Whenever I think of Christmas, I immediately remember the special people I’ve met over the years. Sometimes I long for the quiet, more peaceful season when family was the centre of Christmas instead of the hectic rush of today. Visiting family and friends was always a thrill since I knew that I would be given a drink of Purity Syrup and a slice of fruitcake. Oh, what joy! There was one Christmas in particular that will always remind me of the true meaning of the blessed season.
I was 10 and my brothers Edward and Brian were eight and six respectively. We were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. We lived in a run-down section of St. John’s and that year was particularly hard for my parents. My father, a house painter by trade, hadn’t been able to get much work during that summer and fall, and consequently times were tough. My mother got odd jobs babysitting or cleaning people’s homes, but that didn’t meet our needs. Of course, as children we were ignorant of this fact, as we prepared our Christmas wish list for Santa.
We would take out the Eaton’s Catalogue and look at the toys hoping to find those special gifts worthy of our Christmas list. Mom would take us downtown to visit the toy departments in stores like Woolworths, the Arcade and Bowring Bros.
Bowring Bros. was different from all of the other stores in many ways. They had a lay-a-way plan for toys and Mom would take advantage of this program to put away toys for us for Christmas. She would make a payment each Saturday until the bill was paid off and then she would take her treasures home to await Santa. The program made it easier for people on very limited incomes to purchase items.
I always liked Bowring’s toy department the best because they had more items of interest to me than the other stores did. I can remember visiting the stores with Mom on Christmas Eve to see what they had left for customers to buy.
One Saturday, during the pre-Christmas season Mom would take my two brothers and me downtown and we would go to the Sweet Shop on Water Street for lunch. What a wonderful time we would have. The waitresses were very friendly and would take our orders - French fries, soft drinks and butterscotch pies. There was a dumb waiter in the wall that the orders would be placed inside and it would go upstairs. Fifteen minutes later the dumb waiter would come down with the food inside - it tasted so good. I have never been able to get butterscotch pie like that in all the years since. It was just perfect and would melt in your mouth.
Though money was very scarce, Mom and Dad always managed to get us two presents each to place underneath our tree along with our stockings. But one Christmas in particular, things didn’t go as usual.
Christmas morning came and we all went downstairs where Dad had already lit the coal stove to make sure it was cosy for us when we got up. We went into the little back room where our small Christmas tree stood adorned with colourful homemade ornaments. Underneath the tree were our few presents, which were wrapped in red tissue paper and tied with red twine. Mom and Dad stood at the door watching us as we excitedly picked up the parcels. I had my two and Edward had his two, but where were Brian’s presents? Weren’t there any for him? He searched underneath the tree and stood up without any presents, saying, “No presents for me!” and walked away as if it didn’t matter.
Mom and Dad got down and looked all around but sure enough, there wasn’t anything else there. What had happened to the other two presents, where had they gone? Mom searched the house, but they were nowhere to be found. To her horror, Mom finally realized that she must have forgotten to get something for Brian. But what could she do?
Before Mom and Dad could say anything, Edward went over to Brian and said to him, “Brian, you can have one of my presents, I have two,” and he gave him the larger of the two packages.
“Now we will both have a present,” said Edward as he sat down with his gift.
When I think of that Christmas and the love shared between my two brothers, it always reminds me that Christmas isn’t about receiving, it’s about giving. - Submitted by Catherine Anne Clarke