A grandpa remembers Christmas

When I was 9, Christmas week arrived with a mix of stampeding blizzards and silent nights when stars enhanced icy heavens. On clear evenings the northern lights hung multi-coloured tapestries across the sky beyond our coulee, and over Stover’s farm. On Christmas Eve, the two of us, aged 9 and 11, climbed into the double bed with minds fuelled by dreams and wishes drawn from the pages of Eaton’s catalog.
We slid under three blankets and two quilts and hoped for sleep, but our excitement blocked all entry into dreamland as surely as a massive snow drift barricaded our front gate. Suddenly, the “yip, yip” of a coyote swelled into a mournful howl. We stiffened. The howl came closer and louder until we knew it had entered our yard. “I hope you shut the chicken house door,” my brother said. "It wants to celebrate Christmas with a chicken."
Now worry joined excitement to hinder sleep. I tried to drag my mind off presents, marauding coyotes, and defenceless chickens. I thought instead of Santa Claus. At age 9 I believed, I didn’t believe, I wondered. I finally said aloud, “I hope Santa can get over the big drift at the gate.” 
When I was 9, we awoke on Christmas morning and grabbed for our stockings hung at the foot of the bed. Our mouths gaped and eyes bulged. Santa had come. Along with the usual candies and nuts, we each found a toy pistol. We rarely got toys of any kind, and Mother would never give us guns. Harry’s fired real caps and mine clicked loudly when I squeezed the trigger. We pulled our clothes under the covers to warm them, and braved the frigid air long enough to visit the nearby chamber pot. Soon we began dressing beneath the covers. When we heard Mom in the kitchen, we raced downstairs to look under the tree.
When I was 9, Santa really did show up for the first time in years. Harry and I each got wind-up trains, other toys, and piles of clothing; sister Shirley got the most beautiful doll any of us had ever seen.
We neither noticed nor cared that the trains and toys showed evidence of years of hard play, and that others had previously worn the clothes. Only Shirley’s doll looked new. We looked at Mom in wonder and noticed a tear skulking down her cheek.
"Santa came," she said. "Aunt Elsie heard we were having difficult times and sent a great box full of things all the way from Ontario. We must try to get a ride to church on Sunday. We have so much to thank God for."
When I was 9 at Christmas time, we feasted on vegetables from our basement storehouse and on a chicken Harry had killed and plucked. On Saturday, Boxing Day, we played with our new trains and, in the evening, took turns bathing in a washtub placed near the kitchen stove. On Sunday morning, we dressed carefully wearing our ‘new’ clothes, ate breakfast, and waited for Jesse and Emily. We hunkered down in the open box and listened to the sleigh runners hissing through snow. Jesse’s powerful team raced along open roads, plodded through great drifts, and got us to church as the pastor pronounced the invocation. Heads turned, and someone whispered, “It’s Florence and her three. How good to see them.”
Moments later, Mother’s powerful mezzo joined others in singing, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come . . ." When I was 9, we remembered the true meaning of Christmas.
When I was 9 at Christmas time.

Ray Wiseman