Bing Crosby…and Pickled Shepherd’s Feet

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!  ~Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836

As a little girl

Christmas on the farm was simply wonderful.

Because we didn’t have much growing up my parents made to make the holiday chalk full of special experiences; little gold nuggeted memories that have stayed brightly glittering as remembrances of my childhood.

There were years when Dad would fire up the tractor, attach a sleigh and slowly drive up to the bush at the perimeter of the far field.  And take his daughters, bundled and bouncing, along with him.  We would set out on the all important mission of finding the Christmas tree of Christmas trees.  The dogs would try to race the tractor but the snow would be too deep. Finally they’d wise up and run along in the track made by the runners on the sleigh.

When we’d reach the bush we’d tromp through (not an easy feat when wearing leotards, pants snowsuit, ski-doo boots, scarf wrapped around your face and hood tied tight) and look, and evaluate and debate which tree would make the cut and be “the chosen one”. Finally deciding on one we could all agree upon. Then we’d make out way back to the house where mom would be waiting with all the decorations dug up from the trunk.

The “trunk” was a treat in and of itself and was only ever opened at Christmas.  It was brown steamer trunk with rusted metal brackets and fasteners.  When she lifted the lid, it emitted a smell a smell that was assuredly mothballs but to me smelled of history and memories that were not my own.  Inside were glass ornaments, of varying colours, a string of blue lights, silver tinsel, white gold and blue tinseled ropes to wrap, and the most special of pieces,

the angel.

A gold star that held the most beautiful of ethereal beings; an angel wrapped in clouds of white spun silk. And there she stood.  On top of the tree.  Witnessing the love of the little family below.

And we didn’t have “stockings” that were “hung up with care”.  No, mom pinned our leotards to the side of the chair that faced the tree.  Do you know how many oranges fit in a pair of leotards!

And then, the nativity scene.  The crèche Mom made by hand.  My sisters and I found it enchanting.  Mary and Joseph and Jesus.  The three wise men and shepherds all made from plastic baby dolls bought at the Met.  Mom would glue cotton balls on their heads and chins for hair and beards then paint them brown. She’d sew a veil and dress for Mary, brown and beige plain robes for Joseph and the shepherds.  The wise men got bright red and purple robes trimmed in gold.  And animals!  Camels and sheep and a cow or two.  (Totally our of proportion from the “people”, but we never noticed).  One year my sisters and ,I at a moment of bravery,  peaked under their robes where we found feet and legs stuffed in glass mason jars so the dolls would sand up straight.  They looked like preserved lab specimens which made the nativity scene even MORE intriguing!

And throughout it all, Mom would play her records.  Something she only did during the holidays.  We’d listen to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, Julie Andrews “My Favourite Things”, and Tchaikovsky’s Christmas Concertos.

As a little girl I loved Christmas not necessarily for what “Santa” brought (although I really, REALLY liked my Sweet Sixteen Barbie) but for all of these activities I did with the family.

The bumping along with my sisters and my father on an excursion, the unwrapping of the angel, the “pickled” feet of the wise men and the crooning of Bing Crosby.

Wonderful.

Warm.

I feel truly blessed to look back at the Christmases of my childhood and feel nothing

but excitement

and love.

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