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A Christmas Tradition
(Prequel to The Tree)
by Paul Hock

I couldn’t remember a Christmas morning frostier that his one. Sticking my nose outside to take a reading, I immediately felt the hairs in my nostrils crystalize as I inhaled the frigid air.
There was a tugging at my robe. “Come on dad everybody is ready!” Looking down I saw my youngest, David, wide eyed and dragging the corner of my house
coat in the direction of the parlor. My oldest child Angela and her brother Jimmy stood at the entrance fidgeting with impatience.
I immediately had a flashback to my own childhood, as a six-year-old standing at that very spot with my sister, dying to see what Santa had brought, while our parents seemed to be purposefully dragging their feet.

“Okay, okay I’m coming.”

Beth, my wife of fifteen years smiled as she handed me a mug of hot coffee. “Here you go Santa.” Thankfully I had lit the fire in the ancient cooking stove earlier, and the chill was starting to disappear from the lower floor of our old farmhouse. I gave her a peck on the cheek and followed the kids into the parlor. They strategically plopped themselves around the tree, and the dozen or so gift bags Santa had left.

Sitting down in the old leather armchair beside them, I requested a volunteer elf to help hand out the gifts. “Can’t be more than four feet tall and has to read out the tags.” Young David’s had was raised high, “I think you are the only one that meets that criteria son, let’s start with that Blue Bag near the back. He crawled on his belly and reached far under the tree dragging out the blue & silver bag. Beth gave me a quizzical look. I shrugged my shoulders feigning ignorance.
David read the label, “It says…To Beth for being such a good girl…From Santa. What?” He exclaimed, “Santa brought mom a gift, but she’s too old, a grown up?” He clambered over to his mom and plopped the substantial bag in her lap. Her gaze now narrowed in on me for we had agreed not to get each other anything for Christmas other than the mutual gift of a new SUV now sitting in the laneway.

“Okay everyone hold off until we see what Santa brought mom.” She removed the tissue paper that sat on top and her eyes lit up as she lifted out the box containing a new 35mm digital camera. It was a professional model, something she had been saving up for over the past year, and was only halfway there. With it she felt she could turn what was a hobby into a profession for she was very good at photography and had been encouraged by friends and family to take the plunge.
“Wow mom, Santa even knew you liked taking pictures.”

“Yes, David it appears so.” She got up and walked over to me, planting a big kiss on my forehead.

I whispered in her ear. “Use what you have been saving for a good zoom lens, now get that thing out and record this Christmas, I charged up the batteries.”

Within a couple of minutes, she was doing just that. Enjoying the ensuing chaos of opening gifts, I thought to himself, the toys are different, but really that’s all, for this scene has been repeated in this room by my family over the last hundred years. I could sense the spirits of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and distant cousins, all smiling their approval at this sight.

After the squeals of joy had subsided we all moved into the big farm kitchen for breakfast. A knock at the door and Uncle Willy entered the melee. He wasn’t a blood relation but he was about as family as you can be. He lived in the old cabin across the road and took care of the homestead much of the year when the family wasn’t around.

“Sleigh is loaded” he muttered as he removed his thick mittens and scarf. The kids all crowded around him. “What do you ragamuffins want?”

David handed him a small parcel. “It’s Christmas Uncle Willy, open it.”

“What? Christmas? Humbug, nobody told me.” He unwrapped the parcel, inside was a drawing David had done of the old man’s pride and joy, two Clydesdales. Willy leaned down and gave the boy a kiss on the top of the head. He then reached into one of the large pockets of his old wool trench coat. “What’s this?” he said as he pulled out something tied up in a white cotton rag with a tiny bow. He handed it to David who smiled and set it on the old harvest table. Carefully he unwrapped it revealing a small hand carved wooden soldier, painted with intricate detail and ready to hang on the tree.

“That’s five Uncle Willy,” for Willy had given him one every year since his first Christmas.

“That’s right, at this rate you will someday have a platoon.”

There were similar exchanges with the other two, a unicorn for Angela’s horse collection and a Biplane for Jimmy’s airplane squadron. While the kids rushed to hang their new ornaments, he pulled out one more. He handed the package to Beth who was delighted to unwrap a perfectly carved miniature replica of the camera she had just received.

“So even you were in on this Uncle Willy?”

“In on what?” he looked at me questioningly.

Soon after Grandma and Grandpa arrived with more gifts of course and when that was all done we sat down to a delicious farm breakfast. The table was adorned with platters of ham, eggs, home fries, toast, and pancakes. When Uncle Willy got up to leave I joined him and helped him with his coat.
“Everyone dress real warm today, it’s a cold one. I’ll have the team ready to go shortly.” I asked if he could use a hand. “Sure, come over in half an hour and we’ll harness up the sleigh.”

He donned his gear and headed out the door.

Beth poured my dad another cup of coffee. “How old is Uncle Willy dad?”

“Hmm…let’s see I remember he turned twelve when I was six so he’s six years older than me, heck he must be eighty.”

“He’s in amazing shape.”

“In the genes, his old Auntie was one hundred when she passed. She’s the one that gave my dad  the old bobsled up there.”

My eyes were drawn to the antique sled hanging in its special place high up on the kitchen wall. It’s racing days were over, but it had quite the story behind it.

An hour later I headed over to help Will with the team, the two Clydesdales were perfect draught horses, and pulling the big sleigh was easy for them.
Soon we had the kids and Grandparents seated in the sleigh, wrapped in blankets with Grandpa smiling as he proudly held onto the reins, Beth and I strapped on our skis and we all headed out for another yearly tradition. A trip that took us across the fields, through the forest on the Chippewa Trail and eventually to the tree.

It was a tradition that started almost a hundred years earlier with my Great Grandfather and Uncle Willy’s Aunt, but that story my friends is much longer.


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