I remember seeing a TV Christmas show last year about a family and as always a few tears fell and the old heart strings were pulled. I can’t see those shows without thinking, as everyone does, about my own family and all the Christmases we had ‘down the lane’. And I can’t think of those Christmases without thinking of a very special person who made them all possible – my Mom.
My parents were separated when I was very young and I have no memories of Dad at Christmas with us. I just have memories of my Mom and all she did for her large family at Christmas and all year through. For us, Christmas lasted twelve months of the year because of her special love and caring for us.
Like countless other families, we didn’t have much in the line of material things following the war in the 40’s and early 50’s. I guess it was harder to notice in those days because most people had just about as little as we did and perhaps we were more easily satisfied than people are to-day. We lived in a small rented house down the lane from the main street beside two other little houses. It would be called a crescent street to-day but then it was ‘the lane.’ It was kind of country back there because of all the trees, grass and fields to play in. The children on the street spent a lot of time with us playing, so we shared in friendships and never seemed apart from the neighborhood.
Were we poor? Well, maybe by some standards. But in all the ways or in things that really mattered, no. Mom kept a garden which has given us all a love of vegetables, salads and food from the earth. She had the biggest pot I’ve ever seen in which she pickled and preserved all the fruits of her garden. The odors in that tiny kitchen in the fall would sell for a million dollars if you could bottle them. She would save special jars for Christmas dinner and I would love to taste those preserved peaches of hers one more time. No, we really lacked nothing.
There was one time when things got rough for her. One of my brothers, Ron, left high school and went to work to supplement the income. She would probably not have made it without his help. How do you say thank you to a brother like that whom to-day we all love so much and who made all the difference in our lives?
Mom made sure we got off to school in the mornings. I’ve never tasted cocoa like hers even though I have tried to duplicate it many times. Sometimes there wasn’t as much for breakfast for all of us as she would have wanted but I remember that I loved milk and bread better than Puffed wheat. Most of the time, it was her delicious porridge. It must have been something to get six kids dressed, fed and ready for school. Six outfits washed, pressed, six pairs of boots or shoes, leggings in the winter, coats, mitts, etc. Probably we weren’t fashion plates but I know we were warm in the winter and we had to be because we walked everywhere in those days; no buses.
We were all dressed up for Sunday School on Sundays. I remember the old Trinity Anglican Church Hall that held all of the children attending the Sunday School despite it being rather small. The teachers told us wondrous tales of Christmas and the Love of the Baby Jesus. There was always lots of singing especially at Christmas. We learned hymns like “Jesus Loves Me” and “All things Bright and Beautiful”. At Christmas we learned all the carols. My favorite was and still is, “Oh, Holy Night”.
We always had a big party Christmas Eve in the Church Hall and everyone came: parents, children and teachers. Santa came too, which was the best part. One year, part of his ‘pillow’ was sticking out unnoticed by him and one kid started crying because ‘Santa was falling apart’. My younger sister Evelyn was my concern to look after and she was half scared of the big man with the beard and funny red suit.
It was always a special time because there was the biggest, the tallest and the most beautiful Christmas tree you could ever see. It was so well decorated and lit up that it seemed to point straight up to the sky. I would like to have seen the ladder they must have had to get that star on the tree top because it must have been as tall as the tree. It was all magical and wonderful for us as children to be part of the big Sunday School celebrations.
Yes, Christmas was always special. Lots of gifts and toys for us? No, not by to-day’s standards but lots, it seemed to us at the time.
One year we three younger children got red shovels and no one was prouder of their shovels than we were and we had so much fun with them in the snow. Mom somehow managed to save enough money for the shovels for us and three little red wagons for my three older brothers. And always we had a real tree. One very frosty Christmas Eve Mom and my brother Ed went out in the snow in the back yard and sprayed the tree with silver paint until that tree shone like a diamond in the moonlight. It was very lovely and special and it was all for us. It still had its heavy woody odor of cedar which I love so much.
Our stockings, the biggest ones we could find, were hung on our bed posts. Santa filled them with coloring books, crayons, comics, lots of those hard stripped candies and maybe even an orange. To us, it was perfect.
Every Christmas morning after Mass, my Uncle Art, Mom’s brother, would pay us a visit which was a long standing tradition for them. He’d always ask her for drink in fun, knowing he wouldn’t get one. Years later, all grown up, I surprised him with a very special bottle of wine one Christmas morning. He told me years later that he still had it because, after asking for a drink at Bert’s house for years, he finally got one.
My Mom’s name was Alberta but her name was Cookie to her Girl Guide friends, Bert to her siblings, Birdie to her church groups and to us she was Mom, Momma to my older sister Coolie, and Mother to the older boys as they grew up. I called her Mom mostly but sometimes a slip back into childhood with an occasional Mommy.
Mom made our Christmas a time of expectation of Santa Clause and of all the dreams children have of good things happening at that time of year. Thoughts of wondrous odors of food cooking, cedar trees and candles burning. There were lots of candies and cookies to eat. But I think the thing that kept us all so warmly enveloped in the Christmas spirit was Mom’s own spirit. She loved every single moment of it: the cards, the stores with Christmas decorations, the scents, the sounds and I think even all the work. Her love was so evident in all she did for us at Christmas and all year round that we were rich indeed.
There wasn’t a lot of money every month to feed and clothe us all even with Ron’s help in those days. I don’t imagine now there was much left over for her. Yet, she planned, scraped, saved and made it somehow. Of course, special people like her are guarded, watched over and helped from Above. She probably had days of loneliness and uncertainty, and yet, none of this was passed on to us. She kept the house happy and secure because she was always there for us. Someone else might have given up with the financial struggle and abandoned us or put us in foster homes, never to grow up together. Instead she worked and kept on loving us and no Mother is cherished more than ours.
At Christmas time, every feeling of love for her comes back to me as I think of Christ’s birth and his Love for His ‘family’. I can’t help feeling that the dearest love any Mother ever gave is the one she gave to us. It is called ’Agape’, the greatest love there is.
She was a very beautiful lovable woman and I wonder what hand of fate decided for her to raise us alone. She gave birth to twelve children. She lost two little one month old babies, Vivian and Shirley, and a 18 month old toddler Earle. Then in 1944 she lost a thirteen year old angel of a girl, Doreen, with beautiful red hair like my Grandmother Tardiff , sparkling blue eyes and lots of freckles on her nose.
After she died, Mom said I would run around the house trying to find ‘Dody” to play with me Then, in 1963, my wonderful brother Gerry died in a tragic car accident at age 26. Yet, my Mom was the strongest of all of us throughout that heartbreaking time when we lost my brother. Sometimes I would see her looking out the window and I’d see that lonely look in her eye but she would say simply that she was remembering his wonderful grin. She was filling her mind with all the good things there were to remember about that wonderful son and indenting them there like writing in a log, all the wonderful memories of her dead child to carry with her the rest of her life.
When I was growing up our two older siblings, sister Coolie (Alberta) and brother Sonny (Richard) had already left the nest. There were six of us at home with Mom: my three older brothers Ed, Ron and Gerry, and younger sister Evelyn and brother Brian. One memory I wish I could revisit would be when all six of us and Mom were sitting around the kitchen table having our supper. Ed was at one end, Ron at the other, Evelyn and I on one side and Mom, Gerry and baby Brian in his highchair on the other side. All six of us together once more. Beautiful memory.
Christmas day was special with Mom. She made sure we were all dressed nicely. Then we went to church and Sunday School so we could enjoy every minute of all the wonderful Christmas activities. It was a continual giving of hers to us that has followed us all in our lives and made Christmas so special to remember. I wonder sometimes how grateful we were as kids growing up. I wonder how often I said to her,” Thanks, Mom”. It seems all I can remember is her doing something, fixing and arranging things for us untiringly with good humor and fun. The unconditional love that Christ has for everyone is the love she gave to us whether we were good or bad, whether we deserved it or not. And that kind of Love is what Christmas is all about.
My Mom died in 1998, the year of the big Ice Storm when that bad flu hit many of our seniors. She was in her 93rd year. Someone said to me after she died that I was lucky to have had her so long. I replied, “Not long enough.”
Thanks, Mom, for all the Christmas memories and all the Christmas days we had 365 times a year with you, from your loving daughter, Dawn.
Here is a cute Christmas joke sent to me by one of our readers:
Hank and Terri were in a local shopping center just before the Holidays. Terri suddenly noticed that Hank was missing and as they had a lot of shopping to do, She called him on his cell phone. Terri asked; “Hank, where are you? You know that we have lots to do.”
Hank said, “Do you remember the jewelery store we went into about 10 years ago and you fell in love with a diamond necklace? I couldn’t afford it at the time, and I said that one day I would get it for you.”
Little tears started to flow down Terri’s cheeck , and she got all choked up.” Yes, I remember that shop”, ‘she replied.
‘” Well”, he answered, ” I’m in Hooter’s next to it.”
Have a very Merry Christmas., Happy Hanukkah and a very Happy New Year, Dawn.
For dawn ford if she could contact me sean allan Moynihan ty
Great article. Nice to hear good things from the past.
This was a beautiful remembrance of your Mom and Christmas long ago. An excellent article.
Dawn-as always I loved your column. I can smell your Mom’s kitchen and see the wagons and shovels!!! Merry Christmas.
Thanks for sharing.
Dawn your mom sounded a little like my mom who gardened and made pickles and preserves and we were never without. Your mom and mine were very strong women and we don’t come across this very often nowadays. That is a character that I am not at all and I wish that I had more strength in character. Women of the past as well as the men were the best.
Dawn I remember the days in the 50’s era and 60’s as well with the songs of Bing Crosby coming through the air of St. John Bosco Church when it was a church and the place where I got married. That was Christmas back then but today I don’t feel like it is Christmas anymore and I said that to my husband and children even this year. Ottawa used to put up decorations on the streets but no more.
A lovely Christmas remembrance of what it used to be like. I do remember the house down the lane and your Mom’s good cooking at guide camp. Those days were fun and glad you have such good memories.
– Myrna Plumley Watt