Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmases past...

As I write this post,  I think of my parents, who I love very much. I think of all they have done for me during my life, the experiences I have had, the opportunities offered to me. I recall the first 10 or so years of my life, in a home that I thought we would live in forever. 

I reflect on my ingratitude at going camping, fishing or boating almost every weekend. The lack of appreciation for time spent with my family, good food straight from the sea, forest, nature. 

My father was big and strong, so tall and he could do anything. He could go hunting with my brothers and bring down a deer for our winter food. He would take us fishing on his brand new sail boat, trolling for salmon, crab fishing, catching perch on remote docks with my brothers. I remember a time when we could camp on any island, fish, hunt, collect berries in the forest that Mom would then bake into a pie in our camper with the full oven. Ever had huckleberry pie?

The nights playing Uno at the table in the camper or Yahtzee. Sitting by a camp fire with the  OFF old mosquito coil's burning, fire going, Dad eating raw or barely baked oysters right off the shell. Clam chowder made with the clams we picked from the beach that day, little bits of sand and everything.

Mom handing over bags of marshmallows for us kids, me and my two brothers to eat in copious amounts until we felt sick. Crates of Pic-a-Pop taken on our trip. Mom's homemade bread (how I craved store bread like my friends got to eat!) next to a pot of stew or more likely a big fat steak, the way Dad liked it.

Weekends of going to Naesgard's U Pick strawberry fields and eating our fill until we couldn't manage to swallow any more, then heading up to pay with our barely filled buckets, while Mom had enough berries for strawberry shortcake and jam for the rest of the year. We would head home, Dad would light up the BBQ, enormous well cut steaks grilling with lots of salt and pepper, giant baked potatoes with loads of sour cream and real butter, followed by the promised strawberry shortcake. My mouth waters now just thinking about it.

Days of fresh prawn feasts. Mom would make a quilt for a neighbour who had a husband who was a prawn fisherman and once a year it seemed we would get boxes of fresh prawns. Mom would deep fry them and we would eat nothing but fresh prawns for dinner. Mom would use a beer batter recipe but because she didn't drink beer we used 7-Up. I remember the flavour, prawns don't taste like that any more, fresh, pure, local, melt in your mouth .... amazing! Dad would come home with crab traps filled with  crabs and I would complain, "Oh no! Not crab AGAIN!" What a silly child I was!

We would eat so much fresh caught salmon, same day fresh that after I was 11 years old I don't think I ate salmon or crab for at least ten years, too full, over indulgence. I say over indulgence, but nothing went to waste. We ate it all and had no clue how much others paid for these treats in the store.

I recall late nights of listening to the sewing machine rattle and turn as Mom stayed up late sewing us our Christmas gifts. New dresses for me, shirts for the boys. She could make anything! We got new knitted scraves, toques and mittens with the string to hold them in our coats. 

She was so gifted and skilled, she made toys that were as good or better than those from the store. (That is saying a lot too since not everything was made in China in the early 1970's, toys were still made in North America.) Mom always felt   bad that we didn't have all the store bought toys that some of our friends had, we probably did too, but I remember getting the new hand made quilt, doll, dresses and a bag of candy and an orange in the foot of my Christmas stocking.

Santa always had a store bought gift, well not from the store, but the elves had hand crafted it and it came in a store package. Santa never forgot us. No matter how hard the year was, how many months Dad had been laid off work, locked out or on strike, Santa always came and brought us something we had really wanted. The biggest gift at the front of the tree in the largest box with the brightest wrapping was from Santa and somehow, he always got it right! A BB gun for Owen, an Easy Bake Oven for Sarah and a remote control car for Chad. We never went without, we were always happy and most Christmas' we spent alone with just the five of us. 

There were years we travelled on Christmas afternoon about an hour and a half away through the snow or rain to visit family in Nanaimo and share the meal with them, but we virtually never,  (with the rare exception of being in Alberta for Christmas) spent Christmas morning anywhere but in our house.

The old Bing Crosby Christmas carols would be playing, Mom had something baking in the oven to eat hot and fresh, we had a variety of meats, cheese, crackers, nuts, oranges and a giant punch bowl of home made egg nog. I would sing, loudly, often out of tune and Dad would say "Toot, are you going to sing all day?" as I smiled and said "YES!" and he would often join in with me. Dad had a very nice singing voice when he was young.

Mom was in her element, surrounded by her family, us happily playing, her preparing a 30lb turkey for us with all the trimmings, stuffing made with her special spices and turkey liver and onions, at least three types of vegetables, smashed potatoes swimming in butter and topped with paprika, gravy glistening with the slick grease on top from the turkey fat and juice and us, all in heaven. 

Inevitably someone would get upset, cry, fight, Dad yell, send us to our rooms and Mom sigh, however, this passed fairly quickly and things would settle down again. How could we not be distressed and tired? We never fell asleep before midnight, straining to listen to Santa arrive and we were always awake by 5 AM although not allowed to get up until 6:30 AM and we could only open our stockings until Dad had stoked the fire, Mom started coffee and we were all assembled, in our places, space around us to stack gifts and then let loose! 

First, we would read the Christmas story from the Bible while we munched on chocolate and consumed items from our stocking and finally by 7:00 AM we would open presents and the frenzy began! Dad always read the names and handed out gifts and we were surrounded by packages and wrapping and squeals of excitement and the occasional sound of disappointment or faked enthusiasm as we opened that package of underwear and socks for the next year. 20 minutes later it was all over.

Now that my parents are ageing, live six provinces and 5,000 km away from me, resettling in a new home, new life after almost 45 years in the same community, I think of them and their history. I thank them for the years of being there for me and my siblings, for their sacrifices, dedication and love. I appreciate and cherish the memories of the years when I had no clue they were suffering financially or emotionally, when I always had all that I needed or wanted. I am overwhelmed at what they offered me, even though I was a child that thought this was all normal, I am amazed at the life they gave me.

Life has changed, they are older, sicker, less in control, not big and strong any longer but they are always my Mom and Dad. As I reminisce the words thank you aren't enough to express my emotions. Life changed as I became a teen and we moved away and our family grew, no one can ever foresee the future and we do the best we can. 

Mom, Dad, Owen, Chad, we lived, we loved, we shared, we played, we had lots, we had little and we always had each other. This isn't what I planned to write today but the memories flooded my mind too much and being a parent now, I know how hard life was for them. I am now older than they were then and as I look forward into my future, I hope that my children have some of the same fond memories that I had.

So many things have changed, roles have reversed, children starting to become "the parents", parents starting to "become more like the children" or at least we feel that way sometimes. As life gets shorter I think there is all the more reason for us to remember what was, what we had and how we were loved. It is too easy to get caught up in the moment, what is happening today or things that happened in the past that we wish hadn't occurred and forget, that like we do now in our parenting, our parents did their best then and only ever wanted us to be happy.

As November starts to draw to a close and Christmas shopping is well under way, with the harried shoppers and stressed out parents, think about what your child will really remember in the future... Will they remember when they are almost 50 years old the latest toy or electronic equipment? Or will they remember how you made them feel, the love they were surrounded with and their family? Have a great day!

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