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Book Review: 'Vintage Christmas: Holiday Stories from Rural P.E.I.’

Cover of “Vintage Christmas: Holiday Stories from Rural P.E.I.” by Marlene Campbell.
Cover of “Vintage Christmas: Holiday Stories from Rural P.E.I.” by Marlene Campbell. - Submitted

Journey back in time to rural P.E.I. when receiving fruit or candy made children excited, and people did things not out of praise, but rather out of the goodness of their hearts over Christmas.

The book, “Vintage Christmas: Holiday Stories from Rural P.E.I.,” shares 18 short stories that each make an indelible impression on Christmas from the 1930s to 1960s. Every memory features some unexpected predicament or trouble that was resolved in some manner of Christmas miracle.

“Vera’s Christmas Away from Home” sets the pace as the opener to the collection, which is told in chronological order, and reveals all we need to know of the human spirit. Vera is almost 93, but her powerful memory of the Christmas of 1929 is as sharp as it was when she was 10.

Vera remembers that she didn’t want to create a scene when she was sent by sleigh to her aunt and uncle’s house for Christmas, because back then children were meant to be seen and not heard. She couldn’t understand why she was sent away, with only instructions from her father to behave.

But then on Boxing Day, just when Vera was feeling very low, her father pulls up in the yard on his sleigh with a newborn baby brother, Wendell.

An excerpt from Vera’s narration goes:

“He was much better than a doll! Wendell was the Christmas gift that kept giving. He livened up all our lives, for there was nothing he did not get into or try. I had him in my life for 76 Christmases until a heart attack claimed him one beautiful September evening in 2006.”

Vera died in January 2015, but her Christmas memory, and her searing telling of it, is now a work of lasting beauty, thanks to author Marlene Campbell.

Campbell’s collection of stories swerves flawlessly between reminding the reader that the true meaning of Christmas cannot be bought or sold.

“A Christmas Goodbye,” narration done by Melvin Stetson, is another example of goodness shining through in what can often be a dark and unkind world.

These nostalgic memories celebrate how Christmas was a simple affair. Youth were grateful to get an orange, apple, or piece of barley candy in a stocking back then in rural P.E.I. Nothing like the over-commercialized, buy-till-you-drop and drown-the-kids-in-toys of today’s Christmas.

Campbell, from Tyne Valley, wrote the first story in December 2004 initially for a public program, before the effort started to grow and capture the attention of a local audience.

She grew up listening to the stories of adults, and her interest in sharing those memories – before it’s too late – is collected in this book.

Campbell has a degree in political science but has worked in a number of fields. Her interest in writing has led her to create historical vignettes, film scripts, radio dramas, plays, and write books that reflect the Island’s history.

She is a flawless writer who has created a lasting beauty that tugs at the heartstrings with this collection of Christmas stories set in rural P.E.I.

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