The Early Years
Born at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Quebec and spending most of my childhood in the province I was exposed early on to the wonder of the mix between french and english holiday traditions. Late night Christmas service on the eve of Christmas day at the big catholic church along side the Richelieu River with sounds of carolling drifting into the cold, crisp winter air and bells announcing the arrival of Christmas. Red, green, blue, and amber lights poking their way through the snow covered branches of maple and fir trees. The sound of crunch, crunch under foot as we walked along snow covered streets and pathways that traversed our village. Neighbours and strangers alike wishing all a Joyeux Noel or a Merry Christmas as we trundled along kicking ice balls from a car’s mud flaps down the street to see who could keep it in tack the longest and furthest. I loved the bite of the cold air on my face and how it made my cheeks all rosy and red with “Jack Frost nipping at my nose.” Or the ice from melting snow on my eye lashes as I walked to a neighbours house or the historic castle-like circa 1700’s Manior Rouville-Campbell estate where a friend’s Scottish grandparents were caretakers.
I have a picture in one of my daughter’s albums I prepared of me as a young boy at the Christmas tree on Christmas morning wearing my new hockey pants and smiling from ear to ear at the camera. I remember helping mom chop fruit for the fruit cake she always baked at this time of year and smelling the sweet aroma of cookies, Christmas pudding, Christmas bread, butter nut tarts, shortbread cookies, hot cross buns, and every treat imaginable baking in the oven. Mom made Christmas very special with her baking and preparation of Christmas treats. Rum balls, chocolate coconut balls, tortiere pie, mince meat tarts; we never lacked for treats at Christmas in our home. Helping dad light the big fir tree in the front yard already covered in snow and helping decorate the Christmas tree in our living room. Candle lights bubbling on the branches and my favourite, the lighted church that took its place on the stand in our living room. Whatever happened to that church, I’d love to display it now?
Mom and dad would wait until we’d fallen asleep before filling our Christmas stockings placed at the foot of our beds. Early Christmas morning my brothers and I would excitedly open our stockings to discover what yummy treats and little gifts were inside. The big gift each of us was getting was left under the Christmas tree to be opened in the morning after Santa aka dad had gotten up and taken his place in the big leather LazyBoy chair. Mom told me they found me one Christmas eve asleep on the floor under the window in our bedroom. I have vivid memories as a young lad Christmas eve staring out the window in our bedroom looking up into the starry night sky hoping to see Santa and his reindeer. I remember listening to the radio after dinner on a nightly basis as “Santa” called out all the good little boys and girls names. God I loved that time in my life and I’m so grateful to my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents for making it so special for us. The Christmas tree was flooded with gifts sent from afar from my relatives for us all. Mom and dad spent many, many hours at the kitchen table signing Christmas cards that were sent to family and friends near and far. As I got older and went off to university I couldn’t wait for my Christmas exams to finish to get home and celebrate Christmas with my family. Sometimes I flew home and sometimes I travelled with university friends in someone’s car in a snowy, slippery 10-12 drive from Fredericton to home. I remember one trip we were “running on empty” and managed by a stroke of luck to coast over a highway overpass and into a gas station somewhere in Quebec outside Quebec City. On another trip home with an university bud in his vintage truck I remember we were driving at night on a back road in rural Quebec with no street lights and suddenly in front of us were milk cows slowly making their way along the road. Woozer, that was too close for comfort. Those were the days!
Having moved to the West Coast and settled into my career the early years were at Christmas leaning on my older brother (he gradually moved eastward as his career progressed before stopping in Toronto) and friends for Chistmas cheer. The best time on Christmas day was that all important phone call to mom and dad back home, and if I was lucky one of my siblings would be “Home for Christmas.” Christmas on the West Coast usually meant no snow but I could always head into the mountains for the snow so although not a “White Christmas” it was still Christmas with good food, good friends, and joy in the air. When I had my own family we tried really hard to make it special for the kids with lots of our friends and the kids friends over and a house decorated to the nines. Before the kids could come down the stairs on Christmas morning I (they must have thought I was the Grinch) had to have my video recorder set and ready to film them as they came down the winding stairway and around the corner to our living room where the fireplace was on, and the Christmas tree jealously guarded their gifts. Beautiful memories for me as the kids excitedly tore into their lovingly wrapped gifts and their squeals of excitement. I truly miss those magic moments and would do almost anything to relive them again.
I remember my eldest daughter, not unlike her dad, having fallen asleep Christmas eve at the top of our staircase just at the entrance to her bedroom. She’s been up waiting to see Santa and exhausted, fallen into a deep sleep. I remember gently picking her up in my arms and with a tear in my eyes laying down in her antique pine ship’s bed. Tink, if she ever reads this will undoubtedly smile knowing how sensitive her dad is when it comes to anything nostalgic or The Lion King animated movie and Polar Express. I remember my first few Christmas’ away from the kids in my townhouse on Christmas Day with my home all decorated, the Christmas tree aglow, scented candles waffling aromatic scents in the air, stockings hung on the fireplace mantle, and presents under the tree. It was a difficult time for me and still is as my kids are in Vancouver and I am here in Calgary, Alberta a cool 1000 kms away. I miss our time together and I hold onto the spirit of Christmas that our time together will come again. Joyeux Noel mes enfants!
Merry Christmas and to all a good night!