50: Naughty Granny

50: Naughty Granny

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Naughty Granny

There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.

~Erma Bombeck

Winters were extremely chilly where I grew up in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, about fifty kilometres southeast of Montreal. My siblings and I relished the cold and snow when we were youngsters, and our Christmas holidays, with a week or more off from school, were eagerly anticipated. We’d have snowball fights, make snow angels, and play ice hockey on the icy street. When the snow reached the top of our house, which it often did, we’d shovel out snow forts and play in our creations.

One holiday season in particular stands out. It was the Christmas my maternal grandmother, Granny Whiting, spent with us. Actually, it was her very first Christmas in Canada. She and my grandfather lived in Bermuda. Neither one had experienced a Canadian winter. Play forts dug into the banks of snow and snow angels were foreign to my grandparents. But after my grandfather died, my grandmother made her first visit to Canada.

Christmas Eve, my father stayed home with us children while Mom and Granny attended the midnight church service. They didn’t arrive home until after 1:00 a.m., so it was late by the time they climbed into bed.

We kids always rose early on Christmas mornings and snuck down to the Christmas tree. But that year things unfolded a little differently. At three in the morning, Granny woke up my younger brother Harry and me. Perhaps, after attending church at midnight, she had never fallen asleep.

Granny Whiting was a staunch Englishwoman. Prim and proper, she did no wrong, and truth be known, she never wanted to do wrong. I’m not really sure why Granny wanted to break the rules this time, but the three of us slithered down the stairs into the living room.

“We have to be quiet,” Granny whispered. “Don’t want to wake the others.”

One of us plugged in the tree lights and the bountiful tree glowed, creating shadows in the room. Silver icicles, hanging from the spreading branches, sparkled like a kaleidoscope as they picked up the colours of the bulbs. Below the genuine pine branches was an expanse of gaily wrapped gifts of all shapes and sizes.

“Let’s look,” Granny whispered with excitement. Then, gathering her nightgown she leaned into the gifts. “Cathy, do you see one for you?”

“Not yet,” I said.

“I can’t find one for me either,” she moaned. “Harry, do you?”

Like co-conspirators, the three of us began rooting through the gifts. We were careful to whisper, for Mom and Dad’s bedroom was at the top of the stairs of our split-level house. We didn’t want to wake our parents, nor did we want to wake our siblings who would be too little to remain silent.

We were soon fully involved in our escapade, searching for our names on gift tags. Once we found one of our gifts we proudly showed it to the others and tried to guess its contents. Sometimes, when curiosity overtook us, we tore off a bit of wrapping paper. Granny had as much fun as we did.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a voice bellowed, “Get back to bed!” There was a pause. “And that means you, too, Mother!” The voice belonged to my mother, and she sounded angry.

Before Harry and I had a chance to move, Granny had dropped whatever gift she held, jumped up, and bolted away, her flowing, white nightgown ethereal like a ghost floating up the dark stairs. Harry and I remained by the tree, staring at each other, wondering what had just transpired and how Granny had disappeared so quickly.

“Get back to bed,” Mom bellowed again. Like Granny before us, Harry and I scrambled up the stairs and back into our beds, giggling as we went.

The next morning there was lots of laughter when, at a more presentable hour, our entire family gathered around the tree. Granny, Harry, and I giggled as we recalled our middle-of-the-night caper.

I’ll never forget that episode and how in the middle of the night our straight-laced grandmother became a child, how she instigated an adventure, how our mother had scared her, and how she got all three of us into trouble. For Mom blamed her, of course. Granny was certainly old enough to know better!

~Catherine A. MacKenzie

Fall River, Nova Scotia

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