Saturday, December 22, 2012


Christmas was always a very special time in our house and one of the best Christmases ever was the one when all the cousins came to stay. We were living at my grandparent's house in Stratford Ontario— Mom, my little sister Jeannie and me — when my father was overseas serving as an army chaplain in a field hospital in Holland. Every Christmas at Grandpa's was full of fun. The aunts and uncles and cousins came from various parts of Ontario and the house was full of laughter and good cheer.

That particular Christmas, because of the crowd, my cousins and I were allowed to sleep in the sun porch room. As usual, we stayed up late, played monopoly and crochinole and Chinese checkers. We had our special Christmas treat: glasses of sparkling ginger-ale (our family's 'champagne') and ate lots of the delicious goodies Mom and Grandma had backed. We sang carols, told stories and finally we were tucked into bed.

Some time after midnight I was wakened by a sound on the roof. I heard jingling bells and a loud "Hohoho!" My cousins woke up too when we heard the stomping of footsteps on the roof. Santa Claus! He was right on the sun porch roof getting ready to come down our chimney to deliver the toys. None of us dared make a sound and ducked under the covers pretending to be asleep.

Sure enough, the next morning there were lots of toys under the tree. Santa had really come! And we had heard him! I could hardly wait for school to resume after the holidays so I could tell my classmates.

The first day back I went to school bursting with excitement. As I entered my classroom I announced, "Santa Claus came to our house. We heard him on the roof!"

"What?" scoffed one of the older boys. "Don't you know that Santa is a fake? He's just pretend. You couldn't possibly have heard him!"

I was crushed! When I went home for lunch that day I was in tears. "This boy in my class says that Santa isn't real!" I sobbed.

My mom was sympathetic but she admitted to me  that Santa really was just a myth.

"I heard him!" I insisted. "We heard him up on the roof on Christmas night!"
"That was Uncle Frank pretending to be Santa Claus," my mother explained.

For me, it was one of my biggest disappointments. I was ten years old, and my fantasy world was shattered forever. I've never forgotten it.

I always tried to keep the myth of Santa Claus alive for my own children for as long as I could. And when I worked as a daycare supervisor some years ago, we always made the Christmas celebrations special for the children.  I'd say "Let's pretend about Santa Claus," and we'd tell the time-worn Christmas fable of jolly old St. Nick and his sleigh full of toys pulled by the reindeer. I still think the Santa Claus tradition is one of the most fun parts of Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

CHATTY CATHY GIVES IT UP:How a Talkative Doll Spoiled Christmas

I’ve always been a person, who since my childhood lived half my life in an imaginary world. Believing in Santa Claus was one of those myths, and one that I regret ever having to give up on.
Christmas was always a special time in our house. My Mom and Dad played along with the Santa myth to the fullest, and besides the real Christmas celebration of Jesus’ birth, there was plenty of fun, pageants, caroling, sleigh-rides, visits to see the Christmas lights, and best of all, the yearly visit to see dear old Santa Claus.
When I was married and had my own children, I always tried to make Christmas the same kind of magical, exciting time my parents had made it for me. We decorated the tree, had parties, went to visit Santa in the stores, and took part in all the Christmas festivities in our community. Christmas was always a special, fun time for my children, just as it had been for me.
Then one year, the year my son, Stevie, had turned sic and my daughter, Andrea, was about to turn two, the Christmas fantasy got spoiled. That was the year Mattel put out a new kind of doll—one that talked. Her name was Chatty Cathy, a blonde little cherub with a saucy face. When you pulled the ring in her back, she spouted various lines of dialogue such as “Hello, I’m Chatty Cathy. What’s your name?”  I couldn’t resist buying one for my little daughter.
One Christmas Eve, after the children had been tucked into bed and I had waited to make sure they were asleep, my husband and I started to put out the toys from Santa under the tree. This ritual also involved eating the cookies and Christmas cake the children had left on a decorated plate, and drinking the beer that would help refresh Santa on his journey. After this, we took the carefully hidden packages out of the closet and began to set them up: the usual GI-Joe toys and cowboy regalia for Stevie, the little girl trinkets for Andrea. And Chatty Cathy. I couldn’t resist pulling the ring to her the doll talk. She was so cute| I knew my daughter would be thrilled with her. Chatty Cathy and I chatted for awhile, then I put her in her special place under the Christmas tree.
The next morning, after all the excitement of finding what Santa had left under the tree, opening presents and trying things out was over, I noticed that my son was unusually quiet. I wondered if he was disappointed with his gifts. No, it wasn’t that. Very quietly, so as not to spoil things for his little sister, Stevie said to me: “I know that Santa didn’t really bring Chatty Cathy, Mom. Because I heard you talking while you were playing with her.”
I felt so bad! Chatty Cathy had given away the secret of Santa Claus and spoiled the Christmas surprise for my son. After that, Christmas wasn’t quite the same for Stevie, although we always tried to make it just as much fun. Stevie was a good sport and went along the Santa Claus myth for his little sister’s sake.


Thursday, December 20, 2012


Steve and Alex with one of the Yorkies at our Stewart Ave. house

Here it is, that Jolly Old Season again and true to tradition my bank account is running on empty and I haven’t even started shopping yet. It’s just a fact of life that happens when one lives on an extremely low-income budget. Somehow, things always work out alright though. I’ve had lots of experience organizing gala Christmas celebrations on a shoestring.

I recall those “hard times” back in the ’70’s when I was a divorced single mom struggling to support two kids on a miniscule salary as a daycare teacher. My boyfriend and I decided to cut the costs by moving into a big house which we shared with a variety of other equally poor lodgers and assorted dogs and cats.

My boyfriend was on the lam from the American army as this was during the Viet Nam war so any work he had was under-the-table at a car wash. The other lodgers were young college students, and an occasional deserter or wayward hippie that took shelter with us. We never turned anyone away and each guest or tenant, no matter how impoverished, would participate by helping with cooking, sharing expenses and whatever. We all learned how to make do with very little and we were a happy, carefree gang.

The first year we moved in, with our very sparse budget, we were still determined to make the best of it for the Christmas season. After all, it isn’t Christmas without parties, decorations and presents. So all of us got together and cut out coloured tissue paper snowflakes to decorate the windows. We hung lights and somehow managed to get a Christmas tree which we decorated with traditional balls and tinsel as well as strings of popcorn. But what to do for presents?

It happened that I had a lot of material goods brought from my past life, so I sorted through the china tea-cups, jewelery and other items that I had stored away, carefully picking just the right gift for each of my friends. The girls in the house baked Christmas goodies and the old house was full of the delicious, familiar smells of the holidays. The whole motley crew enjoyed a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. It was a special Christmas because it wasn’t in the least bit ‘commercial’. Everything we had made or chosen from our own belongings to give away. It gave Christmas a new, special meaning.

There were a few other Christmases on a shoestring too, during those years. Once I remember us having a box of odds and ends: ribbons, tinsel, shiny paper, glue, sparkles and various artsy craftsy thing and each guest who came visiting had to make a decoration for the Christmas tree. One year my daughter and I made gingerbread houses for all our friends. Another time we had a Christmas cookie contest and decorated sugar cookies cut in various festive shapes which we hung on the Christmas tree. The ornamental cookies were so pretty we decided to keep them for the next year. But alas! The following Christmas when I opened the box up, the mice had eaten all the cookie ornaments!

I recall as a kid, my Mom used to make whole wardrobes for our Christmas dolls, and sew all our holiday clothes too. My parents didn’t have a lot of money but there were always plenty of gifts under the tree, and lots of goodies to eat. Christmas was a jolly time spent with family and friends. I guess those early days taught me how to have Christmas on a shoestring and in a way, those Christmases are the most memorable


*   *   *


Grandpa's house, Cobourg Street, Stratford Ontario
(That's our dog, Dutchess in the front)
          Christmas in the ‘40’s was a time when all the relatives came to celebrate at Grandpa’s house.  We would troop down to the train station and stand waiting on the wooden platform, our breaths puffing like the steam from the locomotive engine, the frosty winter air nipping our cheeks into roses.  The train chugged into the station, the coach doors opened and travelers spilled out onto the platform.  Happy greetings filled the air as merry as caroler’s songs, families embraced and made their way down the snowy streets.

          When my uncle, aunt and cousins arrived, we all went back to Grandpa’s house. How my grandparents found room for everyone, I can’t imagine. All the Aunts, Uncles and Cousins crowded into the small living room around the Christmas tree to chat, the crackling of the flames in the hearth sounding like pop-corn. After a few games of monopoly and Chinese checkers, my Uncle Frank would performed a comical rendition of “Herbert Burped”, tongue-in-cheek, about a little boy who gets swallowed by  a lion. Then all of us children were tucked snugly into beds, often three in a bed, the middle one squished between the other two, warm in our flannel pajamas, while the grownups sat up late eating Christmas cake and drinking ginger ale.
My little sister Jeanie and me, wearing dresses Mom made for us.
(probably taken at Easter in front of Grandpa's house)
           One particular Christmas stands out in my memory.  That was the year I bought the best Christmas presents I’d ever bought before.  Certainly, the most memorable!

          I was nine years old, and I felt very grown up as I went off to town to do my own Christmas shopping. I headed straight for the Woolworths Five and Dime store where you could always get the best bargains.  I looked over all the trinkets, trying to decide what would be the finest gifts.  It was difficult to decide. I wanted something unforgettable. Something everyone would love.

          Then I saw it: a little clay Chinese dragon on a bamboo stick. The head of the dragon was made of painted clay, and it had a red felt tongue that looked like fire shooting from its gaping mouth. The body was accordion-pleated tissue paper.  When you waved the stick, the body expanded and the head shot out, tongue flickering, like a real fire-breathing dragon.  The Chinese dragons would make the perfect Christmas gifts!

          I bought one for each of my relatives and excitedly headed for home, proud of myself for making such an extraordinary purchase. But when I showed them to my Mom, she was not impressed.  In fact, she  was upset with me for ‘wasting’ my money on such foolish toys as these instead of buying something more ‘practical’.  I felt embarrassed and disappointed.  However, it was too late to return the dragons to the store, so I wrapped them up and put them under the Christmas tree with the other gifts.

          On Christmas morning I waited nervously for everyone to open their presents.  I felt embarrassed thinking that my relatives would think the present’s I’d bought were foolish and useless.

          Instead, when the gifts were unwrapped, everyone was amused and delighted. especially my Uncle Frank.  He played with his dragon all day.  Of course, Uncle Frank always was the life of the party!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


         Christmas was always a special time in my family with exciting outings organized by my mom who enjoyed it just as much as us kids did.  One year, when I was nine, my Grandpa suggested we should go to Toronto to see the famous Santa Claus parade.  Grandpa was a shop foreman for the CNR and he organized the days outing for us. I was so excited! The prospects of going on the train to Toronto, seeing the parade and visiting Santa was more than I’d ever dreamed of! The morning of our adventure I woke up feeling a bit nauseous, but I didn’t let on. Mom seemed to notice and put her hand on my forehead to see if I had a fever, but I ignored her.  I dressed in my pleated plaid skirt and sweater, pulled on my long ribbed brown stockings and put on the green wool coat trimmed with the Persian lamb collar that Mom had made from one of her own coats which had always been my favourite and my knitted cap and mitts. When I was putting on my galoshes I felt cramps in my stomach and stayed bent over for awhile. Mom questioned me, but again I shrugged it off and said I was just fine.

          We set off for the train: Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, my cousin Gracie, my little sister and me.  It was about a two hour trip to Toronto from where we lived and as we travelled through the snowy countryside I began to feel even sicker than when I’d first got up that morning.  By the time we arrived at Toronto I was burning up with a fever and hardly felt like moving. Mom gave me something for my stomach ache and worried over me.  But I insisted I was alright to go to the parade. To tell the truth, I was so sick that I can’t even remember what we saw, no matter how exciting it was.  All I wanted to do was go somewhere warm and lie down. But I didn’t say anything because, being the determined child that I always was, I wanted to make sure I got to see Santa.

          After the parade we went to the big Eatons department store and up to Toyland where Santa had his throne and was greeting children.  I didn’t even feel like looking at the toys, not even the paper doll books which usually interested me more than dolls or anything else.  By the time it was my turn to sit on Santa’s lap I was feeling so sick I had a hard time even managing a weak smile.  Santa talked to me and asked me questions but I could barely speak.  Worst of all, I thought that if I didn’t get off his knee I was going to puke all over him. When I look at the photo they took of me on Santa’s knee that day,  I see a pale-faced child looking absolutely miserable.  It was the worst Christmas excursion I could ever remember.  And I sure hope Santa didn’t catch my germs! 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012




I started writing at an early age.  By the time I was fifteen I had a stack of novellas handwritten in textbooks.  Christmas was coming and what I wanted most was a typewriter.  I put out hints to my parents and spent many hours daydreaming about my typewriter, imagining how it would change my life.  My dream was to becoming a newspaper journalist.  I went to sleep at night imagining the sound of keys tapping out the 10,000 words of my next novel.  If only I had a typewriter: one with a bell that clanged when you threw the platen across, keys that smacked in the rhythm of the words I would write, and a ribbon that printed in both black or red.

Imagine my deep disappointment when Christmas morning came and there was no typewriter among the presents, just a small, rectangular gift-wrapped box from Mom and Dad.  Inside was a gold wristwatch with an expandable wrist band and dainty oval face.  Mom saw I was disappointed. “It’s a very expensive watch,” she said. “We found it at a pawnshop.  Although it isn’t new, it’s almost like new and it’s the best make of watch there is.”

My parents didn’t realize how much I hated watches, the dreaded symbol of the ‘curfew’ imposed on us teenage kids, a restriction on my adventurous spirit. Now I’d have no excuse for being late. I’d turn into the White Rabbit, always looking at my watch to see what time it was!

I felt guilty for being so ungrateful and my Christmas day was spoiled...until later I went up to my room and there on my table was an Underwood typewriter, exactly the kind that my writer-hero Ernest Hemingway used.

I’m a published writer now.  I have a computer, and the keyboard doesn’t make that exciting loud clacking sound like the old Underwood did, but it still produces a gentle click to the rhythm of the words I type.  And in my jewellery box, I have a gold watch with an expandable wristband and dainty oval face, one almost exactly like the watch my parents gave me that Christmas so many years ago. Except this wristwatch is one that belonged to my mother.  Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of her, and of that Christmas.