Christmas was an amazing time around our home. Thinking back, my mother was all about creating memories for family, particularly her only son. Decoration day was a huge deal, typically starting seven days before Christmas (not 6 or 8 days) and it truly was an all day affair. Special decorations were discussed, particularly those which came from my grandparents or great grandparents trees, as well as those from close friends. My mother loved those handmade, ones created by children of friends, by family and a couple I had made that were so pathetic they embarrassed me each year. But to my mother they were special, part of the Christmas experience. There were the details, the scent packs she bought at work to make the artificial tree smell so real. Lights strung on the inside of windows so they could be enjoyed from both the street and the living room. She loved it so, I can remember as a young child seeing her late at night before she went to bed sitting and looking at the tree with a smile that said it all.
While growing up we were not overtly religious, the meaning was never lost. The nativity was set out and each character discussed. Most years we went to a church service or Christmas event, when I was your so I would see the meaning and as I was older and mother more devout to her church for the concert. Christmas dinner was the annual event to bring out the silver and china and dress up, even when just the three of us. It was not the season until “White Christmas” was watched on television. Candles were lit, grace was said, “crackers” were popped and goofy paper hats worn with pride. The dinner was most always ham, scalloped potatoes, cranberry sauce and a desert of layers jello moose (red & green of course). To this day I can close my eyes and taste it.
Growing up I never realized how much my parent sacrificed and did without themselves so that Christmas, and indeed other events, would be special. Below the tree there were always gifts to make a young boy smile. The Major Matt Mason moon base, the prize of any child growing up in the space age. The Tonka earth movers which transformed the back yard sandbox for years. Post gift opening was my father’s time to shine. Truth be told I think he enjoyed putting the train sets together, showing my how to make mechano engineering marvels and taking that first ride on a new bike on a driveway full of snow. To be sure some tested their understanding, no more than the chemistry set which resulted in recovering a rocket from the attic as well as patching the ceiling. I could go on for days; in creating lasting memories they succeeded beyond belief.
As an only child living as far from family as we did most Christmas were the three of us and whatever friends dropped by or were visited. Yet no Christmases are more memorable that those we spent with family in Toronto. Christmases with my grandparents, various aunts and uncles were the highlight of the year. Some are but fading pictures and the memories of my parents explaining them to me as I grew up. Others of those years when the true meaning of the event is lost in youth. Today as I sift through the boxes of pictures from my parents collections I am so fortunate for their foresight. It is said that youth is wasted on the young; perhaps but the value of memories does indeed increase with years.
My father’s final Christmases were in those years when I was in university and starting my career and are tarnished by my focus on things of temporary or passing importance. For the decade that followed my mother would come each year and spend Christmas with us as we moved around. I thought at the time those Christmas memories were for her, our gift back. While that may be true, they were also her last gift to me. She and I never developed the adult understanding I had wished for and our relationship was complicated. Over the years the trips were more difficult on her, yet she always came and for a week or so the magic of Christmas returned. In her last year the phone call came saying she would not come down, we would have to wait until she was better next year. That was a difficult year and we essentially let Christmas pass. My mother celebrated it with her friends at her home, a Christmas of smiles I only saw in pictures a year later. Maybe denial caused me to miss the signs that there would not be another. Today those pictures, the memories they ignite give me comfort and happiness beyond words. Somewhere I suspect my mother is putting the final touches on the tree and my father the last tape on wrapped presents. At least that’s my hope. To be sure, I am rediscovering and reliving the memories of Christmas past with enduring gratitude, appreciation and love for two wonderful parents. Merry Christmas, wherever you may be. God speed.