A La Ronge Christmas so very long ago
- John Cuthand | January 10, 2021
Despite the years I can well remember a northern Christmas from long ago. It’s been over sixty years ago when I lived in a magical time best reserved for children. My patchwork quilt of memory recalls our Christmas tree, fresh from the bush, brought into our home, erected then decorated. We placed with some precision, colored balls, tinsel and bubbling lights, topped with a Christmas star. We had a cat named Bimbo who at times threatened to topple the tree by insistent curiosity, resulting in her attempt to climb it. I used to carefully examine the gifts. The soft ones were clothing knitted with love by my mother. Some clunked around and their contents remained a mystery. A larger gift with weight meant some type of toy.
Back in 1957 there was no plastic. Most everything came in cardboard and most toys were made of wood or tin held together with tabs and slots. They were probably covered with led paint now that I think of it.
There were no snowmobiles, only sputtering Bombardiers crossing the lake linking La Ronge to Stanley Mission. At Christmastime the trappers came in from the bush by dog team. They glowed with good health. Travel was by a dusty road ending in Prince Albert. Travel was also by air, dog team in winter and canoe in summer. Most homes were heated with wood and Cree was the language most spoken.
I was very wary of the wolf who lived in the toilet pit and the moose in the basement. I can’t remember being cold despite crispy weather, dropping to 20 below and more. Scampering around in the snow making snow angels, sliding down hills, making snowmen and whatever imagination brought is a wonderful memory.
A special time was Christmas Eve. I wasn’t one for going to church, but Christmas Eve services were different. It was singing carols I so enjoyed. My favorite was “Joy To The World” which I sang loud with enthusiasm although I may have sang in a distant key forgetting verses as I went. It was no matter. My father was an Anglican minister; my mother a devout Anglican who couldn’t sing so well. We may have stood out some but side by side we sang with considerable gusto. Carols held a deeper meaning I don’t find in current fluff songs. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”; “Oh Holy Night”; “Hark the Herald” definitely enhanced the Christmas spirit. Kids away from church sang about how the wise men smoked a rubber cigar, which subsequently exploded. Funny how insignificant memories surface. When the service ended everyone shook hands. It was a wonderful way to end the day.
Christmas morning was the exciting start to a full day. Gifts were quickly opened and time was joyously spent playing with the toys. My sister Ruth and I received identical sweaters hand-knitted by my mother. She called us the twins and would dress us up the same on occasion. Most gifts were ordered from the T Eaton Christmas catalogue. I received truly ugly black snow pants made from scratchy wool with leather patches at the knees. At age five I wasn’t one for fashion, besides most everyone else wore ugly snow pants. Our stockings were stuffed with a desirable Christmas orange on top, lots of nuts of different kinds and candy. I think ribbon candy quietly died out sometime in the sixties. It was a good thing too as it tasted like cinnamon, took forever to dissolve and bits of it stuck to clothes, blankets and furniture.
Among our gifts was a six-foot wooden toboggan. There is a rocky hill leading from the Anglican church to the lake below. It was barely the height of a person but it seemed much higher to us then. We piled on the toboggan as many as could fit and more. The toboggan was definitely a significant upgrade from a piece of cardboard. This went on for hours until exhaustion and the cold drove us home.
When suppertime rolled around, we feasted on roast turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes and I can’t remember what else. I was full almost wobbling when I left the kitchen table. Having been well fed l slipped into a sleepy mellow mood. My mother in due time called us to bed. I remember her reading to us as she so often did. We drifted off to sleep lulled by story time. I slept deep and I don’t remember if I hugged a girly Teddy Bear or not. All was quiet except the sound of the Xmas tree toppling over. Bimbo again.