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Christmas 50 years ago

Every year when we toted the Christmas decorations up from the basement and started untangling the tree lights, one of our inquisitive offspring would reach down into the box and retrieve “the relic.”

“You mean you actually put this thing on your tree?” He would be dumbfounded to think that a tinfoil pie plate could actually masquerade as a star.

But star it did, 50 years ago, and “the relic” was a reminder of whence we came.

Our first Christmas tree was a leftover from my husband’s classroom. Already decorated and stripped for a school party, it looked rather weary by the time I dressed it up the second time around. I stood back with a critical eye and decided it needed a decoration on top. Time and money were both at a premium, so we made a star from a tinfoil pie plate.

There were just the two of us that year and we had rented a poor excuse for a house. Having a roof over our heads offered little warmth for our feet and we tried in vain to keep warm, especially when the mercury huddled in the low end of the thermometer on cold Prairie nights. The only comfortable place was in bed, with quilts piled high over top of us.

And then things that go bump in the night began to wake me from sound sleep. Whoever it was had stolen the onion I’d left on the cupboard. We decided it was no mere mouse.

Friend hubby borrowed a rat trap.

BANG! It went off in the wee hours of the morning and I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the kitchen I flew like a flash, tore open the cupboard and made a made dash – back to bed.

The trap was empty.

We invested in some rat poison and poured it liberally down a hole chewed through the back of the cupboards.

A few days later I reached into a closet to get a pair of mittens and SHRIEK! A dead rat!

There were no more bumps in the night, just nightmares; nightmares about great fat rats with onion on their breath.

Perhaps to dispel my lingering anxiety,

a few days before Christmas friend hubby brought home a black and white puppy for us to board over the holidays. What a rascal it was, nosing among the parcels, chewing the tree branches, puncturing a feather cushion and scattering the contents like snow. Chasing that frisky pup at least kept me warm on Christmas Eve as I prepared the roast duck and cranberry sauce, piled the Japanese oranges and mixed nuts into a bowl and cut the brown sugar fudge into squares.

We ate that first festive meal together on Christmas Eve, with the puppy cracking bones under the table and our homemade star feebly reflecting the candlelight as friend hubby read from Luke 2. I could readily identify with at least one person in the Christmas story, Mary, “being great with child.” I was expecting our first baby.

In retrospect I realize we established a family precedent that first Christmas. The evening meal, the candlelight, the Scripture story and yes, even a star on top of the tree have all become cherished traditions in our family celebration.

The rat I don’t miss.

– Alma Barkman writes from Winnipeg, Manitoba

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