Who’s this fellow, in his fur coat and all?
Oh, just a model – the picture appeared in H.B. Co. advertising in 1906. Rufus paid $52 for that coat at the trading post in Qu’Appelle. It was no luxury, just a working guy’s coat. 1906-7 was the coldest Saskatchewan winter in decades. He and Marshall, his employer, had to drive a buggy or sleigh to get into town. It had been -30 Celsius for three weeks and only a fur coat could keep out the wind.
I guess that was his coldest Christmas.
For sure, though a couple of years later – when Rufus was shoveling coal for a living in Lethbridge – he heard that a family that hadn’t picked up their coal before it ran out had frozen to death!
That’s a terrible story! What about happier Christmases?
Here’s St Stephen’s, Bee’s and Rufus’s first house – in the woods outside Duncan on Vancouver Island. 1912 was their first Christmas and Bee roasted a duck for their dinner. She’d never cooked a bird before and they were opening the oven door to look at it every five minutes – even the cat and the dog had a look. When all was ready, they couldn’t find their carver – so Rufus carved the duck with his razor!
That’s Bee, walking off the duck, perhaps.
Maybe. Rufus had another memorable Christmas in 1916, his first one at the front. He was summoned to spend it with his uncle Harry, at the time Major General Sir Henry Timson Lukin, GOC 9th Division (British). After a night in a soft bed in the headquarters’ chateau, before eating their own Christmas dinner, Rufus had to accompany his host on a tour of his division – in the trenches on foot – to make sure the men had had their Christmas pudding. And during this tour the Germans sent over their contribution to a Merry Christmas, in the form of an afternoon barrage. As Rufus described it, “a Hun shell burst not far away and between him and me a chunk of iron 6 inches long landed. It was so hot I could not pick it up at first.”
What about the Christmas when Rufus and Bee became engaged?
My goodness, I was forgetting that. It was Christmas 1908. Rufus, having made enough money working for Beaver Lumber at Govan, Saskatchewan, came back to England to get engaged to Bee. He came to Canterbury, where Bee was spending Christmas with her family, and stayed at the Rose Hotel.
In a much later letter to Bee, he reminisced. “I shut my eyes and
saw the old upstairs room at the Rose Hotel on a wintry morning when you
came up there and Mrs Eddy played and I sang “Thora”. And that made me
think of all those days about Christmas 1908. Do you remember walking past
Bunce’s with your old headpiece in the air — on Christmas Eve — and I was
standing in the door of the Rose. Then I dashed in and got my cap and caught
you up on King’s Bridge — and then we had a scene and I gave you your orders
to marry me.”
What does he mean by “I gave you your orders to marry me?” Didn’t he propose?
Well, yes he did later, in a sort of a way. You see, Bee was playing hard to get. Rufus had been away for three years and her life had been hard. She was making him sweat a bit – and quite right too. The ‘scene’ that he talks about was when she told him to take a jump!
So Rufus had to convince her after that.
He did. They spent a lot of time together – “those days about Christmas 1908” that Rufus mentioned. Then one evening they were at a dance and, as they were dancing, Rufus said, rather matter-of-factly : “I think we should get married.” And Bee answered: “Oh, all right.”
And that was it? They were engaged?
That’s right. Both of them had a hard time talking about their feelings. We don’t even know if he gave her a kiss! But it did make for a memorable Christmas – probably the best ever, for both of them.