".Mostly in the 'mess' (a communal setting in the armed forces for eating and socializing) and rum and coke."
This is how my parents met, according to my mother's Army Book, a chronicle in photos and words, of her and my father's time in the service in the Second World War.
They met in September of 1943 and married in December '44; just think what a wonderful Christmas they had. (I raised a glass of rum and coke to them on Dec. 5 - in my own 'mess,' which is just about any room I inhabit!).
I mention this because most of our Christmas memories involve our parents, at least until we left home and built our own memories or became so jaded and cynical that we spent Christmas under a pall of rum and eggnog, only occasionally leaving the house to wander the empty streets and gaze into the windows of houses along the way - houses that emitted the warmth of winter and the season. (Suicide rates increase at Christmas.)
I took the women up to the tree farm to cut a suitable spruce or fir for the living room, recreating the myth of man heading into the nearby woods with his saw and axe, the only thing missing the $30 for Mother Nature that you could place on a nearby stump.
I like to go on during these occasions about how my father picked out the tree from a lot at Ernie's Esso on the main street of our town, his two lads in tow; and how it had to be Scotch pine because the needles didn't fall and how it had to be placed in a bucket of coal and liberally doused with water, blah, blah, blah until the women tell me to shut up.
But there's no stopping me as I go on to recount my owning shopping experiences in the pre-mall 1950s and '60s, walking uptown with my money firmly ensconced in my mittens, the buckles on my galoshes undone and flapping as I walked the crunchy snow; and how no one could fail to envy the scene on main street, snow falling against the street lights, carols coming from speakers atop the light standards, the noise and bustle of Christmas commerce, the warmth of the stores as you entered.
Socks were bought and glassware, a hockey stick all wrapped and placed under a tree covered in ornaments that had been handed down from grandparents.
Not to mention the sheer excitement, the anticipation of the coming day, the deliberate unwrapping of gifts in the morning, savouring every ribbon, every bit of tape, the slow revealing of contents. And then outside to ride the toboggan and play road hockey and skate on the river and revel in the clean white joy of Christmas.
Quite a responsibility to recreate these joys for your own children, plant these memories before they become jaded and wary of mall madness.
Andrew, of course, is forever young, and it is for him we package the gifts and place them under the tree.
The girl we can still pull into the mix, but not for long, now that she has to worry about money and work, and now that she is entering the frightening landscape of adulthood with its attendant joys and sorrows.
So it was I hit the mall last weekend for a little pre-shopping reconnaissance, just to get the feel of what was out there, buy a few cards for those people who persist in sending them to me, to watch the not-yet harried faces of my fellow mall-lingerers.
I didn't last long, and took refuge in a coffee shop, with a newspaper to read about the troubles in Jesus Christ's home where the trouble never ends. What a mess, indeed. I don't think any amount of rum and coke will bring those two sides together!
Next week: more joy.
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