Another Christmas is just about upon us and it is a time of year that has a very different meaning for me. I spend more Christmases in the Alberta Children’s Hospital then I did with my family. The Children’s Hospital did everything they could to arrange passes so as many kids as possible could go home for Christmas however that wasn’t always possible. If one were under ten it was much easier because you were generally light enough to be carried into your family home. I’m not sure the word access was even a thought in those days. However once you hit adolescence you tended to be a little heavier which made it much more difficult for your parents to carry you around.
If memories serves, and I have no reason to believe it is slipping yet, there would generally be fifteen to twenty kids spending Christmas in the hospital. Since the Children’s held about a hundred kids you could look at it as 80% being able to make it home. However for others it just wasn’t a possibility. There always seemed to be about a half dozen kids with Perthes Disease being treated with bed rest while being wrapped up in an exoskeleton apparatus to treat the hips. Others were either to sick or physically unable to get passes for the holidays.
I recall two Christmas’s where I was in casts from my chest to my ankles (this was long before fibreglass so plaster of paris was the only casting material, very heavy) which meant staying in the hospital. By the time I was sixteen I had had almost twenty surgeries so often that trip home for Christmas was impossible due to surgeries. Now don’t get me wrong, I did not see this as a big issue. My preference was always for the hospital.
This was the 50’s and early 60’s. I was from a family of six kids and my parents had a very tight budget. I was selfish enough to know if I went home four or five gifts would be it but by staying in hospital we had gifts from every service club in Calgary. In other words, jackpot! Ask any eleven year old who has spend a lot of time in a hospital and see which pile of gifts they will go for. Harsh but true, after all we were children of the Christmas Story generation.
The hospital kept us busy with all kinds of activities. The usual visit from Santa and all kinds of local choirs or singing groups who would come by to entertain. However the best part of the day was spend in the third floor solarium. That took up one wing of the third floor and was equivalent to the community playground. We would spend hours in there sharing our newly acquired toys, experimenting with new games and just generally having fun. Nobody knew about electronics in those days so most presents were games or toys that involved interaction with others, like a Roy Rogers gun set. We were our family.
In those days parents or family visits were very restrictive at the best of times. Parents were allowed to visit twice a week (Wednesday afternoon for one hour and Sunday afternoons for two hours) and a visit involving siblings was by pre-arrangement which could happen once a month. Christmas was no different, parents had a visiting window between 1 and 2:30pm. Whether or not they showed up was often dictated by their activities at home. When you have a houseful of visitors, relatives and your own family it could be difficult to get that hour put aside while still doing all of the Christmas activities that involved twenty or more other people. Most of us hospital kids didn’t give it much thought because we were having our own fun.
I don’t believe we felt deprived and I think a big part of that was that we were all the same. In our family homes we were the kid with the disability which did have an impact on the dynamics of that day. In the hospital the disability wasn’t the issue, we were just kids having fun.
I never grew up with the traditional family Christmas. I grew up with Christmases that involved gathering like minded people together who were surrogate families. By the time I was too old for the Children’s Hospital, Christmas had lost a lot of its shine. I wasn’t use to the whole family thing at Christmas. When it did come to my first real adult Christmas with my family, well I had run away at 17 years old to avoid the wishes of the Alberta Eugenics Board. I was living as a hippie in Vancouver and my first attempt at doing a Christmas dinner involved a trek into Stanley Park at 5:30 in the morning to trap, kill and clean a mud feeding goose. Not something I would recommend again but that was 1967 and a lot has changed since then.
With that said this will be my first Christmas in Kelowna with my mother. My son, grandson as well as my ex-wife are coming to town to celebrate with us. My mother is beside herself with excitement over that. I will be hosting and approach it with mixed feelings. Christmas for me has always been a different time of year and I suspect that goes back to my childhood. However all of the shopping is done, the gifts are under the tree and all I have left to do is go out today and grab a turkey roaster. I don’t have a pot large enough for that.
Have a Merry Christmas and may 2014 be your best year yet. I know I plan on being much more regular with my blogs. Best of the season everyone!
Just one man’s opinion!