My mother enjoyed photography as a hobby. Our family albums are crammed with black and white snaps taken with her Brownie box camera, some hand-tinted with pastel colours. browsing through them, I am transported back in time to Christmases past.
The first Christmas photos, Estevan Saskachewan., I'm an infant in a wicker pram, wearing an angora bonnet. My mother's tidy handwriting on the back says "Ruthie, six months old. She's wearing the bonnet Aunt Edie sent from Wales." In another, I'm propped up in a wooden box on the back of a sled. My father, dressed in his fedora hat and overcoat is posed beside me. In Dad's unique, tight handwriting, is written: "Ruthie's first sleigh ride. I made the sleigh."
Next year, I'm an 18 month old dumpling, podgy as a little snowman in knitted leggings, sweater and bunny-ear hat, knit by Mom. Next to this picture is one of a Christmas tree piled with decorations I can remember using for years to come, and piles of gifts including a doll in a pram and pictures books. A few years later, another Christmas tree, this time with identical dolls sitting in high chairs and a Red-Rover sled with shiny runners. By now I have a little sister, so each year Santa brought us identical gifts. She liked dolls better than I did though. I preferred paper-dolls.
There is always a lot of snow in these pictures: Lloyminster,Saskachewan. My pal Albert and I, age six, standing arm in arm in the back yard under bare-limbed trees with snow up to the tops of our galoshes. Me wearing the coat Mom had made me out of a hand-me-down: moss green wool trimmed with Persian lamb from one of her old coats. I'm still wearing that coat three years later in another photo, this one taken by a photographer for Santa, the year we went to Toronto to see the Sant Claus parade. This photo invokes clear and rather unpleasant memories of that Christmas.
I was nine then. We had moved from the Prairies to Brantford Ontario and then to Stratford when my father was called up as an army chaplain. We lived at Grandpa and Grandma's house while Dad was overseas. In a photo she had taken to send Dad, my mother stands on the front porch steps wearing an elegant crepe dress, her hair neatly coiffed in the fashion of the '40's, smiling.
Behind her, on the door, is a big silver bell with red writing: "Merry Christmas". Those Christmases without Dad must have been lonely for her, but she never showed us anything but her sweet smile. Christmas at my Grandparent's house was a joyful, exciting event with visiting relatives who arrived by train from other parts of Ontario, and a house full of cousins and Christmas cheer.
That particular Christmas, Grandpa promised us we could go to Toronto to see the famous Santa Claus parade. It would be a special Christmas outing for the whole family. We would take the train in the morning and return that night. It was an adventure I had longed for and I was beside myself with excitement for days before the scheduled departure.
Then, on the eve of our journey, I took ill with the flu. I was very sick, but determined not to miss the trip. I don't remember the train trip or the Santa Claus parade. I look at myself in the photo, puffy-cheeked and pale, totally wretched, sitting on Santa's knee unable to smile. I still haven't forgotten how ill I was that day, and how disappointing it was to have such a special outing spoiled.
The next year's Christmas photo shows us standing on Grandpa's steps with my Dad who is beaming proudly in his army great-coat and beret. My little sister Jeanie is on one side of him. She has a doll in her hand. Twelve-year-old me stands on the other side of him, skinny, long-legged and solemn. Behind us is a spangled sign that says: "Welcome Home!".
That was our last Christmas in Ontario. The following year we took the train across Canada and made our new home in British Columbia where Christmas wasn't always white, although I can still remember skating on the Lagoon and singing carols door-to-door in the snow.
Wherever we were, Christmas was always special in our family, with beautiful decorations, the aroma of Christmas baking, pine logs on the fire; Christmas music, and a tree we always decorated together with heaps of surprises wrapped in colourful paper under it. Santa always found us, and filled our stockings, even when my sister and I were grown up and had little ones of our own.
In her photographs, my Mother has captured all these memorable times and left us this legacy of Christmas with the Family. Christmases Past.