Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ghosts of Christmasses Past !

"Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat ... please put a penny in the old man's hat. If you don't have a whole one , a half a one'll do... and if you don't have a half a one ... then God bless you!"(sic) Hearing my Mom chirping this little ditty around the house during the war years as she went about hanging wreaths in front windows meant only one thing.... good old Saint Nick would soon be making his rounds ... bearing those goodies and toys he could muster up in those hard times for all us good little boys and girls in Pokiok. The port was a beehive of activity so my Dad , a longshoreman , was doing quite a bit of overtime .....  time and a half ... sometimes double-time ......not only for the war effort but also to keep his own family afloat. I still have the income tax report he filed for 1943..... total income =  $2217.41. He was assessed to pay $239.91 income tax that year. With these working hours it was usually hard for him to find time during the day to go into the woods to cut down a suitable Christmas tree so we often went up to the hollow at night ... me carrying a lantern ... or up behind the henhouse .... or simply somewhere handy to home like everybody else in Pokiok... until we spotted one to our liking. I remember him explaining the difference between a firtree and a sprucetree and why we should always choose the fir... as it held its needles better indoors.
As I write these lines a Christmas tree anecdote comes to mind. I recall sitting on the stairs leading up to my bedroom watching my Dad put up the tree. I was probably eight years old because I still remember quite vividly what took place.... although more than likely enhanced by hearing those involved rehash the event over and over in later years , thereby embedding it more firmly in my memory. My Dad had just finished erecting the tree in a huge pail with big hunks of coal packed tightly around the base ...and it stood straight up ! My Mom needed a few items so she set off on foot down the hill to Art McGuire's store leaving me and Dad to string the sets of lights on the tree and crown it with our tree topper ... the Star of Bethlehem. I might add here that back then .... even at that age...... I was still a firm believer that Santa did all the decorating of the tree except for the lights. We strung the lights to help him out .... no more , no less !                              
In the meantime our nextdoor neighbour , Aunt Agnes ( Johnston) dropped by to see what we were up to. She sat down in the big armchair beside the tree and my Dad , who was already having a "wee taste" , offered her a glass of Christmas cheer as well. He then proceeded to climb his wabbly old stepladder to place the Star of Bethlehem atop the tree. Just at that moment the frontdoor blew open and a wintry blast of arctic air invaded the house as my Mom came in from running her errands. The following is the fuzzy part of the story. Maybe my Dad was startled by my Mom's lightning entry into the living room .... or the old ladder collapsed beneath him as he reached for the top of the tree ....... anyways he lost his balance and by natural reflex grabbed the tree and down they both came into Aunt Agnes's lap ...... and all this unfolding just as Mom made her entrance. For many years afterwards the three of them would often laugh referring  to that incident as the Christmas tree fiasco.  ....... adding that luckily for everyone the fragile ornaments had not yet been hung. That was Santa's job and he was not due to come by until the following night.


I am indeed fortunate in many ways  , one of which includes having in my passession many lights from the sets my Dad strung that day of the Christmas tree fiasco ........ 15 of which still light up. I have only one set with 8 sockets though ...... much smaller back then than those of today. The middle photo shows a few of my Mom's favourite tree ornaments from the 1950s.

This little horn was in one of my very early Christmas stockings and has followed me all over the world wherever I have gone ... somewhat of a priceless commodity ... more than a goodluck charm ... a reminder of a happy childhood in a wonderful community called Pokiok. I always bring it out at Christmastide and hang it on the tree.


  1. Its amazing what triggers our memories. I once wrote a short story (for a class) about how the smell of lead pencils, old paper and even the glue that held the text books together instantly transported me back to my early grade school days.

  2. So true ,Jim.... back home after so many years away I drive by a building ... a home .. and I start remembering who lived there, worked there ... and things we did together. We went uptown after spper to take a few pictures of the city's festive lights for Christmas... and maybe saw ten people in the heart of uptown... whereas 60 years ago there would be thousands milling about one week before Christmas .... scurrying about .... for that last minute gift .... the uptown beehive is no more as the malls in suburbia have drawn all the players to the outskirts.