Mrs. Miniver Makes a List
"Will ye be wanting anything more tonight, mem?" asked Mrs. Adie, putting the coffee down by the fire and picking up Mrs. Miniver's supper-tray.
"No, thank you, nothing at all. As soon as I've made out my list of Christmas presents, I'm going straight to bed."
Mrs. Adie paused at the door, tray in hand.
"Ay," she said. "This is going to be a queer kind of Christmas for the bairns, with their Daddy away."
"I dare say he'll get leave," said Mrs. Miniver hopefully.
"Mebbe ay, mebbe no." Mrs. Adie was not one to encourage wishful thinking. "To say nothing," she added, "of having ten bairns in the house, instead of three. My! it'll take me back to when I was a wean myself."
"Why, there weren't ten of you, were there?"
"Thirteen," said Mrs. Adie, wearing the particular expression that Clem always called "Scotland Wins."
Mrs. Miniver was surprised, not so much by the information itself as by the fact that Mrs. Adie had vouchsafed it. She was not in the habit of talking about her own childhood. Indeed, she rather gave the impression that she had never had one, but had simply risen from the foam, probably somewhere just off the East Neuk of Fife.
"Well, I'll say good night, mem."
"Good night, Mrs. Adie. That was a lovely Welsh rabbit."
Left alone, Mrs. Miniver poured out a cup of coffee and sat on the fender-stool to drink it, roasting her back. Yes, it was going to be a queer Christmas for everybody this year. To the parents left behind in the big cities it would seem only half a Christmas; to the hard-pressed foster-parents in the country, a double one. Out of her own seven evacuees at Starlings, only two, she knew, had ever had a tree of their own. And Reen, the eldest -- a shrill, wizened, masterful little creature of twelve, who in the last two months had become so touchingly less shrill and wizened (though no less masterful) -- had never even hung up her stocking. She was inclined to scoff at the idea of taking to this custom so late in life.
"Ony kids do that," she said. "It's sissy."
"Vin still does it," said Mrs. Miniver. "He's nearly sixteen, and he's not in the least sissy."
"Are you sure?" asked Reen suspiciously.
"Quite sure," said Mrs. Miniver, without a twitch. (She must tell Vin this, next time she wrote.)
But it was too early yet to make plans about stockings. First of all, she must get on with that list of presents. She put down her coffee-cup and went resolutely over to the writing-table.
One of Mrs. Miniver's bad habits -- which, like many bad habits, was only an exaggeration of a good one -- was that she was apt to begin by being methodical and to end by being a magpie. It was, for instance, quite a sound idea to keep one's Christmas present list until the following year, so as to make sure that one didn't leave people out or give them the same thing twice running. But the worst of it was, she never could bring herself to throw away the old lists when they were done with; and as she had started the habit when she first married, she had now accumulated no less than seventeen of them. Not only did they take up an unnecessary amount of space in an already overcrowded drawer, but they caused her to waste time at a season of the Year when time was most valuable: for whenever she opened the drawer to consult last year's list, she found herself quite unable to resist browsing through the earlier ones.
For the last eight years the opening names had not varied at all: Clem, Vin, Judy, Toby, Nannie, Mrs. Adie, Mrs. Downce, Downce. The ninth name had changed, at intervals of about two years, from Norah to Jessie, from Jessie to Gladys, and from Gladys to Ellen: for there seemed to be something fatally marriageable, as well as incurably trochaic, about the Minivers' house-parlourmaids. Even Ellen, as unglamorous a girl as you could wish to meet, who had come to them a few months ago completely heart-whole, had already acquired a young man. Clem, to whom Mrs. Miniver had broken this news in a letter, had written back saying, "For heaven's sake, next time, go for a dactyl or a monosyllable. They may have less S.A."
As the lists went farther back, however, important gaps appeared. Nine years ago there had been no Toby; twelve years ago, no Judy. Yet at each of these Christmases, she remembered, her universe (which would now be unthinkable without them) had seemed complete. As for Vin, he figured in all the lists except the first two; and as she traced his presents backwards from last year's spinning-rod through conjuring sets and Red Indian outfits to the woolly rabbit of fifteen years ago, she felt that she was seeing the whole story of his childhood in reverse, like one of those trick films where the spilt milk pours itself back into the jug.
She laid down the sheets on top of each other, one by one. Vin grew up again before her mind's eye: became three, four, in a sun-suit and a floppy linen hat; became seven, eight, in grey flannel shorts (so like, and yet so unlike, Toby); became twelve, thirteen, in long trousers; shot upwards past her elbow, her shoulder, her head; and finally grinned down at her from six inches above it (so like, and yet so unlike, Clem).
Parallel with this memory-film ran another, whose only visible track was the column of prices on the right-hand side of the page. Amplified by her recollection, these scribbled figures made a pretty accurate record of the Miniver family's material ups and downs. There was the lavishness of the first two years, based on youthful ignorance, a fixed salary, and a regular parental allowance; there were the soberer standards which became necessary when Clem started out on his own; there were the deceptive early successes, the too optimistic move to a larger house. Then the slump, the difficult years; the years when an acute appendicitis seemed to take a malevolent pleasure in coinciding with an ultimatum from the bank; when they tossed on the horns of the professional classes' eternal dilemma whether to retrench openly, or to bluff things out for the sake of keeping up appearances in front of potential clients. The years when, after dining out, they said No, thanks, they'd rather walk and pick up a taxi, it would be so nice to get a breath of air; and when their Christmas presents to each other (since they couldn't cut down too drastically on anybody else's) dwindled by mutual consent into mere tokens, which they exchanged in front of the children with elaborate ceremony, delighted exclamations, and a great deal of coloured wrapping-paper. Not that they needed tokens; but it would have shocked the children if they had exchanged nothing at all.
Things had looked up again, eventually. Clem built an unusual country house for Sandro Baltman, and Sandro talked, and that set the ball rolling fast. By the time Toby was born they had been able to buy Starlings and to get the Downces to look after it. The tokens had expanded into proper presents again and ever since then the total at the bottom of the right-hand column had been getting a little larger every year. But both of them, fortunately, had good memories: and when young married couples came to dine with them, they always said, "Yes, of course; you're sure to find one on the rank just round the corner."
Mrs. Miniver put the last sheet back on top of the others and clipped them all together again. No, she could not possibly throw them away: they contained too much of her life. Besides, however clear one's memories seemed to be, it did one no harm to polish them up from time to time. One is what one remembers: no more, no less.
She took a clean sheet of paper and wrote across the top in neat block capitals: