very uneventful. I know Mom and Dad love their grandchildren, but atthis age, in a frigid Prairie winter when hyperactive youngsters have no-where to go but off the walls, there is a secret relief that the only child inthe house lost his extra bounce decades ago.Christmas celebrations in our family have long since moved fromChristmas morning to Christmas Eve. Since Dad was once a UnitedChurch minister he was busy on Christmas Day, and so as soon as theSanta Claus issue was put to rest the whole family agreed to move the cel-ebration to the night before. Soon, we all agreed we wouldn’t have it anyother way. The lights twinkle in the winter dark, the candles glow—veryfestive indeed. Now it’s down to just the three of us, and we always have alovely time.I never decorate my apartment back home. Why bother? Christmaslives in Brandon at my parents’ house. And although I have felt privi-leged to continue sharing the holidays with Mom and Dad over the years while my siblings repaired to their own homes and families, I knowthat there will be consequences. There’s a Christmas game of musicalchairs playing out. When the carols stop I will have nowhere to go. Whatwill Christmas mean to me when my parents are gone? One of mymother’s favourite carols is “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I am alreadydreading the feeling I will get, someday in the future, when Decembers
will come around and I will hear that song with no prospect of fullling
my beloved holiday routine.
One year I got a little taste of that future. I had my ight home all
booked but, second-generation Scot that I am, I made the fateful and stu-pid decision to take a bus to the airport. With maybe 90 minutes’ leadtime. It’s hard to feel sympathy for anyone that dumb, but try for my sake.The bus was packed. Every single block the cord would be pulled, the bellwould ring, and the bus would trundle over to the curb like some big Pav-lovian beast. The clock jogged on. My brain was screaming. A city bus tothe airport—what had I been thinking? It was like making a sandwich
with our, yeast, some cream, and a butter churn. Finally I jumped off,
desperately trying to hail a cab. But it was too late. By the time I arrived
the gates had closed on my Canada 3000 charter ight, and despite my
carefully calibrated attempt to pry them open by screaming abuse at anunfortunate attendant, they stayed closed. I would not be home for Christ-mas Eve that year.Canada 3000 eventually folded for reasons I will not divulge—
sufce to say it is a mistake to disappoint me. But I learned my lesson and
took no more foolish chances. Cabs to the airport, with plenty of advancetime. I wanted to claim every remaining Christmas the three of us wouldbe allotted.This year I’m on my way earlier than usual. With Dad in the hospital
my siblings have been taking turns ying home to help out, and now it’s
my turn. If need be, we will get him out of that hospital with a crowbar.Some things have changed over the years. The tree is now a very con-
vincing articial model. There’s a new Santa in town. I tend to forget
what gifts I receive, which sure as hell never happened when I was 10.But I’m going home again. Not for the last time, I hope. These days,it’s one Christmas at a time. That’s not a bad way to take them.It was my birthday and I was going for a mountain-bike ride in the woodswith friends. I lifted my bicycle onto the car rack and threw the biking stuff—water bottle, helmet, gloves, pump—into the front seat. I couldn’t
nd my driver’s licence. I went through my wallet and the purse I’d used
on the weekend. I put my hands into the pockets of jackets and jeans I’dhad on recently and looked in the laundry basket. It was time to go but Ididn’t want to get stopped for speeding or something and then get an ex-tra ticket for not having my licence. My husband, Ian, was making coffeein the kitchen while I ran around the house, looking in the same placesthree or four times.
“I can’t nd it. I’ve looked everywhere,” I said.
Ian said, “Weird.”I left without the licence and met my friends at the trailhead. They allsaid Happy Birthday. They asked me what I was doing that night, was Ibeing taken out? Was Ian giving me a present?No, I said. Ian’s cooking and my sister’s coming over and one of mydaughters is making a cake and everybody is going to be home. I said thatI’d had my present earlier in the year when Ian paid for me to go to NewYork.We started riding and by the time we reached the prettiest part of thetrail along the river, I was warmed up and enjoying the exercise. My mindChristmas is for kids. I’m 48 and it’s still true. Every year I go home toBrandon to spend Christmas with my folks. It will have to changesomeday, but it won’t be because of me.In fact, it has changed already, unwilling though I was to allow it.I’m Santa now. I never wanted the job. My dad was always the guy.On Christmas Eve he would take his place in the rocking chair besidethe Christmas tree and prepare to hand out the presents, one by one,with decent intervals between each gift so that they could be openedand appreciated properly. The entire process takes several hours, dur-ing which snacks and a traditional non-alcoholic fruit punch is con-sumed, although never enough of the punch to prevent there being litres left over after Christmas, leaving Mom to annually declare thatshe won’t make it anymore amid predictable howls of protest. It’s alltradition.In recent years, though, Dad’s deteriorating eyesight made it toohard to read the gift tags in the dim light of the Christmas tree. Reluc-tantly I took his seat. Now I’m the one who doles out the stuff.Years ago the audience for that annual performance shrank to three,
me included. As the only one of ve kids who never hitched up and pro
-created, I was the only one with no other family commitments except theoriginal one—to spend the holidays with my parents. Christmas is forkids, and there’s a loophole hidden there—no expiry date. A 48-year-oldHalloween trick-or-treater would not go over well, but Christmas is differ-ent. You can always go home, as long as it’s still there.It’s still there this year. Knock wood, the seats will be full. Dad is inhospital at this writing. Whatever the trouble is, it’s been eluding properdiagnosis and treatment for too many weeks now. As I head for the airporthe’s still in captivity and still the subject of inconclusive tests. I hope andexpect he’ll be out by Christmas, because it’s important. Whatever theparticular problem is on this occasion, the real problem is a birthday thatis 81 years past and steadily receding. Mom is 80. I used to use passing Christmases to count up the years, but it’s different these days. Now it’s acountdown.My folks and I have come to love our quiet Christmases. Very adult,
I ’ m Santa Now
by Steve Burgess
by Cynthia Cushing
Be Careful What You Wish
Mom is 80. I used to use passing Christmases to count up the years, but it’s different these days. Now it’s a countdown.