Links in garlands of Christmas happiness

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 17, 2003

Since sharing with you some of my childhood Christmas memories last week, many of you have shared yours with me. Here's just a sample:

Cochrane-area resident Shelley Kerr, proud of her Danish heritage – back in the 1940s, her great-aunt Nina Andersen of the Beaupre area was renowned for her Danish pastry – has fond childhood memories of their traditional Christmas Eve dessert: servings of rice pudding from a large bowl containing just one "magic" almond. The lucky person to find the almond received a special prize.

Also from Cochrane came this note:

MEMORIES. I find myself slipping back to rural New Brunswick with snow so deep we stored the shovel on the inside of the house by the kitchen door.

The Christmas story that came flooding back happened when I was seven. My father was active in the community, and every year we would help him package the bags of sweets that our general store donated to neighbourhood children on Santa Claus Parade Day.

This particular Christmas, my father, who was always present to help Santa hand out the treats when he rode into town on the town fire truck, announced that he had a special secret job! I was excited.

I did not let up on him till he finally told me that he had to watch the reindeer, and if I knew what was good for me, I'd be keeping his secret! Soooooo, all progressed as usual, and it was eventually my turn to sit on Santa's knee and – what? Into whose well-loved face did I gaze?

I was shocked. He gave me the big wink and shhhh-sign and explained to me later that Santa had the flu and couldn't possibly be expected to come all the way to New Brunswick while sick. He had called my father and asked him if he'd fill in as a personal favour.

Well, what a relief! You can't imagine how worried I had been. If you'll excuse me, I have this over-whelming need to talk with my dad.

—Janice Donovan, Cochrane

FROM NIAGARA-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Jim Hills, a longtime pastor friend of mine, wrote to say thanks for reminding him of the struggles our parents faced in the 1930s and '40s. "Our fathers had a rough time in the Depression years," he said. "They were not able to give us much, but they did their best, didn't they?"

Further about how imaginative parents can be in the midst of struggle, another Ontario coffee companion wrote:

I CAN'T HELP thinking how simple Christmases were back in our childhood. My little brother and I would help decorate our old house with green and red ropes, crisscrossing the dining and living room ceilings, then piling tinsel on them, and setting up several little paper trees around the rooms with a larger one in a corner.

One Christmas Eve we went to bed, fully believing Santa Claus would come during the night, although we had no chimney for him. In the morning we were astounded to see a real tree in the place where the old paper one had stood.

Another year, I put my broken Shirley Temple doll in a box under my bed and woke in the morning to find a brand new Shirley under the tree, and the old one mysteriously spirited away.

Those were magical Christmases. My parents didn't have much money; dad was a piano tuner and mother taught piano lessons to a few neighbour children. They must have worked very hard on Christmas Eve to make such miracles happen.

Reading your column makes me realize how lucky I was as a child, and in turn, how lucky I am now, perhaps able to help create some magic of my own this Christmas. I'll think about that, and see what I can do in the next couple of weeks to restore some of the simple things for my family, all grown now.

—Thelma Rhynas, Ajax, Ontario

THANK YOU for these beautiful reminders of how all of us can be links in garlands of happiness at this special season.

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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