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Steve Burgess Stories

Steve Burgess Stories

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Published by John Turner
Cover stories from Steve Burgess
Cover stories from Steve Burgess

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Published by: John Turner on Sep 24, 2012
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07/05/2013

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If youaskus, the Grinchsaid it best:“It came withoutribbons! It came without tags!It came without packages, boxes orbags!” While no one is disputing the innate needto shop, the best gift of all might be to put downour wallets and focus on the true joy of Christ-mas. And Hanukkah. And Kwanza. And Secretary’s Day. Asthat wrinkled green Grinch comes to realize, “Maybe Christmas
doesn’t
 come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!”
cynthiacushing 
ritasirignano
steveburgess
2
7
 photographed by georgewebber 
 Presents
 
of mind
 
 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 fullling 
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— 
sufce 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 articial 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,
 family
 
TIES
2
9
2
8
’ m Santa Now
wishing
 
for
 
an
 
adult
 
and
 
uneventful
 
christmas
 
by Steve Burgess
S
you
 
can
 
want
 
what
 
you
 
want
,
but
 
you
 
won
t
 
always
 
get
 
it
by Cynthia Cushing 
 Be CarefuWhat You Wish
 Dashed 
 
EXPECTATIONS
 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.
 
even
#
thirty 
-
three
Home for the holidays.
 
That used to mean something a bitdifferent. It meant home, 54 Clement Dr., Brandon, Manitoba, myparents, myself, and a set of comfortably mundane routines, deeplycherished. Now, once again, I’m home for the holidays. My address:the Casa Blanca Motor Lodge. Please don’t forward my mail.Last summer the family home was sold. A wild gust of parentalresolve, not foreseen by their unprepared kids, blew in like a July thun-derstorm and suddenly family members were scrambling furiouslyto clear out the house so Mom and Dad could move into their newdigs at Riverheights Terrace seniors apartment complex, where therewould be no meals to cook and no basement steps to negotiate. Medi-cal crises before and after the move underlined its necessity. In fact,like Dickens’ most terrifying spirit, the previous Christmas Eve hadpointed the way to Christmases Yet to Come.My parents and I make a habitual holiday trio. Four other grownchildren, evenly split on gender lines, have families and Christmas ob-ligations far away. So Mom and Dad and I long ago established abeloved routine, short on incident, long on relaxing tradition. Chief among these is the church service, followed by the Christmas Eve giftopening. By last year, however, it had become clear that my motherwas too frail to do two things consecutively. Two scheduled events al-ways needed an intervening nap. But this was Christmas Eve—surelyan exception could be made.We returned from church and moved directly into part two of theroutine, nibbling snacks, drinking the family-recipe fruit punch andopening presents till at least midnight. In the pleasant paper-strewn
aftermath, my mother shufed off to the kitchen while Dad and I
chatted. Behind Dad’s voice I heard a crash and a lingering rattle.Twenty seconds of criminal indecision followed as my dad talked onobliviously and I wondered if I was worrying too much. The new andever evolving reality of my parents’ circumstances suggested other-
wise, and I headed into the kitchen. Mom was crumpled on the oor,
her head against the coffee cart that had rattled and banged like rein-deer bells to announce this Christmas Eve landing. Her red-and-black 
Christmas outt was covered in eggnog, her eyes blinking at the ceil
-ing. Her limbs shook as I sat her down and sponged off her best black skirt. Ninety pounds at most, she was like a fallen baby bird. I put herto bed before telling Dad, who had remained in the living room bliss-fully unaware. Months later he would not recall the incident. Dad hashealth issues of his own.So, unavoidably, this Christmas would break new ground. Among 
other innovations it would see me nally introduced to an old and
previously very casual acquaintance. When I was young it was calledthe Starlight. Under new management, it is the Casa Blanca. It’s mynew seasonal home, and our meeting is long overdue.In 1965, when the Burgesses arrived in Brandon, the Starlightwas already a relic, a victim of urban development. Its location onVictoria Avenue had made perfect sense when Victoria doubled as
Highway One and the Starlight was the rst option for weary Stude
-baker pilots headed east. The highway moved north, bypassing theexpanding town that quickly swallowed up and digested its originalboundaries. Now the old motel sits like a beached ship in a primar-ily residential zone. In the early ’80s, it was rechristened the CasaBlanca. It’s unlikely a bottle of Champagne was wasted.Even as a kid it seemed incongruous. Who would stay there? Tryst-ing townies? Their cars would be easy enough to spot. For many yearsit was a couple of blocks away from the now-defunct Suburban Res-
taurant, the city’s nest in an era when baked Alaska was sophistica
-tion incarnate (and a name that invoked the suburbs apparently heldsome sort of cachet). As such it may have been a destination for tipsycelebrants—except that in those days nearly everybody on the roadwas half-drunk and thought little of it. I don’t know how it survived.
Christmas present is going to be nothing like Christmasespast. With his aging parents having to move into a seniors
complex, a concerned son nds himself looking for newfamily traditions in Room 116 of the local holiday inn.
Casa BlancaChrist
mas
&
written by
Steve Burgess
 
illustrations by
Byron Eggenschwiler
 
Editor’s Note:
In the Dec. 22, 2006 issue o 
Swerve
,Steve Burgess wrote about his fnal Christmas inthe amily home with his aging parents. A readere-mailed us to ask what happened next and Steve’sresponse is the story you’re reading now. I you wouldlike a PDF o the original essay, “I’m Santa Now,”please e-mail us at swerve@theherald.canwest.com.

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