carolers in a gazebo, an icy bridge with a bird perched on a post, and a coffee cart run by an elderly man. I picked up the latter to examine it.
“Put that back,” my mom’s voice rang in my ears. “You don’t need it.”
I returned the package to the shelf, and turned away from the village display with a heavy heart. It had been years since I’d last had my own Christmas town. When my grandparents and my uncle moved up north, they took Dickensville with them.
My mother was not a traditionalist, and she was not very sentimental. She didn’t care for knick-knacks and wasn’t interested in porcelain villages as seasonal decorations. Some years, she’d decide to decorate for Christmas, but others, I had to beg her to even get a Christmas tree at all. To appease me at times, she’d decorate a potted plant with string lights and leave them up all year long.
One year when I was a teenager, my grandmother bought me my very own Christmas village deluxe set from Costco. She knew how much it meant to me. It was one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received. That was the year Dickensville 2 was born. This set came complete with all the main buildings and a whole set of villagers and town decorations. The first year I had it, I put it up with the help of my best friend Chloe and returned to my habit of sitting by the town, writing stories about the villagers.
Dickensville 2 was a bit nomadic, finding a new place for its villagers every year, some years not making it out of its plastic tub at all. When I moved out, I was able to proudly display Dickensville 2 again. Unfortunately, that was the year the village was attacked by a ginormous feline, who swatted the tiny villagers to the floor, so he could sit in the center of the town himself. Every day after work, I’d find little porcelain feet, arms, legs and even heads on the living room floor.
It was almost mid-January of that year when my boyfriend Paul said I had to take my display down. We were having people over for Chloe’s birthday, and he thought it was unacceptable to have Christmas paraphernalia still up. I argued that the village wasn’t necessarily Christmas specific, and that there would still be snow on the ground in the real world for months and months, but he wouldn’t hear it. I reluctantly packed up Dickensville 2 for the very last time.
I don’t know where Dickensville 2, with its mutilated inhabitants, ended up. It was left behind in the messy dissolution of our friendship. I can only hope it was donated to Goodwill and is now lighting up another little girl’s Christmas.
I zig zagged through the aisles of the hardware store after retrieving my online purchase at the customer service desk, my mind filled with memories of villages past. Eventually, I ended up back to that Christmas display, unable to head back home yet.
A little porcelain family standing around their wood-paneled, green station wagon caught my attention. Mom and Dad are securing their freshly cut Christmas tree to the hood of the car, while James is taking great pride in carefully holding the axe used to cut it, and little Janey is running around with a leaf she found on the floor. The Dickens. The founding family of the future Dickensville 3, which started rebuilding that very day.