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Column: Surprise backyard ice rink made for a very special Christmas

Great Outdoors by James Murray

By James Murray


With Christmas but a few days away, I find myself drifting back to memories of Christmases now long ago.

One very special memory for me was Christmas of 1958.

My father was out of work and we were told not to expect too much in the way of presents.

That was the year my older brother Don and I received hockey sticks for a present. I can still see the $2.98 price that had been written on them in pencil.

My younger sister would have been all of four years old back then. I do not recall what she or my mother received as gifts, but I do know that year was probably the best Christmas my brother and I ever had. After we finished opening our presents my father looked out the kitchen window and called us all over. To our amazement the back yard had been transformed into a skating rink. He had gotten up in the middle of the night and shovelled the whole back yard. He then got two lengths of garden hose, attached them together, screwed one end to the kitchen faucet and spent several hours making a rink.

That backyard rink was used by every kid in the neighbourhood. We would still be eating supper and there would be kids skating on the rink or playing hockey.

Then there was the year I didn’t get the Daisy Spittin’ Image BB gun that I wanted so much. I watched every single parcel that came into the house in the weeks before Christmas in hopes that one would be sort of long and narrow – the size of a box that could contain a Daisy Spittin’ Image BB gun. No such parcel passed through the door and no such parcel was wrapped and under the tree with my name on it. I remember being broken hearted and trying to put on a brave face to hide my disappointment.

After all the gifts were opened and the wrapping paper put in a garbage bag, my father told me to take a look behind the curtain in the living room near where the Christmas tree was standing. As I pulled back the curtain I couldn’t believe my eyes. There leaning against the wall was a Winchester, octagon barrelled, pump action .22 calibre rifle. A real one. He hadn’t trusted me with a BB gun because he knew I would have taken pot-shots at just about everything in sight. But he did trust me with a real gun because he knew that I knew I would have to listen and obey his very real rules. That was 60 years ago. I still have that rifle.

I can also remember with absolute clarity when the four of us kids would get bundled up and trudge along in the snow, helping my father pull our toboggan to a local tree lot where we would pick out a Christmas tree.

I remember as a young child I used to walk along through the aisles of trees, as if venturing into the deep dark woods in search of just the right tree. By process of consensus we would all help in the selection and then, like a poor man’s parade, haul it home.

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Sometimes my father would grab a handful of branches that had broken off other trees and bring them along.

When we would get home, he would place the tree in the stand and then survey it for any ‘bald spots’ that we may have overlooked in our initial selection process. That was when my father, a blacksmith by trade, would become a tree surgeon. Out would come his hand drill and wherever it was determined our tree looked a little too sparse, my father would proceed to drill a hole in the trunk. He would then trim one of the extra branches to the right length and jam it into the holes he had drilled. Before long we would have an absolutely perfectly shaped and balanced Christmas tree. It was amazing how long those added branches lasted. In most cases, until the tree was given the old heave-ho in the new year.

Of course there was the year that we brought home a tree that had a well constructed and perfectly intact mouse nest in one of its branches near the trunk. My sister, who first discovered the nest, gently removed it and carefully placed it in a shoe box. Between taking turns hanging an ornament on a branch, we would also take turns inspecting the nest and trying to determine if it was inhabited. As I recall, both the nest and the shoe box mysteriously disappeared overnight and were never seen or mentioned again.

Then there was the year my father bought one of those artificial Christmas trees at Gerlovin’s Hardware Store and my mother made him take it back.

The Christmas that stands out perhaps the most in my mind was the year our mother passed away. I remember watching in silence when my little sister took one of my mother’s tin cookie cutters from the kitchen drawer and hung it on a branch of the tree. It was in the shape of a star. That was over 50 years. I mention it now because it wasn’t that long ago I noticed that same cookie cutter sitting in one of my sister’s kitchen drawers.

Yes, Christmas truly is a special time of year – a time for giving and a time for sharing, as well as a time for remembering.

Merry Christmas one and all.