By Sue Tiffin
Recently, my mom was asked by her youngest grandchild to share a story from her life as part of a school assignment connecting children with their family history.
My mom has had a long, love-filled life to date, and you’d think she might need some time sifting through some of the memories that have been made in those years to consider which story to tell, but she didn’t hesitate in recalling in great detail a memory from more than 60 years ago.
When she was about 11 years old, her family had finished opening their Christmas gifts – usually something to wear, something they wanted, and a gift from Santa under the tree. Her dad – who was filled with an abundance of Christmas spirit that he passed on to my mom, who we know has definitely passed it on to her youngest joy-filled and likely part-elf grandchild – had built and painted an elaborate cardboard fireplace as part of a festive living room decoration. After presents were opened on Christmas morning, he said, “I guess we can take this down now,” before lifting up the box. Underneath was a brand new TV, one that my mom explained was a luxury item and much better than the one they had, that older TV broadcasting a picture filled with snow and requiring tube repairs from a repairman … concepts she also had to explain further to a child living in a world in which they can watch clear videos on demand even in the middle of the forest on a phone that fits in a pocket.
One story led to another, and my mom then described how her dad would decorate the front of her childhood home – it started with lights and became more fantastic over the years to include recycled stovepipes he painted to look like candy canes, and plywood cut-outs he painted to look like snowmen. People would come from all over town (which is what Scarborough was at that time, really) to see the display, in a time before jokes about Clark Griswold and generous front lawn decorations became more commonplace.
So many of my mom’s memories of Christmas don’t focus so much on what material good was received, but the feelings brought forward by the season — her dad’s excitement, the surprise of the fireplace reveal, the kindness of a delivery person who made it through a snowstorm to get a gift to her house very late on Christmas Eve, the joy the neighbours felt with the care put into a decorated lawn.
While Christmas can be a difficult time, especially amid a pandemic, we can still find ways to make and share happiness and joy with each other, seeking out those who need it most and acting in kindness when we see it missing to make someone’s days better. After these past two years, we have been reminded of how important it is to value each other and our time here together, to make it special and to create memories that keep us going through hard times. My mom’s dad knew that, and so does my mom and now so does her youngest grandchild.
Whatever you do this holiday season, in whatever way you celebrate, however you find a safe way to be together, we hope it’s a memorable one.
Merry Christmas, Times readers. We’ll see you again right here in a new year.