Memories of Christmas: Original Short Story by Warren

This is a revision of a short story I originally wrote in 1980. It’s entitled Memories of Christmas.

Story background:

The genesis of this story came from a creative writing assignment in 1980 to write something with a Christmas theme. As it happened, we had family visiting from out of town and there was lots of reminiscing and story telling around the dinner table. I essentially began interviewing my parents, aunts and uncles after dinner and then incorporated them into this piece.

I lost the first page of the original assignment and have done my best to recreate it in the spirit of what I remember, but this still feels like a lesser version to me.

I do recall during the class reading at the time that my classmates and professor were somewhat astonished that I could have written this, since I was clearly too young to have any of these memories. Ha. 😮

Memories of Christmas

by Warren Wojnowski

memories of christmas - photo

Ah, Christmas.

The Christmases I remember seem to be from another time, another era. Indeed, they do no longer exist except within the deep recesses of my consciousness and perhaps the odd history book. No other person can have experienced Christmases like mine, for they were mine and no one else’s. No, not even the history books know of my Christmases. My Christmases were hundreds of years ago, on another planet somewhere amongst the countless stars in the sky.

The week before Christmas was agonizingly slow and time seemed to almost stand still as if to mock me and the heightened sense of anticipation I was feeling for Christmas Day. I remember the last days before Christmas break at the school house were excruciating. I would spend more time on my Christmas wish list than I would paying attention to any lessons we were covering. Who in there right mind would plan a new arithmetic unit in December? Don’t they realize I have to sort out my Christmas wish list? Oh how special Christmas would be if I were to get some Sweet 16 chewing gum — I loved Sweet 16 chewing gum — or a woollen sweater, or maybe even a jackknife. Just imagine the things I could do with a proper jackknife!

The highlight of the agonizing lead-up to Christmas was decorating the tree. My father and brothers would go into the woods to find the perfect tree, cut it down and bring it back to the farmhouse in the sleigh. They always took two horses with them and would be gone much of the day. I wasn’t allowed to go with them because my help was necessary to make sure the parlour was cleared and the decorations organized and ready for when they brought the tree back. I would feed the wood stove to keep the fire burning while my mom sorted through the decorations she brought down from the attic and my sisters strung popcorn.

Once back with the tree, my brothers would shake off the snow and bring the tree into the parlour. Once set in it’s stand, everyone would begin to decorate the tree and sing Christmas carols, while my oldest sister Margaret played the piano for us. There were a multitude of shiny baubles in red, silver and green and the music and singing and smell of the Christmas tree were intoxicating (not that I’d know what that was). We’d hang strings of popcorn, garland and bright red cranberries and then to finish it off, we’d add decorative tin candle holders, strategically placing them in a pattern deemed safe by my dad. One year, I even got to put the star on top of the tree while my whole family clapped and cheered at the deft precision I displayed.

A couple of days before Christmas we would all head into town to pick up supplies for over the holidays. My brothers would harness up the horses and the sleigh (not the buggy). It was cold and snowy outside and town was several miles away. They’d line the sleigh with hay, place heavy blankets down for each of us to help keep warm with, and then place down big round rocks that had been heating in the wood stove for us to help keep our feet warm. The snow and ice would make sharp cracking sounds under the weight of the sleigh as we’d begin the long journey into town.

Once in town, we’d head to the general store and while my mom would provide a list of supplies to Mr. Kroll, the store owner to gather, I’d wander over to the display counter to inspect the canister of rock candy sitting at one end. I’d reach into my pocket and found the 5 cents piece I had saved up for doing my daily chores and revelled at the amount of rock candy I was able to purchase; it was truly a nickel well spent.

Once all of the supplies were loaded up, we’d take our places back in the sleigh, and begin the trip back to the farm. The trips home always seemed faster as I sucked on a piece of my precious rock candy and huddled up under my blanket next to the hot stones. Looking back, winters were very hard and trying, but somehow that never mattered at Christmas time and we forget our struggles even if only for a couple of days.

Supper was always simple on Christmas Eve and us kids would shut the house down early so that Santa could come. This meant that mom and dad couldn’t listen to the late show on the radio, but they never seemed to mind. We would all hang our stockings in the parlour where Santa could find them and then steal one last look at the beautiful tree which we all had decorated the week before. (I even got to put the star on top.) Then out would go the oil burners and Aladdin lamps, another lump of coal would be put in the stove, and and we all slept a deep, anxious sleep.

On Christmas day we would all rise early — at around 6:00 — and do our chores. Mine was to feed the animals. So, while mom was preparing the turkey and everyone else was off doing their chores, I would race to the barn and fill the manger with hay and oats while my brother Ed was milking the cows. (Sometimes when I was older, I helped him and other times when I was even older still, I milked them myself; but those are Christmases I don’t particularly remember.) Then I would run to the stables and fill the mangers for the horses: a few oats and a lot of hay. Once done with the stables, I quickly fed the pigs their soaked chop and then sped back to the house for breakfast.

memories of christmas sweet 16 chewing gum wrapper - photo

Christmas breakfast was always made by my two oldest sisters, Martha and Margaret, and consisted of eggs, pancakes with syrop (yes, that’s how we spelled “syrup” back then), potato cakes, and biscuits with butter and jelly — not lard. Not to mention coffee and juice. Dad would give the Christmas thanks and the we would eat hastily, nervously glancing to the parlour where presents had magically appeared around the tree. After breakfast, while the table was cleared, I had to get ready for Church, but always found time to retrieve my stocking and bask in delight at its contents: a Japanese orange, a Delicious apple, nuts, candies, and my favourite: Sweet 16 chewing gum.

As we left for Church, all bundled up and sitting in the sleigh, I would munch on a handful of nuts I had stuck inside my wool mittens. At the service, the whole town and surrounding areas seemed to be in attendance. Everyone was bubbling over with season’s greetings and best wishes and slobbering Christmas kisses. Young Mrs. Hopely, for whom I held a secret crush, would squeeze my cheek fiercely and I would always blush and smile awkwardly at her the way 8 year old men do.

The service was always quick paced and I would intently watch the Sunday school’s production of Story of Christmas with all the cute shepherds (I was a shepherd once), the baby, and the manger. Once church was over, it always took an eternity to get back on the sleigh and head home. Even the trip home itself took longer on Christmas day than any other.

Once home, we all rushed into the parlour while dad put away the horses. As we waited, he would slowly walk back to the house and slowly take off his coat and overshoes. He always acted so nonchalant about it, seemingly milking every possible opportunity to lengthen the time we’d have to wait for him. I couldn’t stand it; after all, he knew it was time to open the presents. Finally he would walk into the parlour and light the candles on the tree, very carefully — for this, he said, was an extremely dangerous thing to do. Then as we all sat silently, almost afraid to move or speak, he gave the word.

Instantly, the parlour became a chaotic storm of flying wrapping paper, bows, cheery thank-yous and joyful screams. I always took a methodical approach to the two or three gifs placed in front of me. I carefully opened the biggest parcel first, not allowing the paper to rip and folding it neatly. Once all the parcels were opened and all the paper saved, I would stare down and marvel at what I had received: a beautiful jackknife with a shiny gold handle (it had to be real gold because it was so shiny), a new pair of mitts, and a warm wool shirt. Once, I even got a pair of ice skates. Then, as I would look up amidst the crowd of loud excited faces, I would spot mom eyeing me intently with a sparkle in her eyes. As I smiled back at her, she would give me the biggest hug and kiss me, saying “Merry Christmas, dear”.

Christmas dinner was always a feast: golden turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, sweet peas and carrots, bright red cranberries, thick gravy, and more hot buttered biscuits. Wine was always served and I always had a generous helping because it was the one time of the year I was allowed to and I liked the way it would warm me inside. I ate quickly though, anxious to get back to work on the canoe I was carving with my new gold jackknife, and anxious to be out of the way when the company arrived. I hated being hugged and squeezed fiercely in the cheek by the adults, unless of course it was Mrs. Hopely.

By the time the day was done, I would be pooped and would put myself to bed without being told to do so. As I felt under my pillow to make sure my new gold jackknife was till there, I could hear the happy talk downstairs. I thought of how this day had been the best Christmas ever and that there would never be another one like it, ever. Then I’d roll over thinking about the new horse stables I was going to begin making tomorrow with my jackknife. And then, and then … I’d sleep.

Ah, Christmas.

The Christmases I remember seem to be from another time, another era. Indeed, they do no longer exist except within the deep recesses of my consciousness and perhaps the odd history book. No other person can have experienced Christmases like mine, for they were mine and no one else’s. No, not even the history books know of my Christmases. My Christmases were hundreds of years ago, on another planet somewhere amongst the countless stars in the sky.