“God bless us everyone” – Tiny Tim from Charles Dickens “Christmas Carol
Christmas is a very mixed time for me. My analogy is like comparing a good White Spruce Christmas tree to an artificial tree. By the time I was sixteen I had spend eight Christmas’s in the Children’s Hospital and in my mind that was the White Spruce experience. Spending the festive season with my siblings was more like an artificial tree experience. In keeping with the Charles Dickens references my childhood Christmas was akin to “A Tale of Two Cities”.
My siblings, in many ways, were more like strangers to me while the kids in the hospital were my family. Blood relatives didn’t (couldn’t) visit you in the hospital and parents could only have two hours a week of visiting time. All very structured but necessary to create a sense of normalcy in the hospital. We were kept very busy with activities, surgeries, rehab, physio, schooling and all things designed to increase independence.
It wasn’t uncommon to spend a year, sometimes longer, in hospital while undergoing two or three surgical procedures throughout that time. Besides the number of Christmases, by the time I was sixteen I had undergone over a dozen surgical procedures. It was not uncommon for the hospital to schedule some surgical event just prior to Christmas to keep recovery time from interfering with school attendance. The school in the hospital was, like its community counterpart, closed over the Christmas season so one could take their time recovering.
This was also at a time in medicine when you were given seven to ten days to recover. It was no where near this assembly line healthcare we see today. This made the physical purpose of spending Christmas in the hospital a matter of necessity. We could relax and enjoy a quiet Christmas while recovering.
I came from what would have been considered at the time a “working class” family with five siblings. In today’s vernacular that would be a middle class family but at the lower end of that terminology. Going home meant maybe three or four gifts while staying in the hospital meant twenty or more from service clubs all over the community so yes a bit of greed factored in.
However it was relaxing, it was quiet so we could sit around or lay around on our beds enjoying all of the service club gifts. No electronics back then so lots of models, small toys, books, and board games. By the time I was 10 I was reading Edgar Cayce, Tolkien, Frank Herbert and the likes plus lots of comic books. There were also loads of candy. Candy was the equivalent of a controlled substance at that time and traditionally we only receive a small portion every Saturday (Sunday’s were the day we got a bottle of pop). We could be high as a kite on morphine but sugar highs were restricted except for Christmas and Easter. That was my White Spruce Christmas.
The artificial tree version was spend with siblings. We never had an artificial tree and I remember very clearly visiting the temporary Christmas tree lot set up by a local scout troop. We would wander around looking for that “perfect” tree with dad always reminding us that they were $2 a foot (depending on the type of tree), some could be as high as $3.50 a foot. Depended on whether you picked out a Scotch pine, a White Spruce, a White Pine or the king of trees then the expensive Colorado Blue Spruce. I would get to sit back and watch the others decorate the tree. You couldn’t have someone on crutches trying to balance decorations, most of them hand made. Store bought decorations were a treat.
My siblings would spend time searching for wherever dad had “hidden” the Christmas gifts that year. Nobody liked a surprise on Christmas morning. Traditionally my Uncle, Aunt, their kids and my grandmother would come over for Christmas day. It was pandemonium. At some point all of the kids would go over to the outdoor skating rink (they were all outdoors then) or drag some toboggans to the gully hills. I was a Charlie Brown with the football except this was the toboggan. “No Terry leave your crutches on top of the hill and we’ll pull you back up”…not. While I crawled back up that hill on my hands and knees my siblings could get two more runs in before I was back at the top of the hill so I could repeat the process and fall for it again.
Christmas supper would be around 4pm. We had two kiddie tables (folding card tables with paper Christmas design table clothes) but the adults got to sit in the dining room. The kids would take turns loading their plates buffet style and head for the kiddie tables. Older kids at one table, younger ones at the other. My mother would stack a plate for me regardless of what I wanted. I would sit at a table and she would bring it to me. Didn’t exactly smack of independence.
After pigging out on turkey everybody would have a bit of a nap or play with a new toy while mom’s carrot pudding was warming up in the boiling water pot. Mason jars full of pudding she had made six weeks earlier and eventually topped off with a homemade caramel sauce made primarily with brown sugar and butter. Dessert would be a couple of hours after supper and then everybody would head home.
So those were my two types of Christmases. These days I prefer my White Spruce experience. It’s easier to be relaxed when I control my environment. The down side is that some think I appear like Scrooge. I have had a few people comment on the lack of decorations (I have none up). I have had to explain to them I have two boxes of Christmas decorations put up in a shelf that I can’t reach.
Even if I could get them it is very difficult to decorate while sitting in a wheelchair. Then there is the whole issue of dismantling the decorations once the holiday is over. This is also where my stubbornness regarding “independence” gets in the way. I don’t like to ask people to do things for me and I’m starting to realize with age that that is not necessarily a good thing. More on independence next year. With that said, Christmas isn’t about the decorations, it is about what is in your heart.