Saturday, December 24, 2011
And so this is...
I am at that (un)fortunate stage in life when I have many Christmases to call upon and many more that arrive unbidden on the doorstep of my bedecked mind like those ghosts of Dickens's A Christmas Carol. There was the year of making construction paper chains in Miss Dakins's Grade Three class, which also happened to be the year of singing Snoopy's Christmas for all the parents just so I could earn an extra bag of candy to bring home to my older brother, who was sick when the party went down. There was the year I learned how to skate, more or less, and fell flat on my nose on the frozen brook. A few hours later, one of my drunken uncles used a salt loader from the Department of Highways to rip the wires from our house while I gazed in fascination and horror, thinking how strange, awful and exciting it would be to spend Christmas without power.
Years later, there was the first year off to school in the city, going home to Placentia (the New Orleans of Newfoundland, being at or below sea level and often flooded) and being unable (or so I was told) to get across to the bridge because the tide was in and the moon was high, and the water was knee deep wherever you want. I needed to get to Gander because that's where my new girlfriend lived (we're married now, going on twenty-five years) and I swore I'd get to her by Boxing Day come hell or high water. I braved both, in fact, and got there on the Terrible Transport (or "Terra Transport" as they liked to be called) to a joyful girlfriend and a welcoming home with gifts piled so high I had to ask whose they were. Apparently, they were all for me, since Christmas Day had already passed and all other gifts had been opened. The sheer quantity both thrilled and embarassed me--and still would.
Then there were the university years--getting by on hard work and dreams, the kindness and cameraderie of friends, drifting further and further away from a perpexed family back home in Placentia. I'm not exactly sure how or when it happened. I just knew that I started to dread traveling around the holidays and longed to just stay home with my girlfriend (soon wife) and bask in the glow of our over-sized real trees that were annually decorated with the products of her own hands, as she'd been making ornaments and saving them since she was a child.
Not long after that came the poverty years--like wanderers through a dark land, we waded through a cesspool of poverty, year after year. I taught high school for a while, but only on contract and getting teaching work was tough in those days. Ultimately, even the substitute work dried up--partly because I couldn't stand it in the least, the uncertainty of ignominy of the situation. I took to playing and singing in bands, deciding--at my young wife's behest--that I would, in the daytime, pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Christmases were hard in those years, especially because I often had to leave home to make a living (such is the heritage of being a Newfoundlander, it would seem) and at Christmas and New Year's, in particular, I had a chance to earn more sheckles than usual. With times so hard--and my wife working at a downtown bookstore--I took the gigs where I could get them and found less and less time for writing.
I'll skip the details of all that followed, including eventually being chased from those bands by the spectre of Student Loans. There was the year in Chilliwack, B.C., with family who had sworn to us that the Lower Mainland was snow-free and warm at Christmastime. That was the year they had to call out the army to clear the roads because nearly 300 cm of snow fell in short time. With no snow boots to be found anywhere, I bought a pair of green rubber boots that did me for trudging around town in the slush until the snow melted in early February.
After a couple of stops in Nova Scotia in a couple of years, we came back to Newfoundland and nearly starved. But that first year was my favourite. We had no furniture to speak of--a computer desk with only a broken computer on it. A wobbly, borrowed kitchen table, and no bed to sleep on for several months. Just before Christmas Eve that year--with the food bank beckoning--I landed a short term contract teaching English at the local university, a gig that I eventually parlayed into a Ph.D. and teaching career. With no one else around, we revelled in every movie and enjoyed our first vegetarian Christmas dinner, went for walks in the snow and talked to each other endlessly about our plans for the future. I never wanted it to end.
In all those years, we never had much in material goods. And I can't say it wasn't hard on the nerves. Poverty, once experienced, becomes baggage that can never truly be put down, much like Christmas itself. One tends to wear lack like a sack of spuds laid across the shoulders that forces you to walk as if you were the lead actor in a passion play.
And Dickens was right: It is at this time of year that "want is most keenly felt and abundance rejoices."
I have always felt abundant in matters of the spirit, matters of love, matters that matter. And Christmas--not in spite of, but because of the hustle and bustle--has always meant a lot to me. It's been a time of marking where I am in life, how far I've come. It's a time of remembering both good and bad. A time to reflect on what constitutes a life well lived, experienced and felt.
Christmas helps me feel. I make no apologies for it. It's Christmas Eve as I write this, and I am so tired of the banter about how Christmas is too commercial, too this, too that, or that it's meaningless or silly or stupid or that it's only for children or for Christians alone or whatever.
I care for none of it. I am not a relgious man. I doubt I'm much of a Christian, because of my best efforts. I like Christmas. I like everything about Christmas. Even the Nativity story has a magic and endurance about it that most writers can only dream of.
So sue me.
And if you don't like Christmas, why in hell's bells are you trying to ruin it for someone who does? Keep it or don't keep it in your own way. I really don't care. Just as I don't care if you're vegetarian or meataterian, gay or straight, religious or not. I'm just trying to get some peace here.
'Cause really that's all I want. The entire year is filled with things to be done, questions to be answered, essays to be graded, stories to write or publicized, people to see--and I would much rather be in a cabin in the woods by a lake, sipping something good and watching the sun rise. That's sometimes. Other times, I like being out there among the shoppers, feeling the moment and wishing they'd take it a little easier, be a bit more peaceful, in keeping with the situation.
But I do wish you peace and happiness, now and throughout the rest of your days.
I've said my piece--as I've been wanting to for a few days now--and now I'll withdraw for an evening of peace and friendship and a glass of something fine.
Good evening all. And Merry Christmas, whether you keep it or not. And I mean that in a good way.