Thursday, December 25, 2008
Christmas. My rent a wreck winter tired red Grand Am car parked under last night's snow in front of the Glenwood Motel room here in Trail .All week working at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital Daly Pavillion I've used the key fob horn activator to find it among all the other white parking lot burial mounds.
It's definitely a white Christmas. Reminiscient of my Winnipeg childhood, front yard snow men, backyard snow tunnels. Sometimes we even had to wait for neighbours to dig out the doorway so the door could be opened in the roof high snow drifts. Then we'd go round and dig out other neighbours.
We had a sun room, windows all around, at the front of the little red brick bungalo on Fort Garry's North Drive. That's where the Christmas tree stood. Sometimes we'd go out to the woods to cut down a fir or pine with axe or saw. More often though we bought it up on Pembina Highway and tied it on the roof of the car. I remember the American Rambler doing this duty, a blanket under it to protect the paint job.
Mom had the decorations from the years gone by, some her mothers and maybe her mother's mothers. They lived all year carefully wrapped in basement boxes alongside the preserves. There would be angels and stars, round green and red balls, tinsel and flashing multi coloured lights. Decorating the tree was a family affair but most often it was just Mom and the boys. Dad was instrumental with the tree stand and the lights. Christmas was always a special family occasion. Mom made it so.
There'd always be a dog too. Sonny our springer spaniel played centre stage in a lot of childhood memories. Sometimes it was Buddy or one of the goofy black labs. Dad loved playing with Sonny, circling his hand held treat about Sonny's head till pretty soon Sonny was spinning like a top, barking and sliding about on the hard wood floor ,threatening to crash into the tree. Mom would be shooshing dad with her , "Johnny, no," We kids would be jumping up and down laughing. The dog would fall over and Dad would grab him in a hug and that dog would lick faces all round.
Many's the night I shook Christmas presents before going to sleep listening for Santa. Mom even put out milk and cookies when we were really small. I miss her.
Then it would be Christmas morning. But what a time it was getting Dad out of bed. Ron and I'd get on either side of him poking and shaking him and Dad would feign sleep and act like he didn't know it was Christmas morning asking us endless questions about why he had to get up. "Dad!" we'd scream. The dog would be jumping up with its forepaws on the bed. Eventually Dad would say "Oh alright, I'd best see what all this fuss is about!"
Meanwhile Mom would have their tea made. Caroles and weather reports would be playing on CJOB. Mom turned the radio on as automatically as she put the kettle on the electric stove.
Mandarin oranges. Mom always had mandarin oranges. There'd be stockings hanging from the mantle mostly with individually wrapped chocolates and candy cane. Dad would be in a white sleeveless under shirt and red or green plaid pyjama bottoms, and slippers. Mom had floor length house coats. We kids flannel plaid pyjamas. The only clothes we liked getting were Hockey shirts. I had Toronto Maple Leaf's blue and whites while my brother wore the Montreal Canadiens white and reds.
Alot of the Christmas photos feature us wearing hockey gifts with their respective logos. Invariably we'd get new sticks. We always got new pyjamas but the only ones I remember liking had a cowboy and horses pattern. Mostly we didn't like clothes as boys. We wanted toys. Toys. Games. Sport stuff !!
Dad in his pyjama bottoms and white sleeveless undershirt would sit by the tree with the dog by his side hoping for more treats while mom sat by the table drinking her tea. Outside our three big fir trees were heavy laden with snow.
Ron or I would hand out presents from under the tree and we'd wait while each person opened theirs. Much oohing and ahhing, and thanking and yipping with the dog running in circles, mom shushing and Dad laughing.
Mom tried to save paper from year to year. Our parents had lived through the depression and waste was frowned on. Occasionally we'd talk about the years that a particular piece had been in the family, trying to recall which gifts had been wrapped in it the year before.
Funny I don't remember the presents much today. Not many come to mind right now. Alot of things that kids needed like socks and underwear, winter clothes, books or school things got wrapped and put under the tree. Always something, modest enough, like a car, plane or boat model, a camp knife, something we really wanted would be in amongst all the " just stuff". I remember most the red wooden sleigh my father made me out in secrecy in the basement work shop. Later he'd make me my first set of wooden skis with cow hide straps.
Mostly it was the occasion. Family. It wasn't about church or outsiders. It was just family. Church was part of it. But that was on the Sunday of Christmas week and I don't remember Christmas falling on a Sunday. If it did, church would have been fitted into the ritual of Christmas tree morning present opening, afternoon toboganning, or ice skating and later Christmas dinner.
Best of all was when my Aunt Sally came. She was my mother's older sister and came from 'out east". She was always elegantly decked out in the lastest Toronto fashion. She and mom would giggle like girls when they were together. She'd make my dad blush too. We were best of buds all the way till she died at 90 a few years back.
Even earlier Grandma, mom's mom was there. She smiled alot and had hands gnarled with arthritis. She lived in the sun room where we'd have the tree until one night, not at Christmas, she died in her sleep. She was a happy kind soul. And her daughter's sure loved their mother. And she loved her grandchildren.
Sometimes Dad's cowboy brothers came south with Grandpa Hay. Grandpa was an old Scot. A pioneer. Later Reeve. The men would tell stories of hunting, horses, farming, the one room school house, friends from childhood, guys who went to war, for hours. We kids would look on and listen with fascination. I don't ever remember Grandma Hay taking that long winter trip south in the boat sized cars they drove. Minetonas, northern Manitoba, may as well have been the north pole in winter. I always loved visiting the ranch though in the summer getting into trouble with the gang of cousins, chasing chickens and even riding their huge clydesdale horses. When I was really small I remember one of the uncles first lifting me up on that big horse. It had to be bigger than an elephant. Years later I 'd ride horses, camels and harleys. Dad loved to tell stories of driving teams of those horses, logging, as a boy before the war. It wasn't till after mother died that he talked about the coastal bombing missions he flew on during the war. He didn't even tell us he'd gone hang gliding with our uncle in their late 70's. "I couldn't tell you," he said. "I was afraid you'd tell your mother."
I'll always remember mom's turkey dinners. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Rhubarb pies. Chocolates, candy canes and oranges. Playing canasta and rumoli cards after dinner, Dad showing 8 mm movies, little shorts from the year before and years gone by. In one mom got the camera and caught him naked except for shorts and suspenders holding up knee high socks and black shoes. In another mom and a gaggle of other mothers are chasing cans on the ice rink at the winter fair. I'm running around playing Indian in another Christmas short. There were lots of us kids and the dogs in those movies. Home movie memories. A ritual in the Hay home.
Christmas peaked when I was a kid. It never got better. Dad and Mom,Ron, the dogs and the rest of the family getting together, playing and laughing on this special day of the year. Toboganning too. We did that in the afternoon before the dinner. The sleigh dad made was by far the fastest thing on the riverbank slopes. Or ice skating, especially the year the wind blew the snow off the frozen Red River and we could skate for miles.
Later there'd be other good christmas memories. Door to door carolling with teen age school friends for UNICEF, opening the Christmas food care packages in the London flat away across the Atlantic , my gorgeous young dancer wife and I, so very young to be travelling and working overseas. Later Christmas's with familes when we had our own house. My wife and I did our very best to make the finest Christmas dinners to entertain the parents we loved. Whirlwinds of preparations, kitchen chaos and really, good times.
Later the lonely Christmas seasons, more thoughtful spiritual times. Christmas masses, faraway from home places, palm trees, strangers, hospitals and work. A Christmas alone at sea with a dog and cat. But always the spirit of Christmas.
It was never again like the special Christmas of childhood with Mom and Dad, my brother and the dogs, grandparents, uncles and aunts, the Winnipeg home, snow and heart's aglow with love and laughter.
Right now my ninety year old dad is with my brilliant brother,beautiful sister in law and crazy grown nephews out east. I'll trying phoning them all again before I sweep my car and head into the hospital. The nurses just called. I'm looking forward to Christmas dinner with other doctors and nurses tonight. There's always the spirit of Christmas among them.
Feliz Navidad. Merry Christmas.