:: Wednesday, December 22, 2004 ::
A holiday message from Mike
personal stuff: One of my co-workers asked me the other day what my plans were for Christmas. I said I didn’t really have any. Which is my choice
to a large degree. Which is completely my choice. Sit back and let me explain.
I am working on Christmas and Boxing Day. Up till a week ago I didn’t have any invites / had not heard from my brother in Toronto in about three or four months. Accordingly, I didn’t request the days off, though I am fairly sure that I could have got them. My brother and his wife and my niece and nephew are the only family I have here in Canada. I have relatives in Florida, Spain and New Zealand amongst others, but no one around here. So not hearing from them, I figured I would be doing the solo thing. And as there were people at work that would likely get shafted and have to work if I took the day off, I accordingly didn’t book it.
Christmas was always a quiet affair growing up in Toronto with just my parents and my brother - and my grandmother when we were quite young. Murray and I would wake up very early and find the bright red and I believe hand made Christmas stockings now full and hanging on our bedroom doors. We didn’t have a fireplace mantle to hang them on – and this was so much more convenient. You could just grab it and dump the contents on your bed. And while some kids didn’t like them, we used to get – amongst the toys and other small presents- the mini mandarin oranges. To this day every Christmas even the smell of the crates of oranges at Loblaws take me back.
Murray and I would go back and forth to each other’s rooms and compare our loot from Santa till mum and dad got up. It was like comparing a haul of Halloween candies. We would go downstairs and begin to poke around and see what new presents were under the tree that were not there the night before. Mum used to do most of the wrapping as far as I know, and both of them were quite clever in hiding the presents in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I looked everywhere. I mean everywhere. Anytime the house was empty of parents and I suspected some shopping had occurred, I would conduct my recce. Usually I found nothing. Once I think I found something but I can’t recall what it was. I just had to do my best to not tell Murray and act surprised. Lego was high on the list usually in this pre-warp era...
Mom used to make a great turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Nothing fancy or Martha Stewart like. Simple and down home. There was home made Christmas pudding, which while I am not sure of it’s composition, was splashed in brandy and then set afire briefly like a flaming Zambuca. Probably got a buzz off it at that age. There were mince meat pies, and Canada Dry Ginger Ale for us – we didn’t get carbonated beverages too often at home. Lots of Christmas crackers – that you pull and they explode and win the prizes inside, read the fortune cookie like jokes and wear the paper hats. It was good fun but not the major logistical exercises that a lot of my friends partake this time each year. Too much driving, traveling, packing, unpacking, coordinating who is where and when, and so on. It is not something I care to participate in seeing how my friends grumble and curse about it.
After I moved out and had my own apartment, I still had Christmas with my parents. I would come over for the day, and as my room had been converted to my dad’s study/library/archive storage area, I would return late after dinner. As a kid I didn’t really help much in the preparation of stuff, but I would help out more as my parents got older. But after Murray and I moved out, Christmas dropped down a notch. It turned more into a simple meal, often not turkey anymore, or at least not a full sized bird. I recall Loblaws made a nice turkey roll loaf thing which my mum made for us. Which sounds Spam like but in fact was quite good. And not, I think, just from a nostalgic perspective. Made me realize that the really put Christmas together for us kids. Not for them.
In 1997 I think, I was invited to have Christmas with my girlfriend’s family here in London. It was an eye opener and a few more people than I was used to. Lot more preparation, lot more dishes brought with the arriving guests. We had it in Morgan’s parents house. Never sat down and had Christmas dinner with so many people before. There were probably 12-14 with Mor, her girls - Stephanie who was 13 and Nadine who was seven, Mor’s brother Jordan and his girlfriend, Mor’s parents, grandmother, and one or two others. It was what I assumed was a normal Christmas for many families. I liked it and looked forward to spending more time in gatherings like this.
Later, before and after we were married, doing Christmas from a parent's – or pseudo parent’s – perspective was great – though my stoic self didn’t let on to that - much to my chagrin. Going out and cutting down your own tree and hauling it back on the roof of a 1963 Studebaker. Sitting by a crackling fireplace, coffee in hand, early in the morning and watching the massive amounts of stuff be pulled from stockings, being unwrapped so carefully or not so carefully, and looks of sheer joy at the one thing that they always wanted now being in their hands was very heartwarming. The love that went into it in Mor’s family was awesome. Her generosity knew no bounds. I wish I took as many pictures then as I do now of things, so as to have some of that special time still to look back on. (I have probably taken 50 times more pics in the last year than I did the whole time I was with my ex-wife.)
But going back to 1998, that was when Christmas changed for me. My mum had got sick during that summer. She was tired and run down. When she couldn't shake it, she gave in and realized it was a bit more than a bad summer cold and she should go and get it checked out. The doctors diagnosed her as having advanced lung cancer – she smoked for over 45 years. And then skin cancer was discovered as well. They operated on the deep lesion on the left arm, but it had already spread to the lymph nodes and she was too weak for possible surgery on her lungs.
I quit my job late that summer – which was on the horizon anyway as I wanted to move to London and be with Mor. I spent a lot of time with my parents as my mom got sicker. Both with my dad at home and with my mum at the hospital. Lots of appointments and back and forth. She was in and out of a couple of hospitals during the fall and was admitted to the palliative care ward of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto in November. She got weaker and more confused. Cancer was spreading to her brain. She wouldn’t eat. My uncle Rob, her brother, flew up from Florida to visit her that fall. To him the change in her was startling. Mum was always a slim, small person but she was tiny now. Weighed nothing. It was a tough thing to see your mom wither away. Mor was a rock and someone I leaned on a lot in that time.
It was a cold, grey, Christmas morning in 1998 when we got a call very early from St. Mike’s saying that mum might not make it through the next few days. She was touch and go. Mor and I were going to be going to London for Christmas, and we got up to stop by the hospital first before heading out. We were there till Murray and dad showed up. I got to say my good byes I suppose. Mum had no idea we were in the room, and she wasn’t really conscious as far as we could tell. Her breathing, laboured for some weeks now, was much more abrupt and you wondered if each one would be the last.
I estimate that we were driving on the QEW somewhere near Oakville around 1130 in the morning when she passed. I swear even to this day that I felt something when it happened. Murray called Mor’s place, and we got the message when we arrived here in London. It wasn’t a shock. This was in the cards for some time. But it still hurt like a kick in the nuts having your mum die on Christmas morning. Murray and I decided that there wasn’t much point in going back to Toronto right at that moment. I question now and then if that was the right choice to stay here and not head right back to be with my brother and dad. Had it only been dad, I wouldn't have left in the first place, but regardless it wasn’t going to change anything. And her funeral would be in a few days. New Years Eve as it turned out.
Christmas changed for me at that point. I loved that Mor, her girls, and her family invited me in to share their Christmas that day. Made me part of their family. And made me feel welcome: and I know I really was. As I said, they were happy years and joy filled holidays. Kids do that. I was a grump at times I know. Mor tried to cheer me up, but she also respected that it is tough to not get a touch moody and a little distant over the holidays given what happened. It became my little tradition over the next few Christmases to quietly excuse myself at some point during the day and get a bit misty eyed. A silent hug from Mor saying all that needed to be said, and bringing me back to the present.
It’s been six years now since mum died. And four and a half since my dad passed. So, now that I am on my own again for my second Christmas since Mor and I split up, I decided to not really celebrate Christmas. I didn’t do cards this year. I didn’t get presents for anyone other than the secret Santa thing at work. I have avoided shopping and shopping malls as much as possible, and enjoyed not making lists and researching and spending tons of money. And Christmas music, while being nostalgic and such, has too many triggers in it about family and such, to the point that I try not to listen to it.
As time goes on, I will get back in the Christmas spirit again. Might even book the day off if I get a good reason too, or hang some lights in a window or on a porch. And will definitely look at it differently if I ever have kids. But for now, December 25th is just another day to work for me, all be it a day with a different meaning – and sadly one without a Tim Hortons open. But don’t fret or worry or whatever about me. It’s all good. Trust me, I just do my thing, and you do yours, this time of year.
So there you have it. I don’t usually get this personal here, but I know some people were wondering why I wasn’t on board with the whole holidays things and was being a little Grinch / Scrooge like. And besides, I have always found writing in a journal cathartic.
I hope you enjoy the holidays and have fun with your families, or just have a good time watching It’s a Wonderful Life or a Christmas Carole if that does it for you. Cherish these times and take lots of pictures and video. Make the time to sit and talk with your aunts and uncles. Your parents. Your kids. Your grand parents. Life has twists and turns. You will never know when they will happen, when your loved ones will no longer be there. Enjoy the day. Seize it.
Merry Christmas mum and dad!
:: Mike Wood 03:30 [+] ::