Remembering You

December 29, 2010

The years are passing quickly

First one, then two, now three

And yet I’ll never forget you

Still I feel you all around

 

Your voice a distant echo

It whispers to my heart

Your arms still embrace me

When I long to feel them most

 

I cannot pass a garden

Without seeing you sitting there

The beauty of the colours

Reflected within your light

 

Walking by a babbling brook

Or lost in thought sitting lakeside

I look to the sky

And know that you are near

 

The lessons that you taught us

I try to live each day

To live, to laugh, to forgive, to love

Be true to yourself and those you hold dear

 

For everything there is a reason

Even though we may not always know why

I hear these words fall from your lips

And they make me smile instead of cry

 

Like a candle gently burning

Its flame ever flickering bright

Your love is always present

Your memory will never die

 

Barbara M ©  December 2010

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Christmas Reflections

December 17, 2010

When I was a little girl I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.  It was my favourite of all the holidays.  Long before the day arrived our tree would start filling up with presents from aunts, uncles, and friends.  But on Christmas morning there would be more presents to greet us.  The ones that Santa left!!  I’m not sure when, but perhaps to stop the pestering of us children, my mother agreed to let us open one present on Christmas Eve.  We could choose from amongst all the ones under the tree.  But we had to choose carefully because we could only open one.  The rest would have to wait for Christmas morning.  I would carefully pick up each present that bore my name.  Inspect the size of the package; its weight, shake it a little and imagine what might be inside.  Once I made my selection I would rip off the paper to see what treasure was inside.  Usually it was a toy or game or a book, and not clothing that I chose.  This made me happy.  When I was a little girl I was never too enthralled to open a gift and find it was a piece of clothing.  But you had to be careful choosing your gift to open.  My mother had developed quite the knack for disguising presents and what they might actually be.  And she’s perfected the art and keeps trying to fool us still to this day.  Sometimes I think she takes more pleasure in that; the fact that she is able to completely surprise us, rather than the enjoyment we take in the gift itself – though of course she is always happy when we are pleased with what her and dad bought us.  Afterwards it wouldn’t be long before we were shooed off to bed.  But not before leaving out a glass of milk and cookies for Santa and some carrots for his reindeer.  After all, travelling around the world in one night was busy work.  Surely he and his reindeer would want a snack or two along the way.  Once in bed sleep never came fast.  I would lay there and wish for the night to pass quickly and dream about all the presents under the tree.  I would lay there and wonder if perhaps I might catch a glimpse of Santa, or hear him when he came.  I wouldn’t dare leave my bedroom though for fear of getting caught – my mother’s words “Make sure you stay in bed.  If Santa catches you he may not leave any presents” ringing in my ears.  Every bump and sound I heard in the night I imagined it was Santa.  Some years I crept out of my bed and made it as far as my bedroom door – ears pressed up against the door.  But I never opened it.  I would stand there and listen and wonder if “he” was here.

Christmas morning we children would be up early.  First we would run to the living room and stare at the tree, mouths agape at all the extra presents that had appeared over night.  Then to the kitchen table where we would see Santa had drank the milk and eaten the cookies we had left him.  The carrots chewed down by his reindeer.  Then we would rush to our parent’s room screaming at the top of our lungs that Santa had come, Santa had come!!!  With tired eyes our parents would join us in the living room and the opening of presents would begin.  One year my older brother and I decided wouldn’t it be nice if we let mom and dad sleep.  It was awfully early in the morning.  Surely they would appreciate sleeping in.  So he and I set about opening all the presents with our names on them.  I don’t remember how old I was that year.  The younger two siblings had not yet been born.  I was old enough to read; at least could make out my name.  We had quite the fun time opening all of our gifts.  And we imagined how pleased mom and dad would be with us.  Weren’t we such good children for not waking them up at the crack of dawn!!  Apparently not.  When they woke up my mother was furious.  Suffice it to say that was the first and last year we ever pulled a stunt like that again!

As I grew into adulthood I still maintained my love of Christmas.  Still took delight in picking that one gift on Christmas Eve to open.  Could barely wait to get to the tree Christmas morning with my parents and siblings and start tearing off the paper on all the gifts to see what they were.  And not just my gifts; I always looked forward to seeing what everyone else in my family received.  We all did.  The years passed and some of my siblings started having children of their own.  And just like all of us before them, they got to open one gift on Christmas Eve and pounced on the tree early Christmas morning and ripped open their presents with the same zeal and fervour as we had.  Though there is one Christmas in particular that is a very much cherished memory where this did not happen.  It was a year where Christmas dinner was to be held at my younger sister’s home.  She had one son, who was 3.5 years old at the time.  I was going to cook the dinner that year, so I arrived at her house on Christmas Eve in order to do some of the preparations the night before, and wake up with them Christmas morning and watch Zachary open his presents.  The rest of the family would arrive at different times Christmas day.  It started to snow early Christmas Eve.  Big white fluffy flakes.  And as the day progressed it got heavier.  We turned on the weather channel and all the reports were calling for a snowstorm Christmas day.  The kind of storm that would make travelling difficult, if not impossible for those that had a long distance to travel.  All of our family lived close enough to my sister that travelling wouldn’t be a problem, except for our parents who were on the other side of the city.  We were concerned enough about the pending storm that my sister called them and asked them to consider coming that night instead.  At first my mother wasn’t sure – she still had so much to do.  And I think she was relishing the thought of waking up Christmas morning and not having to rush, not having to be responsible for cooking the big turkey dinner.  However common sense prevailed and they decided my sister was right.  It made much more sense to spend the night Christmas Eve, rather than wake up in the morning and possibly not be able to come at all.  We went about our evening.  Zachary got to open one gift.  Cookies and milk were left out for Santa and some carrots for his reindeer.  We gathered around as his mother read Twas the Night Before Christmas to him and he was tucked in his bed to dream about Santa’s visit; completely unaware that Grandma and Grandpa would be arriving that night instead of the next day.  Our parents arrived long after he had fallen asleep.

Early the next morning my sister and I were the first ones up.  Coffee was quickly made and the lights on the Christmas tree turned on.  A short time later we heard the sound of little feet and there was Zachary walking into the living room.  We watched his face as he first saw the tree and all the presents.  Then all of a sudden out of the corner of his eye he saw his grandpa on the couch.  All thoughts of Santa and presents left his mind as he raced to the couch, jumping up in his grandfather’s arms and screamed with delight “Grandpa you’re here.”  He giggled and played with grandpa for a few moments, and then my sister said, “Zachary, if grandpa is here, who else do think might be here?”  Little eyes growing even bigger he jumped from the couch and went to the bedroom where he knew she would be sleeping.  Poor mom; she was barely awake and there was a little boy jumping in her bed screaming her name at the top of his lungs.  She didn’t have any choice – it was time to get up!!  And still Zachary never seemed interested in all of the presents under the tree, or even his stocking.  He was more interested in being with his grandparents – he was so excited that they had come the night before and were there to wake up with him.  My sister took advantage of him being distracted and quickly started making breakfast.  And we actually got to eat our breakfast; scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and juice – sitting in the living room, chatting around the tree before Zachary gave any thoughts to all of the presents awaiting him.  He was still so overjoyed that his grandparents were there.  Not long after though Zachary decided it was time to open presents, and it was time to open them NOW!!  And so the typical Christmas morning pandemonium began – wrapping paper being torn off gifts, squeals of delight as each new treasure appeared.  Other family members began arriving and it would start all over again until finally there were no more presents to unwrap.  And then what we had all waited for – to sit around the dining room table and share in the feast that had been cooking all day.

My parents told all their friends at church about that Christmas morning – more than once.  To this day it is a favourite and much talked about memory for them.  How on one Christmas morning, the best present they received, was in the knowledge that a little boy who was so full of love for his grandparents, valued the gift of them in his life more than any other gift under the tree.

Barbara M © December 2010

Keeping Christmas

December 6, 2010

As I look all around the Christmas decorations are coming out, people are shopping for just the right gift, cards are starting to be posted and friends are sharing their stories of Christmases past and their favourite memories of the season.  It’s given me pause to remember some of my Christmases past and most of all the Christmas that forever changed me.

Growing up the middle child of five, Christmas was always busy, hectic, but most of all it was fun.  No matter how much or how little our parents may have had from one year to the next the tree was always filled with presents for all of us.  How my mother pulled it all together on just my father’s income boggles my mind these days, now that I’m grown and realize the cost involved.  But we always had stockings stuffed to the brim with treats and an abundance of presents under the tree.  And dinner, mmmm, Christmas dinner was always a feast, whether it was shared with relatives in our home or theirs.  We took turns every year amongst my mother and her two siblings that lived in Ontario.  And that happened at New Year’s too.  Every Christmas Day and New Year’s Day we would gather together at whomever’s home the dinner was being held at and enjoy ourselves.  At least all of us kids enjoyed ourselves – we always looked forward to spending this time with our cousins.  The adults I think enjoyed themselves too.  They sat around and chatted and shared a drink.  Enjoyed a lovely meal.  But there was also a lot of work involved for them.  At least for the women.  Because in my family it was the women who did the shopping, the wrapping of gifts, the cooking of the big dinner and getting the kids ready on Christmas Day to travel.

Though I can’t speak for my uncles, I must say my father was always a help to my mother.  He often would peel the vegetables and was always on hand to help with the dishes after any meal.  And one year (long before I took up cooking the family dinners) when mom was recovering from her breast cancer surgery and not up to cooking dad rose to the challenge and cooked it.  The rest of us helped as best we could.  Mom laid on the couch resting and offering advice.  The only thing she had to do (and it was at her own instance) was make the gravy.  So we let her.  To this day mom is in charge of making the gravy even though for the most part we children have taken over the cooking of the big family dinners.  Some years we all make a dish and some years I cook it all, save for dessert.  My older sister makes the most wonderful trifles and mom is still in charge of the pies.

And we all try to come home for Christmas, no matter where it is being held.  My parents retired many years ago and moved to a senior citizen’s building.  A small two bedroom apartment.  But we’ve all managed to gather there and celebrate the holiday.  Some years are at my younger sister’s house.  I like those years – that usually means I’m in charge of cooking the dinner.  Some years we don’t all make it as my siblings and I have often held jobs that involved shift work and may have had to work on Christmas.  But at some point in time over the holiday we all manage to come home, at the very least to connect with mom and dad.

Christmas 2007 the plans were made to have dinner at mom and dad’s.  Mom said she would cook the turkey.  The rest of us would bring a dish.  Mom even planned to cook the turkey the day before and reheat it on Christmas Day (and for those of you that are thinking ewww, dry turkey; nope – my mother has a knack for reheating turkey the next day and you would never know that it wasn’t just pulled from the oven).  I normally spend Christmas Eve with my younger sister so as to wake with my nephew in the morning and watch him open his gifts.  This year I decided not to.  She was in a new relationship and this year they would have both her son and step-son on Christmas morning for the first time.  So I thought I would let them enjoy their first Christmas morning as a family together and meet up with them at mom and dad’s later in the day.  I woke early on Christmas day and saw the light flashing on my telephone.  I checked the call display and saw that my sister had called.  I paid no attention to the time of the call.  I smiled thinking it was the boys calling to wish Auntie a Merry Christmas and proceeded to get dressed and run up the street to fetch a coffee.  I would listen to the message when I got back.  Coffee first!!!  And when I got back a few moments later and listened to the message I froze.  She had called several times starting in the middle of the night and I had slept through all of them.  She was at the hospital in emergency with mom and dad.  Dad had taken ill in the middle of the night and was believed to have suffered a stroke.  I don’t think I ever got ready so fast and flew across the city to be there.  He was still in emergency when I got there, waiting for a room to be admitted.  As he was stable at this point and I was now there we told my sister to go home and be with the children.  They were longing to open their presents – I mean they were only children and Christmas comes but once a year.  So she left vowing to be back as quick as she could.  Spending Christmas Day in the hospital sure puts a new light on the holiday.  Santa Claus even made a visit to emergency wishing everyone well and good cheer; handing out presents to the children there.  My sister arrived back a short time later.  By now the older sister and brother had arrived too.  Dad was moved upstairs to a room and we got him settled in.  By now he was exhausted (mom too) and needed to sleep.  So we decided to go back to their apartment and grab something to eat and then head back to the hospital.

Since mom had cooked the turkey the day before we were able to throw together a dinner rather quickly.  Though none of us were really all that hungry.  I think we ate more out of tradition and because of the kids.  We tried to keep the day for them as best we could.  Younger brother and his family had arrived by this time and we were all together – except for dad.  After eating we went back to the hospital.  Obviously we numbered more than the number of visitors usually allowed, but I think perhaps because it was Christmas the nurses turned a blind eye.  They turned a blind eye too when my brother-in-law walked in with the top part of a Christmas tree, star on top, and placed it on the windowsill next to dad’s bed.  And they smiled when he strung up the set of outdoor Christmas lights he had brought as well.

What struck me that day was how we all came together as a family.  We didn’t get to keep Christmas as we normally did.  But we still kept it – and we were together, and that is what mattered most.  There were other patients that didn’t have anyone to visit them.  That made me sad.  There were others in the world opening presents that day and grumbling under their breath that it wasn’t what they wanted, or it was the wrong size or colour.  How sad.

Dad remained in hospital and then rehab for a few months before returning home with mom.  Sadly he was not able to stay.  He fell one day and suffered an injury to his back, that combined with the damage from the stroke, has left him unable to walk and he is permanently in a wheelchair.  Other damage has weakened him so that he cannot get from the chair without assistance, usually requiring two people.  He has grown weaker since.  The day we had to move him to a nursing home was the saddest day of our lives.  He is still there.  84 years old and though quite frail, still full of the heart of the daddy we’ve always known and loved.  We visit as often as we can.  We bring him home to mom’s or to any family celebrations wherever they may be.  My sister and brother-in-law take him to see their son’s hockey games when he is up to it.  We enjoy all the time we can with our parents, in whatever way we can.  And we will gather again this Christmas and celebrate simply in the joy of being together, as that is what is most important – being with the ones you love, creating new memories to cherish and hold within our hearts forever.

Barbara M © December 2010