By Neil Simpson
My mother was very particular so we often visited many lots where trees were being sold, looking to pick out the very best seven foot scotch pine. When we got it home it was always placed in a holder with water. It seems that when my parents shared their first Christmas back in 1936, they kept the tree up until every needle had fallen so keeping the tree well watered was a must. Once the tree was up and decorated came my favourite part…a small white picket fence was put up around the tree to keep the presents in and the kids out. We were allowed to take one present to bed to be opened as soon as we awoke on Christmas morning. It was always a challenge to try to find the one that would be fun to open, certainly not wanting to pick an item of clothing. The turkey was prepared after gifts were opened and then my Dad would go to work. He was a theatre manager on Toronto’s main north-south thoroughfare, Yonge Street, often claimed to be the longest street in the world. I didn’t understand why they had to have the theatre open on Christmas and found it hard to believe anyone would go. The show held more than 1,000 and was apparently nearly full most Christmases with people much less fortunate than I, people who were on their own and wanted the company of others rather than having to wallow alone in their own misery.
Growing up in Toronto in the 1950’s, Christmas often meant snow. More so than today. After Christmas day we could try out a new sled, toboggan or skis on the hills in the nearby ravine or try out a new hockey stick on a natural ice surface in a neighbour’s yard or at the local park. A friend might come for a sleepover to play the latest board game. I was always one of the lucky ones who had caring parents, a father who always had a good job, brothers and an extended family who gathered over the holiday season.
My parents spent their retirement years in Florida and didn’t come home at Christmas. One year, after seeing the very moving movie, “Dad”, I told my boys that we might never see their grandparents again at Christmas, so we made the drive south, visited for thirty hours and drove straight back home. The return trip lasted only 96 hours, but the memory of that visit will last a lifetime. My wife and I have wintered in Florida for 15 years but have always driven home, with a van load of gifts and hearts full of love, to see our family.