For many, there are those Christmas staples to watch and read – A Charlie Brown Christmas, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and plenty more.
I decided for the time of year – I would revisit a few Christmas tales of my own that were featured in The Pontiac Journal, which were fun to work on. Perhaps, even spark a Christmas memory or two.
The boy throws on a pair of rubber gum boots on his feet, where he already has three pairs of socks. He has ‘long johns’ underneath his clothes as he pulls on a heavy coat. Onto his hands he tugs woollen mittens that were knit by his grandmother, along with another set of leather mitts to help battle the cold. Depending what he has, there is a toque on his head or a cap with flaps to cover his ears. The lad quickly heads outside to do his chores because afterwards he is going with his sisters and his father into the bush on their farm property. They live on the outskirts of Charteris and they are going in search of the perfect Christmas tree.
The girl bundles up her woollen sweater over her very best outfit and buttons her coat. She hurriedly puts on a scarf and mittens as she flies out the door with her sister and brothers in a race to the car.
The boy and his sisters excitedly trudge home through the snow with the few trees they had cut down after some time looking for them. The extra ones are in case one of them didn’t suit for in the dining room, where the tree would go. They wanted a nice looking tree – not a sad looking one. The trees that aren’t chosen would first go to the sheep to eat the branches, and then the remaining wood is either burned in the cooked stove, or if large enough, used for fencing.
One week before Christmas, the boy and his father place the tree on a flat board with a spike put through the stump to help keep it straight. Later years, it is put in a pail with sand to conserve on the watering.
It’s a long drive from Shawville because it’s snowing, so the car has to park at the main road. The girl hears the clomping of horses’ hooves and the jingle of sleigh bells. “It’s Grandpa John,” shouts her brother. The family clambers into the sled and sits on bales of hay. The piles of fur blankets keep them all warm for the ride down the long laneway to the farmhouse.
It’s Christmas Day, and the family is spending it with about thirty of their relatives – aunts, uncles and cousins, all at her grandparent’s farm in Ladysmith. The girl and her siblings call a quick hello to Grandma Emma as they grab a wooden sled from the porch and trek up to the big hills. They stay outside all afternoon, sliding and building snowmen. It gets dark early though, so when they see the coal oil lamps lit in the windows of the house, they know it’s time for the big meal.
Inside the cozy, warm house, it’s a beehive of activity. A great, long table set up in the dining room holds the weight of a huge goose, mounds of potatoes, homemade buns and fresh-churned butter. “There’s Christmas cake AND pudding,” exclaims one of the youngsters at this year’s bounty. He knows though that everything on his plate has to be eaten before the dessert comes.
The boy helps decorate the tree, no lights were strung on, as the house wouldn’t have electricity until 1952. The tree will stay in its place of honour until after ‘Little Christmas’, January 6, for those of Irish descent.
Later on, the boy is thrilled when the teacher chooses him and a friend – out of all the students from grade 1 to 7 – to cut the tree for their one-room ‘Old Country School’ in Charteris.
When they finished the job, the two of them play for a while before heading back to class, leaving a lasting memory on the boy.
While the table is readied, Uncle Tony takes a few children at a time for a visit of the Christmas tree set up in a corner of the living room. They’re allowed only for a few moments – but the smell of the greenery, the solemn lighting of the candles on the branches of the tree, the big shadow cast from the old pump organ, the one wrapped gift for each child under the tree – all make for a sweet, indelible memory for the girl.
In time, the boy and the girl would eventually meet at a dance. They became friends, then dating and soon enough, the boy gave the girl – a ring.
Today, in Shawville, ‘the boy’, Basil Hodgins and ‘the girl’, Basil’s wife Lorraine (Murray), have lived in their house since 1976. They already have Christmas decorations placed outside and inside, getting a jump on the season.
After 46 years of marriage, they have three daughters Wendy, Janice and Marsha along with seven grandchildren. There were Christmases spent at Lorraine’s parents and Basil’s parents and now, most are spent at their home.
The Christmas spirit continues to shine brightly for memories of Christmas past, to the present with new ones soon to be made. If you are someone on a mission for the perfect gift, or love to decorate the tree, or spread cheer by making food for other people, or you have a love-hate relationship with snow or perhaps, you tend to be more of a Grinch, it’s hard to deny, that Christmas is a memorable time of the year.
By: Scott Campbell – December 2014
(Photo Credit – The Peanuts Movie)