Embracing the Storms of Life

On a visit to Mountain Prison near Agassiz some years ago, I encountered a number of round faced men, clad in drab grey prison P2260031garb. They were sitting on hard wooden benches set against long metal huts. Except for occasionally inserting a cigarette between their lips, they sat still and lifeless as sand sculptures on a forgotten beach. I approached them and asked, “what are you all waiting for?”

An elderly man with a balding scalp roused himself and responded quite amicably, “we’re waiting for the ringing of the lunch bell. Then we can go in and eat.”

On subsequent visits, I saw the men there many times, often arriving long before the bell summoned them. For some, meals were the most significant events in their day. In time I understood that prison life had fostered a toxic lethargy in them and most had no realistic goals or vision for anything better. They seemed not to grasp they could be preparing for the rigours of life awaiting them beyond the high chain link fence around the prison. Inside the fence they were able to blame others for their plight. Outside they would need to deal with reality. They feared reality. Although they admitted it only rarely, some felt safe only within the fence. They reminded me of T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men.”

Seeing these men was a reminder to me that it is in the storms of life that we grow strong. I realized how true this is later when I was Art (far left) paddling on a Bowron Lakeworking for the One Way Adventure Foundation in Hedley. Each summer we took small groups of Young Offenders on a Bowron Lakes canoe expedition. The trip consists of portaging, canoeing on lakes and rivers, and camping in a pristine wilderness. Once on the lakes, we had no means of communicating with anyone outside our group. If a canoe began to leak, we had to deal with it.

On one trip our crew consisted of 3 leaders and 9 adolescent boys travelling in 6 sturdy, Frontiersman canoes. The youths came primarily from poorly functioning homes. They generally arrived at our campus with a distinctly uncooperative attitude, often with a swagger. They attempted to portray themselves as tough and street smart. Having no chain link fence to protect them from life’s harsh realities, they had donned a mask to hide their sense of insecurity.

We wanted to expose them to mosquitoes, horse flies, paddling or portaging all day, sometimes in incessant rain. We considered it important that they feel the discomfort of a canoe yoke digging into their shoulders on portages. The experience would plant a significant memory in their psyche. A memory of grappling with unaccustomed and unexpected challenges, and discovering they had the stamina to persevere to the end. They would see that we, the leaders, were also being ravaged by the insects and the elements. Masks would begin to slip as we all contended with a reality we could not ignore.

It was an overcast Thursday morning when our little contingent emerged from the fast flowing, dangerous waters of the Cariboo River onto Lanezi Lake. A powerful headwind was already whipping up waves. Spray blew into our faces and we could scarcely move. Our canoes bobbed like corks on the restless water. Because the towering mountains descended on either side to the edge of the lake, we could find no refuge there. Fear gripped the boys. They were city youths and had never paddled in turbulent water like this.

Fear in their voices concerned me. It was quickly eroding their inner strength. I needed to do something to give them confidence. I started singing, “row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.” Initially they looked at me as though doubting my sanity. Sensing my confidence, a couple of the older boys began singing with me. Their voices weren’t much better than mine but in the blowing wind, it didn’t matter.

“Row, row, row your boat.” Soon we were all singing and whooping and paddling like mad voyageurs. Suddenly, we were lusty and strong and free.

I looked at the 2 straining, sweating boys in the canoe closest to me and both of them grinned broadly. They were having too much fun to be scared. Three hours later, in the safety of our rustic camp, with tents set up, a camp fire warming us, and hot food in our bellies, we knew we had conquered our fears.

Now, with a new year dawning, this is a good time for all of us to decide we won’t be content to sit on a bench mindlessly waiting for our next meal. This is a good time to think about how we will respond to the storms of life that may descend on us in 2015.

Mist and Mystique at Brydon Park

Early on Christmas morning, while many people were still sleeping off the effects of partaking too lavishly of wine and turkey, Linda and IMG_0801I walked through the Brydon Park wetlands. We hoped it might be a more effective strategy for coping with last nights’ feast and preparing for another one in the afternoon. In Langley, the park is near the home of our daughter and her family where we stayed a few days.

Heavy rain at times causes flooding and makes the path impassable, except possibly with a canoe. This morning it was muddy in places but with watchful stepping, we were able to keep our feet reasonably dry.

A light mist shrouded the wetlands and the adjacent lagoon. At least

Ducks in Brydon Park Lagoon
Ducks in Brydon Park Lagoon

a dozen ducks were waiting for some thoughtful soul to throw them tidbits of food. It was a magical moment in a mystical scene and we were alone in this wonderland. The aura fostered thoughts of a pre-historic setting where humans rarely ventured and the environment existed untarnished.

I said to Linda, “I should have brought the camera.”

“Should we go back and get it?” she asked, also enchanted by the pristine beauty surrounding us.

Fetching the camera and returning to the lagoon entailed at least a 2 kilometer walk. In the meantime the mist might lift and the sense of mystery would evaporate with it. We did make the trek through the muddy wetlands to the house though, and returned with the camera.

My concern had been justified. The mist had indeed lifted and the IMG_0791aura of mystery dispelled. For me it was a reminder of Napoleon Hill’s statement that “success comes when preparation and opportunity meet.” The scene had changed The sense of magic was gone. Even so, we did get some shots that please us.

The Brydon Park wetlands and the lagoon are a gem near the heart of Langley. Next time we venture to the coast, we hope to be given another opportunity to capture the sense of mystery when the mist again casts a shroud over the lagoon and the wetlands. It’s worth waiting for.

 

Only A Child, Only At Christmas

Taegert, B.C. 1979. It was Christmas Eve in Taegert, a small remote former gold mining community in northern B.C. Snow had begun IMG_0742falling steadily the previous night and the mountains surrounding our little town were now bedecked with a soft white mantel. Through the still falling snow plumes of grey wood smoke streamed upward from chimneys into the dark sky.

My wife and I leaned forward, pressing into the chill north wind flinging snow into our cold faces. Not far ahead snow laden figures loomed out of the whiteness of the night. We were all hurrying, adults and children, to get a good seat at the Christmas Eve celebration in the community hall.

We arrived to find the hall already packed with a boisterous crowd. The only place was along the back wall with other stragglers. Outside, cold snow hurled itself at the hall, but inside it was toasty. The ancient pot bellied wood stove was working its magic. In one corner an enormous fir tree, with lights, ornaments and tinsel encouraged a holiday spirit.

The program MC, Marty Dyke, slipped from behind a curtain at the left end of the stage. She was a robust woman, something her loose, bright red dress could not hide. With a hearty laugh and booming voice, she said, “ Welcome to our community’s 38th Christmas concert.” Then she turned to the side of the stage where she had entered. “ Without further adieu, let’s put our hands together and bring on the famous Jones family!” There was clapping, hollering and stamping of feet.

The Jones clan came hustling on stage with guitars, fiddles, harmonicas and a banjo. Grandpa Jones began belting out the tunes and his whole lusty clan backed him up like they were on stage at Nashville, Tennessee. Pretty quick folks were smiling and singing along. A few pretty young girls in bright dresses danced in the aisles. It was a Christmas hootenanny. Marty always introduced them first because they knew how to stir up the crowd’s Christmas spirit.

Everyone settled down when 11 year old Susie Thomas began telling about the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. “It happened in a stable,” she said, “and there were probably sheep and donkeys watching. And shepherds came from taking care of their flocks in the fields.” She seemed awed by the event. Susie was followed by Mrs. Brown reading her latest Christmas poem.

Everyone was having a grand time. Everyone except me, that is. Just before the program started, Marty Dyke had whispered to me, “I’ve asked your friend J.K. Barnabas to bring his guitar and sing two or three tunes at the end. Be a fine way to wrap up the evening, don’t you think?” It was too late to change things, so I remained silent.

I was concerned because J.K.’s a black man. A big old white haired blues singer who used to perform in bars in cities like Winnipeg, Vancouver and Seattle. Not that anyone in Taegert would object to him singing blues, or to him being black. No one that is, except Gerhardt Gruber. And, in a way, old Gruber had a pretty good reason for not liking black men. He had nothing against black women.

In the big war back in the forties, he and his son were in the same company in the German Wehrmacht. In close combat, a black Yankee soldier shot the son dead right in front of Gruber. He’s been bitter against black men since that day.

That’s why I was troubled about J.K. Barnabas getting in front of this crowd. Gruber might have a flashback. What if he did something crazy? J.K. isn’t a well man. He doesn’t need that.

While my mind was thinking about these things, the evening was flying by. Now Marty called on J.K. He walked to the front slowly and sat down on a hard wooden bench. After taking a moment to adjust the guitar strings, he grinned at the children in the front row and launched into a frisky rendition of Frosty the Snowman. Next he pleased the crowd with Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer. Everyone cheered when he was done, but not Gruber.

Then the raucous, buoyant mood was gone and he seemed to forget we were there. He drifted into a tune I was sure he had written himself.

“I woke up this mornin’ and the sun, it didn’t shine,
Was sittin’ in my room all alone, didn’t have one friend I could say was mine.
Too many nights in the bars, too many days on the road, now this body’s gettin’ old.
Snow’s fallin’ and I’m feelin’ mighty low, oh yes, I’m feelin’ mighty low.
My little baby’s gone.
She’s grown up big, don’t come to her daddy no more to play.
Sure has broke this old man’s heart.
Oh Yeah, sure has broke this old man’s heart.”

Then he was quiet, still sitting on the bench, a lonely old blues man. A single tear rolled slowly down one cheek.

A hush fell over the hall, and no one cheered or moved. It seemed everyone was expecting something to happen.

I heard the rustle of a dress and I looked to my left where old Gruber was sitting, arms crossed over his chest and face hard as the barrel of a German army rifle. Before he could stop her, his pretty little granddaughter had slipped off his lap and was running to where the white haired J.K. Barnabas was sitting.

Gruber's granddaughter offering her baby to Mr. JK
Gruber’s granddaughter offering her baby to Mr. JK

“Here, Mr. J.K.” she said, holding a little blond doll toward him. “Take my baby. She’ll make you happy. I have more babies at home.”

I think everyone stopped breathing and looked at old Gruber. His stiff white Wehrmacht moustache made him look real serious.

And then it happened. Gruber got up. Using his cane, he walked unsteadily to where his granddaughter and JK. were. He sat down on the bench next to J.K. and lifted the little girl onto the black man’s lap. Although he wasn’t a religious man, far as I knew, he began singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” in his native German, his sweet tenor carrying the words throughout the hall. After hesitating a moment, the old blues man joined his deep baritone to Gruber’s tenor.

“Silent night. Holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Then everyone was singing, and when the song was done, I saw men and women laughing and crying, shaking hands and embracing. At the front of the room, I saw the old black man and the old German army officer rise and embrace.

Taegert was never quite the same again. There was more of a sense of peace. And that’s why I say, “Only a child could have accomplished what happened in our little town that night. And only at Christmas.”

Icing the Sugar Cookies

It’s been a busy baking week for Linda. Brown bread, white buns, and sugar cookies. The bread and buns are pretty much for

Art Icing the Sugar Cookies
Art Icing the Sugar Cookies

Christmas meals with family and friends. The sugar cookies are to give away, in some cases to people we hardly know, or don’t know at all, but would like to know. We’ve had a number of new people come to town this year, either as property owners or as tenants. In her Christmas letter local realtor Susan Collins said 9 properties have changed ownership.

Back to the sugar cookies. Last year Linda made them in several shapes. This year, to economize on time, it’s just Christmas trees. I offered to help with applying icing and sprinkles. Although until this time I had no experience, Linda agreed to let me assist.

As soon a I began though, she ceased applying icing in mid-stroke. I quickly became aware she was scrutinizing my efforts. It was a certain indication my skill level was deficient, at least according to her standard. I resolved to try harder.

In spite of my increased concentration, she apparently decided I required some tutelage. I didn’t mind. Actually, I was pleased she saw enough potential in me to make the effort to train me.

Patiently she instructed me in getting the icing to the very edge of the cookies. Not too much icing and not too little. It was also important to spread the sprinkles on the cookies, not on the floor.

We completed the job in a spirit of harmony and I think she might have been willing to give me a C for effort. I didn’t consider it wise to ask.

Last year Mike, who lives down the street with his brother, expressed a lot of appreciation for the cookies. “My mom used to make them when I was a kid,” he told Linda upon meeting her on the street. “I haven’t had sugar cookies in years. I love them.” With that level of endorsement he is definitely on the list again this year.

We enjoy giving away the cookies. It gives us a reason to knock on the doors of some people who don’t participate in community events. Some we virtually never see.

We have been amazed in our time here at the way some individuals reach out to help when there is a need. These people are a tremendous example to us. They make Hedley a gentler community, a good place to live and to grow into the senior years.

Certainly a few cookies is not a significant gift. However, when people show us a small kindness, we take it as an indication they value the relationship. Giving cookies is our way of telling the recipients we value them as friends and members of our community. We hope that even if they are busy, or don’t want human contact, they will feel blessed.
* * *
Christmas is at hand. We had a nice 15 inch snowfall about 2 weeks ago. There will certainly be more. Presently it’s pleasant in Hedley with the mercury hovering at about zero this evening.
* * *

I invite you to watch for our Christmas story, “Only a Child, Only at Christmas.” Coming soon.

Janet Christie Cautions Pregnant Women

On a dark street near the outskirts of a prairie community, at age 13

Janet Christie and her son Cole
Janet Christie and her son Cole

Janet Christie had her first taste of alcohol with a friend. It would be a life altering moment. At 21 she bore Cole. She didn’t realize at the time that because she had continued drinking during her pregnancy, her baby’s entire life would be severely impacted. Their story is one of turmoil, trauma, terror, and ultimate victory. For anyone contending with difficult circumstances, especially alcoholism and its consequences , they are a beacon of hope. Janet is telling their story because she wants women to be aware of the crushing toll that may be exacted if they drink while pregnant.

In a phone interview from her home near Victoria, she permitted me to enter some of the dark inner recesses of a past that is not pretty. “After I had that first taste of alcohol,” she said, “life was never the same again. In the beginning it was fun. Then it was fun with problems. In the end, it was just problems.”

Janet grew up in a church going family. Photos indicate she had stunning looks. There were positives, but they were over powered by her thirst for alcohol. Partying took over her life and Cory, her boyfriend, had a similar wild streak. He was 5 years older and had plenty of money. For them the well of alcohol had no bottom.

Janet was 18 when they got married. She became pregnant with Cole 3 years later. Intuition suggested to her alcohol might be harmful to the baby. “My doctor told me the placenta would not permit alcohol to pass through,” she said. “His words didn’t convince me entirely, but I had no control. Also, we were having serious difficulties in our marriage. Alcohol helped me cope. ”

She experienced great relief when Cole entered the world with no apparent complications. “He appeared totally normal, a beautiful lovable baby. I soon decided he was very bright, maybe even a genius,” she remembers.

The marriage ended abruptly and suddenly she was alone with Cole and her addiction. Fearing he would be taken from her, she didn’t seek help. “I wished I had never taken that first drink,” she said, “but how was I to know it would rock my world and catapult me through the gates of hell?”

When he started school, Janet’s consternation level soared, but she didn’t understand yet that by drinking during the pregnancy, Cole had also been catapulted through those same gates.

“My son, who I believed was brilliant, had great difficulty learning the alphabet and numbers didn’t make sense to him,” she said, a tremor in her voice. “I knew something was very wrong when he failed grade one. With each increasing grade, life became more difficult for him. Other students told him he was stupid and he reacted by fighting. Teachers accused him of being lazy and not trying. Not being able to learn like the others, he became disruptive in class. Teachers made him sit on a chair in the hallway. He couldn’t tell time until he was 10, so frequently he was late for school. A number of schools expelled him.”

“At home it was equally difficult,” she said. “He became so frustrated and angry, he punched holes in the walls. In one apartment his fists went through to the outside. We were evicted. He thought he must be stupid.”

Janet admits she was rarely in a state to give Cole constructive direction or provide supervision. By his 12th birthday, her life was rapidly spinning out of control and consequently so was his. “He was hanging out with older guys and doing drugs. I had lost my job and rarely left the apartment except to get basics, mostly cigarettes, milk and booze.”

One morning she awoke and the smell of cigarette butts and the empties scattered on the kitchen table made her stomach churn. In a rare lucid moment, she became frantic. “Suddenly I needed to know where Cole was. I wanted to know if he had come home last night. Was he ok? My son had become a crack addict. I knew I would lose him if I didn’t make a radical change. In desperation, I appealed to a recovery support group. That day my healing began.”

She hesitated, gathering courage. I wondered if there were tears. “For Cole it was almost too late,” she said. “A week into my sobriety, the phone rang in the darkness of the night. A voice at the other end told me Cole was in a closet in a crack house and the police had a gun to his head.”

Janet called government services, institutions, universities, vainly seeking help. One worker told her, “you created the problem. You fix it.”

“Finally when Cole was 20, a paediatrician diagnosed him with partial FAS. I was then able to explain to him that his problems were my fault. He forgave me long before I forgave myself.” Her voice faltered for a moment as she recalled this scene.

“With the diagnosis, I had a better understanding of my son. He needed someone to believe in him, be patient with him, love him and help him.”

Now 36, Cole has a siding application business. He is in a relationship with a woman who is understanding and helps him manage his affairs.

Janet finished by offering this advice, “I wish to say to women who have been drinking and find themselves pregnant, stop. The brain is vulnerable the entire 9 months of pregnancy, and the moment you stop drinking is the moment the damage stops. If you can’t stop, get help. Today. Contact your nearest alcohol and drug service (1.800.663.1441). There is no shame in asking for help. You have no idea the power each drink has to affect the rest of your life and your baby’s life. Forever. FAS is FOREVER.”

Prettiest Girl In Manning Park

Along Highway #3 between Hope and Princeton, Mother Nature’s face alters dramatically with the change of seasons. Travelling the

Manning Park in Winter
Manning Park in Winter

route this week, Linda and I were favoured with a blue sky day. The sun was not warm but its rays on the whiteness of the snow clad mountains created a radiant wonderland. A thick layer of snow clung to each evergreen. It was an amazing display of splendour that captured and enthralled us completely. We stopped alongside the highway and inhaled this marvel of creation through all our senses.

For many years we have pulled off the road at Manning Park Lodge to pick up coffee to go. It was a disappointment to us when the business went into receivership some time ago and the lodge closed. Fortunately it was reopened when a new ownership took over. Since then we’ve noticed they are investing in improvements. We have also noticed that they are attracting conventions. More important to us, at times they have a sign along the highway saying “Stop in for Free Coffee.”

Several years ago we began chatting briefly with Laura who was

Laura - The Prettiest Girl in Manning Park
Laura – The Prettiest Girl in Manning Park

often at the till in the store. One day I commented on her shorter hair. “That shows you are regulars here,” she said chuckling. Laura is invariably congenial, very pleasant toward customers. She laughs easily and always looks great. Linda and I think of her as “the prettiest girl in Manning Park.” Apparently she is also a capable organizer. When the new company took over, she was invited to stay on and was appointed to the position of Store Manager.

The Hope-Princeton Highway is a drive worth taking, both for the incomparable beauty of nature and the fresh, (occasionally free) coffee.  And, it’s an opportunity to meet the prettiest girl in Manning Park.

RDOS Director Says Goodbye

With a degree from the Emily Carr School of Fine Arts, how could

Angelique Wood, visionary & pragmatic
Angelique Wood, visionary & pragmatic

the outgoing Director of Area G possibly have had the understanding and practical experience to deal with the difficult issues confronting the RDOS? This is a question we might be tempted to ask about Angelique Wood.

Living on the same street, two doors from her home, I’ve had the opportunity to observe her at fairly close range. Professor Ashley Montague, formerly of Rutgers University, has said, “if you want to know what a person is going to do, don’t ask them what they believe. Observe what they do.” After being her neighbour several years, I’ve concluded that although the lady is certainly a visionary with ideas, she has a distinct pragmatic streak as well. She is quite capable of chopping her own wood, attending to plumbing problems, and building a work shop.

Over a cup of hot ginger tea at our kitchen table, I asked Angelique what had motivated her to get into politics, what had surprised her, what she had learned.

Prior to coming to Hedley she worked at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, one of the biggest in Canada, largely devoted to aboriginal and ethnic art. She also sold aboriginal art for 7 years.

When she bought a small home in Hedley in 2005, it wasn’t her intention at first to live here. However, she found Hedley increasingly alluring. After deciding to make this her home, she got involved with the museum. She painted the basement floor and installed glass shelves in the Tea Room. In 2007 she joined the Fire Department and got her air brake endorsement.

Turning to her time in the RDOS, she said, “I came to the role thinking that most politicians must be corrupted. I found though that I was working with 17 individuals who cared very much about their communities. Many were brilliant in their careers. They came with ideas to improve things. There was an atmosphere of respect.”

Over time she came to the realization most people don’t feel anyone is listening. To counter this, she and fellow Hedley resident Kim English created a forum. They invited speakers from other communities, politicians from the Similkameen Valley and interested citizens.

“We brought together a lot of grass roots leaders,” she said. We wanted them to understand how to communicate with elected officials. We wanted to get people thinking, and talking to each other. We wanted them to be aware of what was happening in the rest of the universe.”

She emphasized that “we need to nurture each other and make our organizations strong. People need to feel safe enough to express their views.”

I have sometimes seen Angelique up very early in the morning, doing yard and garden work before attending to RDOS affairs. She feels a compulsion to get things done. It was a surprise to her that the wheels of government turn very slowly. “I learned that even working 40 to 70 hours per week, I could not speed up the functioning of government. Getting agreement of stakeholders takes time. It’s important to stay focused on what you want to accomplish.”

She reflected on this a moment and then added, “ A lot of what you do as a politician is listen. Often when people have a problem, they are frustrated. Sometimes they begin with yelling. It takes patience to wait for them to calm down. Then we can begin working on their issue.”

“Where did you make progress?” I asked.

“We signed a protocol agreement with 3 of the 4 Indian bands,” she replied. “We wanted to open lines of communication between the bands and the RDOS. We came to understand we need to work together.” She said the USIB is considering signing.

Angelique also cited development of a joint tourism strategy as an important step. This agreement includes both Area G Indian bands, Keremeos, Princeton and areas H,G and B.

What was gratifying? This question triggered an emotional moment and she picked up a kleenex. “The most gratifying thing about being an RDOS Director,” she said, “is the many people who have said ‘thank you. You did a good job’.”

Young Entrepreneur at Craft Sale

At age 13, Ayrelea is already an entrepreneur. Assisted by her good

Ayrelea & Elli
Ayrelea & Elli

friend Elli, she displayed hair clips and head bands, as well as some baked items contributed by family members, at the Hedley Craft Sale on Saturday, November 29. She personally makes the craft items she sells and although she isn’t wealthy yet, her mother, Michelle, said, “she does well.”

Until recently Ayrelea frequented craft sales regularly. Realizing this was taking a substantial bite out of her time, she set up a website, https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/AyreleasRoom, and now sales come primarily from her on-line venture.

Ayrelea wants to be successful but her long term goal is not to be the next Mary Kay. Her desire is to work with a missions organization, assisting women in developing countries to create products and market them. She has frequent discussions with her parents about how she can develop the necessary understanding and skills to accomplish this. This young lady is well on her way to doing important things.

Alda displaying her "Smokin Art"
Alda displaying her “Smokin Art”

The craft sale is an annual event sponsored and hosted by the Hedley Seniors’ Center. The Center served a breakfast of toast and scrambled eggs for $3.00. Lunch consisted of soup and a sandwich for $5.00. The soup was prepared at home by Beryl Wallace and Lynn Wells. The soup was donated, as was the Center members’ time.

“The Craft Sale was an opportunity to get out on a cold

Bett holding Mike Jacobs' wood creation
Bett holding Mike Jacobs’ wood creation

day,” Beryl said. “People came from Keremeos and Princeton. I think everyone had a good time.”

 

Mom’s Love of Christmas

Born and raised in a remote, sparsely populated area of rural Manitoba, my Mom had to share Christmas with 13 siblings. Large

Mom Celebrated Christmas With Joy
Mom Celebrated Christmas With Joy

families were common at that time. With so many to provide for, my grandma and grandpa Funk had little money to buy gifts. On the morning of December 25th, each child awoke to a plate of hard candies, several varieties of nuts, home made cookies and possibly an orange. After chores and breakfast, if there wasn’t a raging blizzard, grandpa and the older boys hitched horses to the sleigh.

With heated rocks and heavy blankets to warm them, they’d set off to a small Mennonite church. Usually a shortage of space on the sleigh required the hardy older boys to run behind in the snow. Later the girls would help grandmother prepare a simple, nourishing meal. If a stranger knocked on their door requesting food or a place to sleep, grandpa always said, “come in. My boys will put your horses in the barn and feed them.”

This simple upbringing and the example of sharing out of meagre resources instilled in the children a deep appreciation for Christmas. I’m convinced that for Mom, Christmas had a magical quality. I believe it approached on tiptoes, like an elf carrying a mystical gift. Even in her senior years her excitement soared as December drew near. She anticipated the season with the exuberance and infectious delight of a dancing 5 year old.

After I had grown up, Mom’s enthusiasm for Christmas at times astonished me. One year, at the beginning of December she announced, “this month Dad and I are going to celebrate Christmas every day. I have casseroles in the freezer. I have baked dozens of white buns, squares, three kinds of pies and lots of sugar cookies. My freezer is full. There isn’t room for even one more cookie” To us it was a novel concept but we certainly didn’t doubt that Mom and Dad would celebrate every day.

Each day that December she phoned someone and said, “come for lunch or dinner.” She reached out to single people living alone. If they went to the home of friends, she brought food.

Mom’s celebration reached its climax on Christmas Eve. My sisters and I, and our families joined Mom and Dad at a neighbourhood church. The lights were turned down and a skit depicted the story of the infant Jesus lying in a manger, attended by Mary and Joseph. There were shepherds with canes, the 3 Magi bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Angels sang “Silent Night.” The hour in church was a welcome reprieve from the intense commercial atmosphere dominating society even then.

In Mom and Dad’s home after the program, there was inevitably one discordant note. Mom always invited a retired couple whose company my sisters and I, and our families didn’t enjoy. These people had money, but they had learned only to take, not to give. Never did they bring a gift for Mom, even though she had devoted many hours to preparing for this evening. Their lives apparently had been mainly about the acquisition of wealth. They seemed not to understand the deep satisfaction that comes from genuine friendship. Fortunately Mom’s cheer and good will and Dad’s quiet positive demeanour lifted our spirits. The couple ate hurriedly and then, in spite of Mom’s urging to stay, rushed out with the haste of fire fighters off to douse a 7 alarm blaze.

I didn’t comprehend at that time why Mom wanted them at the table with her family, especially on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t prepared to take responsibility for their unwillingness to give time to developing friendships. But Mom had grown up in a remote area where people were valued and a stranger was never turned away from the door of her family’s home. Only later did I understand she took seriously the angels’ refrain about “good will toward men.” She chose to love people and to bless them with the warmth of friendship. It was her gift to them, and the example was a wonderful gift to her children and grand children. She showed us how to celebrate Christmas with joy.