I realize memories are fickle and unreliable, but I like mine a lot. It’s probably a sign of age, or more likely because there is little I need for Christmas, but I wish for these impossible things this year.
1. I wish my parents would go to Massey Hall in Toronto (what a grand-sounding name) to hear Handel’s Messiah again.
I want them to get dressed up after supper and go out, leaving us — with whom? I don’t remember, although having someone else stay with us was as unusual as our parents heading to the city at night.
What I do recall is crowding around Mom the next morning, anxious to hear the details of their evening out. She would tell us about Lois Marshall, the perennial soprano soloist, who sang like an angel, and my childish mind was in awe as Mom described her, always called by her first name, as if she were a friend. I imagined how beautiful she must have looked in her long gown, crossing the stage using crutches, because she’d once had polio. I’d never seen anyone use them and I was a bit envious.
When I was twenty, I performed The Messiah with a large choir, and whenever the soprano sang her solos I thought of Lois.
2. I wish Christmas pageants could be as wonderful as the first one I can remember.
I want to experience the strange and mysterious feeling of going to the church at night, for the first time in my life, leaving my parents at the entrance and joining the kids downstairs. My pounding heart wouldn’t slow as I hummed my assigned solo, practising the words:
To you in David’s town this day is born of David’s line
A Savior who is Christ the Lord and this shall be the sign.
Bow ties and pretty dresses were covered by bath robes, striped towels, and white sheets. To my young eyes, the shepherds, wise men, and angels crowding the front of the otherwise plain white church, looked exactly like the real thing.
I wonder now if the grown-up organizers were as excited as we were. Having herded children through many events over the years, I somehow doubt it
3. I wish pine trees would smell like they used to.
After a long day tending their stand at the St. Lawrence Market, I want Grandad and Granny to bring home a fat, fragrant pine tree, filling their house with its sharp, fresh scent. I wish I could once again slip through the adjoining door in our multi-generation farmhouse to help with the decorating.
I want to watch Granny unpack long strands of big, old-fashioned lights before clipping them onto the branches. I’d like to take the glass jewel-tone ornaments from their tissue nests, one by one, and hand them to her to hang. I want Grandad to settle the star on the very top so it can be time to put on silver icicle tinsel, one strand at a time, until the whole tree shimmers.
Although I’ve searched everywhere, it seems that trees as magical as these no longer exist.
4. I wish Christmas carolling could sound as wonderful as it used to.
Some of my very best Christmas memories involve carolling on Christmas Eve. What excitement for a small child to be allowed to join the “young people” and adults of our church, if only for part of the evening, until it was bedtime. The long line of cars, travelling from farm to farm, carolling for at-home seniors, must have been quite a sight.
And the music! In those days it was four-part harmony that went straight to heaven, all the words and music from memory. No professional choir could rival the sound of that outdoor singing, and I can still hear Dad’s tenor, clear on the cold night air.
I have carolled many times as an adult, but it’s never sounded the same. The missing ingredient? Intuitive four-part harmony, bred into the bones and fostered from childhood on up, is impossible to duplicate.
5. I wish candy could be special again.
Every Christmas Eve my sisters and I each set a china plate on the dining room table, and every Christmas morning we found them filled with candy and nuts. Candy was the real treat — ribbon candy, mints, chicken bones, and toffees — but even the nuts, always in the shell, were special. And it was our very own, to save or eat as we pleased.
When we raced downstairs in the morning, there was always a sheet-covered, clothes-drying rack parked in the dining room doorway. Dad began morning milking earlier on Christmas, but he was never back in the house before we got up. While waiting for him, we’d sidle up to the dining room door, sneak-peeking through the cracks, trying to see what was on our plates, but Mom shooed us away before anything came into focus.
I can’t remember when Christmas morning excitement faded away, but experiencing even a moment of that childish wonder would be the best gift.
6. I wish we could have a family “roast” again, with everyone there. Especially the ones we miss so much.
I want to hear Granny say she put the turkey – big as an ostrich! — into the oven at five o’clock in the morning. That seemed like the middle of the night to me.
I want to see spray-snow pictures on her windows, candies set out in special dishes, and boxes of chocolates, open for the taking. I want Great-Aunt Ada to bring a plate piled high with her homemade popcorn balls, and I’d like Granny’s kitchen to be busy; full of good smells and good cooks.
I want the cousins to have the huge center hall of the farmhouse all to ourselves, so we can slide down the banister, fingers flicking against the wooden pickets like cardboard in bicycle spokes, or down the slick, linoleum-covered stairs on our bottoms.
I wish all of these things could be mine this year, but I’ll try to be satisfied with my precious memories. Instead, I’ll do what I can to move through the Season slowly and thoughtfully, creating the kind of memories I hope the next generations will treasure as much as I do mine.