As I reflect back on those childhood days of Christmas I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the way my Mom created the magic she did.
To this day I still count down the number of sleeps until Christmas. It is a ritual that keeps the little boy excited about the season and challenges the adult in me to always remember it’s magic.
As a welfare family there were always stark reminders of the Christmas that may not come. We had little money and promises of what Santa would bring were never uttered. Yet somehow, against all odds, my childhood version of Christmas would show up.
It’s like my Mom seemed to pull it all together for December 25th. I seriously wondered why the calendar didn’t always stay on that date.
My oldest brother Rick worked as a Firefighter. To this day, because of his job, the memory of one Christmas, in particular, is seared into my heart.
The Calgary Firefighters would create this enormous Christmas Toy Drive that was held at the Stampede Corral every year. It was a Christmas party for all the underprivileged families of Calgary. What I could never figure out though was why we as children, or at least me, never attended.
The constant threat in the Dolan household was that Christmas might not happen the way it did the year before. The reasons were never clearly stated, yet the threat was imminent.
The effects and drama of alcoholism was in large part the reason why Santa might not visit. When there was a pay cheque, it was routine to have it spent by Dad on booze or it was funneled in some other direction. Mom called it, “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
There was one year I was convinced we’d not celebrate the holiday.
Mom seemed so gloomy. Her silence was loud when it came to the potential of Christmas disappointment. I was very familiar with the signs. This was going to be a present-less and food-less Christmas.
I remember the taste and smell of my breath frozen into my woolen scarf on that December afternoon only two more sleeps before Christmas. I was playing in the snow banks surrounding the ice skating rink beside our house. Myself and my siblings gazed up as several fire engines turned the corner and headed down our street.
Excitement was not something that came easy to us as children; we had learned disappointment and even that was to be expressed in silence.
The fire engines crept slowly down our street and the sound of the snow under the tires reminded me of someone walking over styrofoam. I had no idea why they were in our neighbourhood especially with no sirens blaring and no lights flashing.
The trucks halted in front of my house. I stood on the frozen snow banks feeling like the scene was being played out in slow motion. The next thing I heard was a voice calling out for me and my siblings to come inside. I obeyed; after all I always did what I was told.
The next thing I remember were Firemen bringing in boxes and boxes of presents and food. I caught a glimpse of a huge frozen turkey, some mandarin oranges in the all too familiar balsa wood boxes and presents tagged with, “Boy Aged 9”, “Girl Aged 7” and so on.
The wrapping wasn’t the greatest, yet I knew that someone had known that Christmas was not a possibility for us that year.
How could our house be so silent with five young children watching Christmas being paraded in front of them?
I can still remember seeing the Firemen through my little gay eyes and thinking how strong they were as they unloaded box after box. Yet mostly I remember my Mom standing off in a corner of the living room with her hands held prayer like over her mouth. She too was silent.
The delivery stopped. A Fireman walked over to my Mom and whispered something into her ear. She hugged him and as quickly as all of them had appeared, they were gone. My silence continued with a tinge of awe.
We knew nothing of the Firemen coming that day. For years, at the bleakest of times, they would continue to deliver the magic of Christmas.
I never asked my Mom or my brother Rick how they did what they did or whether or not they conspired together. What I do know is that their gift of magic Christmas’ still has me counting down sleeps.