Thursday, December 28, 2006

An Autograph from Christmas Past

My favorite poem of all time is only two lines long. It doesn’t even rhyme.
It wasn’t written by a famous poet, although you might think Ogden Nash himself penned it.

My mom, when she was young and still living at home, received one year for Christmas, an autograph book. I guess the purpose was to get people you loved to sign it, and should you per chance ran across a celebrity, convince them to sign it as well.

One Christmas in the mid 1950’s when my Mom and Dad had started dating that year; my Uncle George signed her book:

Christmas comes but once a year
But Ray comes every weekend


And Dad did I guess. He would hitchhike from Woodslee into Essex. Where he slept I don’t know. They met through a church youth group in the Anglican Church of which my Aunt Sheila’s father was the minister. Pop was his nickname and everyone called him “Pop Whelan”. Sheila was my Mum’s best friend, and my Dad’s brother Fred married Sheila, making her my aunt. As you might guess (if you’re so inclined at guessing), my family has been very close ever since. If not geographically at least by the strong bond of Family.

As the years went by, and my Dad moved us from Windsor, to Michigan to Minnesota to Georgia to Louisiana, we always trekked back home to Windsor or to London to spend summer or Christmas vacations with our family. My Aunt Sheila and Uncle Fred’s family consisted of three girls and a boy, all of whom have been like sisters and brothers to me and my brother Paul.

21 years ago today, I moved back home to Canada, and my Aunt Sheila and Uncle Fred let me live on their farm north of London while I went back to school. They gave me a second chance to make something of myself.

Uncle Fred passed a couple of years ago – quite quickly. In what could only be described as a designed fate by God’s hand, my Aunt Sheila was spared that grief by reaching a point with Alzheimer’s disease that shielded her. While the Alzheimer’s has progressed much further now, and could hardly be recognized as a blessing, at the time it seemed quite miraculous.

My Mom is the only healthy survivor of that troop of the Anglican Youth Group that transpired into my loving family. She lives alone in Pensacola Florida – quite happy to be in the warmth of Florida, playing golf when the desire moves her so.

This year I packed up my family of two little girls and my wife Darlene, and we trekked up north for the Brill family Boxing Day celebration. For the last three years it has been held at my cousin Sarah’s and her husband Rene’s beautiful log cabin home between Cambridge and Paris Ontario. It sits quietly in the country on the end of a false branch of the Grand River. It is as scenic a landscape and as beautiful a cabin home as one could imagine. Quite a magical place, that after burning down upon the initial construction, Sarah and Rene rebuilt the exact same home on the exact same spot. It should be named Phoenix.

And there we all gathered on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas for our American readers – a day when the master of the house would give small boxed gifts to the servants that ran the masters manner). Although the girl’s names had changed from Brill to Mulder, Chessell, and Scarborough through marriage; it is still in my heart the Brill Family Boxing Day celebration.

Our kids all ran around the stately cabin together, playing and bonding, exactly as we had done several decades before. Of course the memories came rushing back - much to the shagrin of the inlaws trapped amidst the recanting of tales they had heard a million times before.

And even though this Christmas was as green as an Augustan fairway, that night a light snow fell outside the cabin. And we sat inside, toasty by the fireplace, looking out the oversized windows at the floating flakes – and we talked about what was, and how great it was, and what will be, and how great it will be.

Christmas comes but once a year.
But our family is ours forever.

Next year I am taking my autograph book.

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