I’m enjoying the feeling of Christmas more than I have since I was a kid. I’ve gained a lot of distance between the loss of my mom and how much I tied her to the season. I still do, but in a different way.
Now I find myself reflecting on holidays over the years, and thought you might enjoy hearing some of the tales. In no particular order…
With only days before Christmas, CBC was airing, for the first time ever, its fantastic Anne of Green Gables miniseries. My mother, named Shirley Anne, with natural red hair, always identified with this “Anne Shirley” girl who broke a slate over a boy’s head for calling her “Carrot.” I was in grade 5 and allowed to stay up late to watch the movie with her and my big brother. We had her brown sugar candy and popcorn, stayed rapt in the movie, and were just in love with the scenery.
I was happy to go to bed, sure I’d dream of the big fields and red cliffs I remembered from my 8-year-old summer in PEI. We headed upstairs, turned down the hall, and there, out the big bay window at the end, under the streetlight, was a vision from the gods.
Somehow, none of us had realized it’d been snowing since before the movie began. Outside were 5 or 6 inches of fresh, beautiful snow.
My mother started laughing. “Magic!” she cried. “Get dressed.”
Shortly, we three had gotten dressed, and at 10:30 on a Sunday night that should’ve been a school night, my brother, mother, and I were out in the street, having a snowball fight in the still-falling fluffiness.
Shortly after 11, my mother decided there would be no school. We wandered through the snowy forest, and came out at the Mecca: Ocean Park Pizza.
And that’s how I wound up getting to bed at 2am, not having a school day, but having one of the greatest nights and memories of my life. My mother always knew when life trumped duty, and I treasure those lessons learned with her.
When I was 10, I was intent on busting this “Santa” dude.
My bedroom, on the NW corner of the top floor, had a doorway that, if I crammed my neck ever so correctly, overlooked the floor in front of the fireplace.
No WAY, I thought, could he elude my wily observation skills if I sat perched in the doorway ALL NIGHT and waited for the OBVIOUS clumsy-tubby-big-guy-falls-noisily-down-chimney arrival.
For the longest time, I stayed awake — me in my feety pajamas, wrapped in a blanket, head leaning on the doorjamb, my feet long-ago asleep and folded under me.I felt victorious just for winning the argument with Mom about doing this! She had playfully protested this stakeout I proposed, then eventually acquiesced.
Naturally, I fell asleep.
The next morning? I was devastated when I awoke and realized I failed! Fooled! Fat guy NOT ONLY ELUDED ME, but he set the brand-spanking new Commodore 64 computer up in the living room! He somehow CROSSED THE HOUSE and I failed to conduct a good stakeout!
It was then I knew my dreams of being a detective would never pan out.
Once upon a year, I made Santa Claus a little cup-and-saucer out of clay, which Mom baked and I painted. I left out cookies on the saucer and milk in the cup.
The next morning, after all the gifts were unwrapped and eggnog drank, I realized there was a note on the table. It was from Santa! Beautifully round printing, alternate letters in red or green, the whole way through. Santa took the time to write me a letter! He thanked me, and said the cup and saucer were the perfect size for him to bring on his travels as he delivered toys next year too. For that, he said, I was almost sure to make the “Nice” list again.
I was no dummy — I knew this wasn’t a letter from Mom & Dad! They had the worst printing in the world! Santa LIKED me. SCORE.
Years later, Dad told me a friend of theirs had written it out a few days ahead of time. It was perfectly executed. And, knowing this, well, it only serves to sweeten the memory, knowing they worked so hard to keep me duped.
On December 23rd, 1998, there was one of the biggest snowfalls in Vancouver’s history. I finished a manic day of work at the bookstore just in time to rendezvous with my best friend, “Mr Tits Pervert”, aka M., for a Canucks’ hockey game. The trouble was, getting there.
In this town, it’s easier said than done. Well into the first period, we finally made it. After the game — and I can’t even remember who won — we came out to find it still snowing. Downtown was deserted, the streets obliterated by white. We bused back to my car, and M. suggested a warm beverage. A Polar Bear at a pub later, we decided it was time to call it a night. Or was it?
“Let’s go sledding!” he cried as we passed Vancouver’s notorious Jericho Hill en route to his UBC home.
“But it’s almost 2…”
That’s the only argument I needed. We went back to his place, he dug out motorcycle raingear for me, more gear for him, and then we grabbed some garbage bags and went on the prowl.
Prowling for what? Real estate signs, of course! “They make the BEST sleds,” M. attested.
We found some. We made it to the hill. Not a person was around, the city silent as could be, like Robert Service wrote of the Yukon — “A silence that bludgeons you dumb.”
Armed with our real estate signs and garbage bags, we spent the next hour sledding. Whoosh, LAUGH, trudgetrudgetrudge, whoosh, LAUGH, trudgetrudgetrudge. Then we were frozen, wet, and tired. But happy. I dropped my friend home and slowly made my way to mine — a foot of snow crunching loudly beneath me on every empty, virgin-snow street I travelled.
The next day, I was talking to my mom on the way to Christmas eve mass.
“Mom?” I said. “You know how you’re always so angry when people steal your real estate signs off your listed homes?”
“Well, I just wanted you to know, I feel kinda badly, but I stole someone’s real estate sign last night… M. and I couldn’t help it, we wanted to go sledding… turns out, real estate signs go like stink.”
She just laughed and laughed and laughed and said it made her feel better to think maybe her signs were being stolen for having fun with, not as an attempt to hurt her or just for being mean.
I didn’t know it then, but it’d be the last Christmas ever with my mother. Somehow, it made me feel better to know she liked the idea of my stealing a sign for sledding. Apparently, she could get behind that kind of criminal behaviour — the kind that rekindles one’s childhood. All in all, it was a pretty nice new light to see my law-stickler mom in, especially for her last Christmas ever.
My mother’s dead now, things are different with my father, my brother’s divorced, I’ve only ever seen my nephew on Christmas day once… so things aren’t what they used to be.
But I have my own life now, a different life, a life I’ve had to make in the years since. The stories today, they’re not what they could be, but for years I didn’t want to go there… Christmas without Mom? Not much of a Christmas at all, I’d been thinking these last 10 years.
Now, though, I’m ready for this season again. This year was the test-year. Could I be festive without her and not be faking it?
Yes. I can. Baby steps. This year, quietly; next year, for reals.
Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, everyone. Remember — Christmas doesn’t have to be textbook. Make it what you want. After all, look at the above stories — which of them cost money? Which of my memories was about a toy or a gift? Which was about the manic running around? Exactly. It’s about people and times with others, movies and food, hijinks and laughs.
Enjoy your festivities, everyone, and thanks for reading me this year. :)
PS: The photo inset is from when I was 2.Yes, I’m cute. :)