Campbell’s Christmas Carol
It was December 1962 and a week before Christmas. The weather was cold, damp and misty but things were hotting up inside 119 Springburn Road, where my parents, Monica and Robert Campbell held court at their greengrocer’s. They had been in business for five years and during that time had become well established in the community.
Christmas comes but once a year and with it came the special Christmas lines of produce. In those days the housewives who possessed a fridge were few and far between, let alone a freezer. Therefore tinned foods were popular and we stocked quite a variety: from Holland, cooked cauliflower and whole cooked chickens which came in long, tubular tins. Olde Oak provided neat little glass jars of chicken breasts in jelly, along with their speciality ham in oval shaped tins. And for something truly special there was the brand Epicure. They supplied delicious melon balls, succulent golden half peaches and white peaches. Those white peaches were to die for!
In those days fresh produce was available only when in season, and at Christmas it seemed as if the world was coming through our doors to buy what goods the world had shipped for us to sell. The Canary Islands would send their tomatoes, while Israel packaged tangerines in pale blue boxes with a little cellophane window to show ripe round fruit wrapped in silver. My favourite was from South Africa, because they would ship their bulging blue-black grapes in wooden barrels. Lifting off the lid felt like opening a Christmas parcel because the contents still remained a mystery: you had to dip your fingers into the layers of shredded cork to find a bunch of grapes. Once they were all hung on butcher’s hooks and were hanging on the window shelf, the barrel was put aside to give to a “good” customer to hold her Christmas tree.
In every spare nook and cranny the groaning shelves displayed tins of biscuits, tea caddies, selection boxes and fancy boxes of chocolates. In the cake department we sold Tunnock’s Christmas hampers offering their best goodies. And pride of place was the selection of Christmas cakes from Jacobs, clothed in their distinctive red and green boxes. In the centre of this display would be the largest cake at twenty-five shillings. Mum would order this de-luxe cake each year in the hope to tempt a customer and I always hoped no-one would buy it, as I knew that if it hadn’t been sold by Christmas Eve it would end up on our table.
Outside the shop front huddling together were the Christmas trees, and inside, wherever there was space, hung fresh holly wreaths.
To add to the additional colour and scents of the goods on display, Dad would seriously dress the shop and window as if he was in competition with George Square.
The Christmas lights in the window would wink at the streetlight outside and it seemed as if it twinkled back in reply. I could imagine that the bell above the door rang out a festive greeting to one and all.
My calm, confident mother would patiently tot up how much was in the Xmas Club while the customer would be considering which of the goods on offer to purchase. My father was the genial host, always ready to talk and listen. Such was his patter and personality, I knew of businessmen who would deliberately travel to our shop so that they could enjoy my father’s witticisms while they sampled our fruit, assured that both were of excellent quality.
As the days drew nearer to the 25th, the pace hastened as extra orders came from our customers to be made up and delivered. The men from the Caley rail works across the road would shyly ask for boxes of chocolates for their wives. As the shop would become busier we would work faster and faster, often bumping into each other and giggling. The excitement from the customers, especially the children, was infectious. And everyone would leave our shop with a smile on his or her lips saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and all five of us would echo back, “Merry Christmas!”.
Then on Christmas morning Dad and I would open the shop for a few hours to oblige any customer who may have forgotten something. And tumbling through the door would come people as eager to show off as to shop: proud new mothers displaying their babies in beautiful new clothes and shiny new prams, and the children with their new toys of footballers, cowboys, bus conductors, doctors, nurses...
Their eyes would be round as saucers, their words tumbling, desperate to get out of their mouths, competing with each other as they recounted to us the magic of Santa Claus’s visit. My father would smile at me, and I’d smile back, both of us loving every minute of it.
This is the warm glowing flame of Christmas Past that I retain: the scents of pine and cork, the sounds of love and laughter, the winking, colourful lights and all the people who came through our shop door and became part of Campbell’s Christmas carol.