TWO BEST CHRISTMASES
Photo: ©Copyright 2009 by John-Ward LeightonIt was my brother Bob’s birthday yesterday and although I had a subject for yesterday’s blog something was preventing me from writing it. I don’t know if it was grief or just a form of laziness but I could not get it done.
We had a supper of fish and chips at The Heather and then went to the Giants game. Our conversation centered around Bob’s ongoing problems with the tax department, a court case that has dragged on for over five years, and of course the dynamics of his own family. Without describing any of the details we both are dealing with similar problems.
In some ways I at least have the privilege of being distant and only at the mercy of the telephone and the e mail system, Bob has it right in his face. He talks of cashing out at the end of the so far endless court case, selling the family manse and fleeing to New Zealand.
I understand his reasoning and he and wife Donna deserve a break but dammit, for my own selfish reasons, I would miss him the way I missed him when we were children and split up and on those prairie farms during the Second World War
Bob pointed out that it was forty seven years since our Mom had died which was the extent of her life. Bob posed the question “Where had the time gone?” and I had to agree, where indeed had the time gone.
We are both now into our seventies and having been predeceased by my ex wife and mother of my children and our dearly loved younger sister we are both starting to hear footsteps. The pseudo armour of invincibility has fallen away and we are naked in our mortality.
At any rate Bob gave me the subject for this blog which was the Christmas of 1945 the first Christmas when the whole family was together for the first time after the war. I think everyone in the country was looking forward to the time of peace when the shortages and rationing were over and we could banish the saying “After the war.”
Sister Charlotte was babe in arms and Dad was out of the military hospital convalescing from the serious accident where he had a jeep roll on him breaking his pelvis in six places and his back and a whack on the head that left him with a shiner. It was touch and go there for awhile but tough old SOB that he was after the doctors had predicted that he wouldn’t walk again he was teaching Bob and I his soccer moves that Xmas holiday.
We were living on the North side of Portage La Prairie in house that was one block from the sewage system of the town on the highway to Lake Manitoba so we were still using an outhouse. This would not do for my Dad so a couple of Dad’s comrades from Army days dug us a septic tank system and Dad and I put in the plumbing in the house.
When the Xmas holidays came we put up the tree and my parents hid our presents around the house but did seem to upset when of course the seven year old Bob and the nine year old John quickly found them.
Our parents gave us a treat the day before Christmas and we were given a dollar to go to the Elite theatre on the main drag to see the Disney classic “The Three Cabillaros” and have a pop and a box of Cracker Jacks.
It was dark when we left the theatre and as was our practice we went into the Eaton’s mail order store to look at the toys especially the bikes. We had our favourite which was a blue CCM and were taken aback when we saw the sold tag on the handlebars. We quickly turned the tag over and almost jumped for joy when we saw that the buyer was our parents.
We ran home very excited; I don’t think our feet touched the pavement all the way home. Our parents were puzzled at our exuberance but we managed not to reveal why until the bike was delivered that evening and then the cat was out of the bag.
Brother Bob rated that as the best Xmas while I rated the Xmas of 1947 as the best.
In 1947 we were living in our new house in Harrison Hot Springs. In those days Harrison wasn’t even a village; it was a holiday getaway during the summer and a jumping off point for the logging camps up the lake.
There was no welfare, no unemployment insurance, no workers compensation and, except for some of the larger employers, no unions. In those days logging was one of the most dangerous occupations in the country with over one hundred fatalities per year in British Columbia alone.
Logging on Harrison Lake was very dangerous because even if you were only injured the nearest hospital was in Chilliwack about twenty five miles away and across the Fraser which was serviced by a ferry that only ran during daylight hours. There was a doctor in Harrison with a small clinic but there was also a long boat ride to be endured before you could get to any real medical help aside from basic first aid.
It was the week before Christmas just before the logging camps closed for the holidays when we got the sad news that three men had been killed at one of the small gyro outfits up the lake. Two of those killed were men with families and one was single supporting his Mom and sisters. All were well known and respected men and the news hit our little community hard.
I remember that we were just one day before we broke for the holidays and we were sent home early. Dad had come home from Bear Creek where he was the book keeper and first aid man. He met with his logging buddies in the hotel pub and someone brought in a large laundry tub in and they filled it with cash for the widows and the dependents. The guys had plenty of cash as they had just spent six months in the bush with nowhere to spend any money.
We had our Christmas tree up and Mom and Dad had splurged on our gifts. As was our custom we had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and opened our presents on Christmas morning.
Dad and Mom had decided that they would give a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings to one of the grieving families who had three kids the same age as us. They made us choose a gift each from under the tree to add to the parcel.
Now the people involved were proud people and Dad and Mom didn’t want them to think that they owed anything to us personally.
It had been snowing for two days when after our Christmas dinner Bob and I loaded up our Winter Flyer sled and off into the blizzard we trudged.
Now the family that we were going to give the parcel to lived on a boat house so Bob and I had to be very careful taking the sled down to the front door so we wouldn’t rock the boat house and give ourselves away. We very stealthily unloaded the parcels in front of the door then Bob took the sled back up the gangplank and when he reached the road I knocked on the door and ran like hell back up the gangplank.
The door flew open and the eldest boy shouted that they already had a Christmas dinner and then after a pause, yelled a thank you.
Bob and I returned triumphant and this is where I learned that when you give from the heart you also receive.
Hope all of you have a memorable Christmas and much joy in the New Year.
©Copyright December 21, 2009 by John-Ward Leighton