“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life” – Richard Bach
CONFESSIONS In preparation for the suggested snow that may be coming I did a quick roll over to the mall to grab the last “essentials” I may need for the next couple of days. It was a sunny day here but cold as a witches…well you know the saying and a strong wind was blowing.
Got to the mall and it was chaos. There was what looked like a line up for the munchkin characters auditioning for a remake of The Wizard of Oz. This was the first crowd I had encountered that I could actually see over. It is that time of year when I am eye level with more people (children) and they don’t all have pointy ears. As I got closer I realized it was the line-up for the photo with Santa. I haven’t given it much though recently because everything I need to do is done. All that is left is to get the gifts over to my son and grandson.
Christmas for me has become very simple. I kind of prefer it that way. Takes me back to part of my youth. When you’re spend more Christmas’s in the Children’s hospital than in your families home then you may have a different perspective of Christmas. A lot of kids would get “hospital leave” over Christmas and go home to family. However those who weren’t well enough or mobile enough stayed in hospital and the staff made it very festive.
I was from a working class family; the “middle class” was in development. I had five siblings at home so a good Christmas would produce three or four gifts plus a stuff stocking (which were usually one of our own socks back then). Stocking’s tended to be filled with nuts (screw the allergies, nobody talked about those), maybe a Christmas orange, maybe something chocolate and little things like collectable cards, some marbles or some small toy (like Jacks, don’t even know if that game is played anymore) but you get the idea.
Plus a Christmas at home came with it’s own inherent dangers. At the time I walked with braces on both legs and they weight about forty pounds. They didn’t have the materials we see in today. My braces were build in a time when what is now called prosthetics were based on the “crutch guy” drawing an outline of my body on industrial paper and then into the maintenance shop to be made. Steel and leather, they were heavy.
So it wasn’t uncommon for me to take them off at home and scoot around the floor on my butt. Scooting around on the floor at Christmas with at least five adults and ten kids held a high risk of being stepped on. I have a personal appreciation for how Ivar would feel at a Vikings gathering.
The energy and excitement of the day would eventually work into a rambunctiousness the adults would no longer stand for so off they would send us to the community centre across the gully. There were two outdoor skating rinks so the older kids would skate or play a bit of stick hockey. The younger (and usually smaller) ones would use the toboggan hill. Needless to say I wasn’t a skater so I would wind up tobogganing.
I enjoyed tobogganing but that hike back up the hill was a bitch. It wasn’t until years later that I began to understand the “pounds per square inch” concept in relationship to my crutch tips. Trying to walk up that hill on crutches usually involved sinking up to my knuckles in snow. But the reality was if you wanted to toboggan down you had to get back up to the top. My siblings would usually “offer” to pull me back up on the toboggan and I could just leave my crutches at the top of the hill.
Like any good ten or eleven year old I trusted my siblings implicitly so down we’d go. Now that I look back on it I must have been the inspiration for the Charlie Brown football routine because there I’d be knuckling my way up the hill as my siblings ran ahead with the toboggan just out of reach snickering. Not in a malicious way but more like grade six kids playing jokes on others during recess. The odd thing is here I am over fifty years later still believing that people will follow through on their word.
The more memorable Christmases to me happened in the hospital. Remember I was a child and lacked the knowledge to recognize greed. In the hospital every service club in town was supplying gifts so you would be looking at fifteen to twenty presents. There were never more than twenty of kids in over Christmas and we all knew why we were there so played relatively respectfully with each other.
We all had an understanding of the boundaries created by our individual disabilities but also recognized the limits we put on ourselves. After all you put ten polio survivors in a room together and you will probably discover the only thing in common is the polio. We all dealt with things our own way however there was a certain comradery among us despite the disability. We had no worries about people stepping on us and we “burnt” off our steam just enjoying a day of no structure.
The Children’s Hospital in Calgary had a large solarium on the top floor. After opening our gifts in our rooms we would all meet up in the solarium to spend a pretty relaxed day building models, trying new games, quietly reading but generally just enjoying the relaxation. Until you’ve experienced the hub of activity a hospital can be it can be hard to grasp the simplicity of quiet relaxation.
Our stimulation was mental, not physical. We didn’t have to go outside to burn off energy; we challenged each other in different ways. There was always a good Christmas dinner where you didn’t have to fill your plate and then find the appropriate “kids table” while the adults sat around the dining room table. Here the staff served it to you and we sat as a family.
For that one day the daily structure of the hospital would stop, no surgeries, no physio, no school and quiet hallways. The limited staff working went out of their way to make sure every kid had a good Christmas in there. There was a level of respect and joy that was shared around the hospital. So my childhood Christmases favour the hospital version.
My first adult independent Christmas happened at age 17, living in Vancouver and consisted of capturing a goose from Stanley Park that was offered up as supper for nine individuals celebrating their first Christmas away from their family…but that’s a story for another day. Now if you excuse me I’m going to go warm up in front of my optic TV Christmas fire place…