Sleigh Ride (Dec 1997)

This time of the year reminds me to take out my winter woollens and to make arrangements with family or friends for the Christmas holidays. It’s a time to slow down a little and finish my indoor projects, and maybe even get time to read a book or meditate… both of which I have had little time for lately and do miss.

Both buildings are now ready for action. We have Krista, Kelly and Mike opening a Metaphysical Book and Gift Store with a Juice and Coffee Bar, next door. It will be shared with a craft collective that sells unique locally-crafted gifts. In our new building we still have room for a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncturist and a Colon Therapist … if you know of anyone who would like to be part of our developing community, please pass on the message.

The front cover photograph shows our neighbours’ work horse that we borrowed one winter to help us drag in the logs we needed to heat our cabin. I let Jan decide if she wanted the photograph of them hauling in the wood or hauling in the hay. Jan thought this photo of my three younger brothers, Grandad and Mom all enjoying the hay ride back to the homestead looked like the most fun. Back then, hay did not come in bales; it was pitchforked from pile to pile and everytime it got moved, it got pitchforked again. It was hard, repetitive work that I am sure was a good meditation for Grandad.

The snow usually arrived by the first week of December and seldom did it melt till spring. A week before Christmas, Dad would put on the snow shoes and go out to find the perfect Christmas tree. Usually they were taller than the ceiling and he sometimes threatened to chainsaw a hole in the roof so as not to destroy the perfect tree he had found. We all helped decorate it. The adults and older brothers hung the fancy glass balls and the little ones practised hanging the unbreakable bulbs. We made popcorn and red berry strings. The tinsel had to be put on one piece at a time, not globbed or flung. The table centre piece consisted of birch logs that were cut in half and had holes drilled in them for candles, Mom glued on a few pine cones and cedar boughs to make it look more festive. We didn’t have Christmas lights till we moved to town and had electricity.

The part I remember most was going into town to help Mom shop. She and I decided what each boy wanted the most, that fit with how much money we had. Then it was my job to wrap and label the presents and hide them away in my room till the night before. Knowing what was in most of the presents made my enjoyment a little different than my brothers, but the squeals of delight from them made it all worthwhile. Looking back, I realize how quickly I grew up. I always figured I was born old, so caring for my brothers was a natural thing to do.

One of my challenges back then was to figure out what I wanted, as my needs seemed so few. With no TV or other kids to influence me, I roamed the store wondering what I wanted. One year, I picked out a child’s spinning wheel so that I could knit dresses for my dollies. I was already using my Mom’s sewing machine to make simple dresses from old socks and clothes. With the spinning wheel, I made one scarf and a few small dresses but the job was too repetitive and I soon lost interest so there sat a fairly expensive toy … even at the age of ten I was conscious of the cost of gifts and preferred to make and receive handmade gifts.

Dad’s parents lived in Michigan and we celebrated many a Christmas with them until we moved. After that, we only saw Dad’s father one summer. Grandma didn’t enjoy fishing and hunting and we lived a long way away. Grandma on my mother’s side died when I was about ten years old, but she took the time to join us several times in Rosswood. After Mom and Dad split up when I was twelve, I seldom saw my father, but Grandad was a good replacement, for he lived with Mom and me till I left home at seventeen.

Looking back, I can see how my family patterns around Christmas have blended into who I am and what I do. My mother thought it was very important that everyone have someone to spend Christmas with. Some years, she would invite people she had just met to come over and enjoy dinner. She didn’t want them to be alone on Christmas Day, and was always delighted to be able to share her blessings and good cooking. Mom always said, “Christmas should be everyday: I give from the heart when I feel like it … why should I give only on one or two days of the year?”

As a mother, I followed some family traditions … a big dinner with Rae’s parents, Christmas presents opened bright and early Christmas morning, Santa cookies decorated with raisin eyes and coconut whiskers, and meat and mincemeat pies. I continued the family tradition of making handmade cards with our photos till the price of stamps sky-rocketed.

During the later years of our marriage, I became a vegetarian and Christmas changed. I wanted change for I was tired of being traditional. I tried many ways of celebrating it … from organizing community get-togethers to spending it alone, seeing what I liked best. Each year brought its own gifts.

A big part of me believes, like Mom, in giving when it is needed, and forget the wrapping paper. Another part of me believes what my Dad says that all this shopping and giving is nonsense. As I look at our society, I cringe at the commercialization of it all. Still another part of me enjoys getting in the mood and going shopping at metaphysical book and gift stores and buying a few T-shirts or crystals, wrapping them up in recycled coverings and sending them with love … to remind my loved ones of me and of the beauty that I enjoy.

Last Christmas, Gerry took the bus to Terrace and drove Mom and her motorhome down to Penticton so she could spend some time with me. He says, “It was quite an experience.” This Christmas, we have plane tickets to Niagara Falls, Ontario to meet his parents and grandparents. Boxing Day they drive to their cottage and we will spend a week in the country.

I am starting to realize how important family connections are. Joining Gerry and his family in their traditional celebrations is going to be wonderful. I am delighted he prefers to make presents for his family and to live life simply. Enjoying the moment as it happens is something I am still learning for Gerry is a good example.

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