By Claudia Villemaire
It’s not unusual to hear folks say ‘time goes by so fast’. But how often do they really realize how many years have slipped away?
Well, a quiet time recently reminded me that the dusty corner of my memory was storing over 80 Christmases gone by, and that really started making memories shift and shake to uncover quite a jumble of recollections that travelled back to the mid-1940s Christmases, and what this child could remember of those days.
To start with, there were very few outdoor decorations and for me, excitement was the day the milkman arrived with his horse and delivery cart. Those were the days of bottled milk and the signal for the milkman was the empty bottle set at the edge of the porch steps with a quarter in the bottom. Christmas meant perhaps a note would order a small bottle of cream. Perhaps watching Mom studying her favorite cookbooks gave some indication Christmas was a few days away. When the weather was right, maybe Christmas music could be found on the right radio station. And if snow covered the hilly street where we lived, a gravel truck with two men standing precariously on the coal cinder-filled box, shoveling those cinders onto the slippery hill.
Mom would find the Santa Claus program on the radio and then the excitement would begin to stir up memories of a Christmas tree and finding my stocking hanging on the doorhandle and presents under the tree.
Yup, there were lights but not very dependable. If one bulb burned out, all hands were called to begin checking every light, removing the bulb and screwing in the new one until, lo and behold, the string of lights would light up again. Cooking with gas, maufactured by the city of Sherbrooke would soon fill the small apartment with aromas of stuffed turkey, and mince pies warming, and that small bottle of cream would be whipped up to put a high hat of cream swirls on the Christmas pudding.
With restrictions coming down on just about every event entirely planned for families and friends the last couple years, this year’s trip down memory lane has required a concentrated trip into the dusty corners of memories of Christmases long passed.
This rather misty peek into a time when streets in town were mostly gravel, snow removal was often plows pulled by teams of heavy draft horses, hills were coated with coal cinders shoveled by a team of two stalwarts from the back of one of the few city trucks. If there was sand available, it was steam heated at the municipal stable and garage and salted highways were rare if cleared at all. This was a time when folks went for a walk when gentle snowflakes fluttered on to pure wool snowsuits and what we called overshoes.
Not many folks can remember a time when instant coffee and tea bags weren’t invented, Kleenex didn’t ‘pop up and actually plastic, in its many forms, was barely starting to appear, used for table coverings and kitchen chair seats and backs. From my vantage point at the bedroom window, I could watch city crews managing a wagon loaded with a steamer used to thaw out street drains and, later, probably in late January and February, I had a bird’s-eye view of city workers cutting ice blocks on the Magog River.
But the first and most important event was always beginning preparations for Christmas and New Year’s. Going back to the home farm near here was never a given. It meant waking up in the dark, Mom packing the warmest clothes, pulling on that cursed snowsuit and overshoes and getting to the bus stop in time for the first bus downtown to get to the CNR train station for the trip to Gore, the stop to pick up the filled milk cans local producers had brought in by horse and sleigh. Home farm was a mile away and there was always a neighboring farmer who would offer a lift to Mom and I – thank goodness.
This was a quiet time compared to today’s hype and modern approach to a day when showers of gifts were expected, and social events are merry events and the real reason for celebrating was rarely a topic of conversation.
So on that note, with those dusty memories stirring up thoughts that spotlight how life styles and people have changed, my wish is for some quiet time with family and friends taking the time to remember what we’re celebrating and perhaps saving some gifts for a family that would welcome a gift or two from our tree. The welcoming warmth of Grandma’s kitchen where turkey was roasting and pies warming and always the tea kettle singing its song of welcome were like gifts themselves.