Dear St. Nicholas,
As usual I am late writing my Christmas letter to you. Plus this year Canada Post has said it is phasing out door-to-door delivery and what with the pending sale of the North Pole and everything, I thought it more likely you would read my letter in the Free Press.
So here goes:
My father says this is his last Christmas.
He is 94. I was wondering if for his last Christmas you could give him the best Christmas ever. His wish list is pretty small. He has everything a man in his 90s could ask for and his other 93 Christmases will be hard acts to follow. Except of course the ones he spent at sea with the Merchant Marines during the Second World War. And I’m guessing the Christmas he spent in hospital after an emergency operation wasn’t great.
Or the one he spent worrying about me and his granddaughter because the northern roads were bad, there was a wind storm and whiteout conditions, and I was several hours late arriving at the ferry.
Or the Christmas that my parents had “executives” for dinner and the flame from my mother’s famous flaming chocolate souffle somehow caught the white linen runner and ran the length of the formal table. Spectacular maybe – but not their best Christmas.
Then there was the year that Dad hid our presents in the basement washer and our mother decided to sneak down and do one last load on Christmas eve. Next day, my Holiday Barbie was sticking to red tissue paper, her cardboard belt and plastic bag were melted. The boxes containing my brothers’ action figures were shredded to bits but the toys were intact.
So that was good.
Christmas 2002. Hard on all of us. It was the first Christmas in 55 years (except for wartime) that my Dad was without my mother – she had died the previous summer.
Ever since his children left home and more recently as a widower, Dad has spent most of his Christmases walking his dog along the lake front, sitting by the fire with his TV remote, and listening to his Christmas classical music concerts.
He welcomes holiday visits from his offspring – even if he gets their names confused – but I get the feeling now that he likes his solitude. When it did happen that we could all get together, we reminded Dad of when he took us to his office on the top floors of Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto where we’d watch the Santa Claus Parade and visit patients on the pediatrics ward. These days, the best present we can give our Dad is our own memories.
My brother likes to remind him about the time we went to Santa’s Village to see where Santa’s reindeer are kept until it’s time to hitch them up to the big sleigh on Christmas Eve. My sister talks about the year we drove to a Christmas tree farm and Dad took hours using his surgical skills to cut off most of the boughs trying to get it “symmetrical.” We hung a few ornaments on the almost naked tree.
My Dad always smiles at the memory.
My story is about the year I came home for Christmas with my husband and new baby daughter and he said, “This baby is by far your best achievement.”
He shakes his head, he’s sure he didn’t say that – but he did.
So I guess I won’t be needing you after all, St. Nicholas. I don’t think you have anything that would make my Dad smile more than hearing his children recount happy memories of childhood – even if he can’t remember them.
P.S. I have to be honest. My father says that it’s his “last Christmas” every year – since the time he was about 80. I think he does that to make sure we behave ourselves and set aside our sibling rivalry one day of the year so he can have some peace and quiet. Peace and quiet. That’s a wrap.
Dear Free Press readers: Happy holidays to you and yours.