67: Love and Loons

67: Love and Loons

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Love and Loons

Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.

~Author Unknown, attributed to a seven-year-old named Bobby

It was the end of a long, lean year. My eighty-three-year-old dad had died, leaving Mom alone after sixty-two years of marriage, far from family. With his passing my kids lost their only grandpa. In the same month, my marriage suddenly ended, which I was unprepared for and much shaken by. I was barely keeping my head above water as I struggled to single-parent my two young sons, prepare our home for sale, pack up our life for a move, and return to work after years at home. And now it was Christmas. I was grieving, tired, worried about money and feeling alone and overwhelmed. I had no family in Canada.

There would not be many presents under the tree, but that would be okay, as I wanted my boys to know the holidays were not just about gifts. Even so, the list in my head loomed large — get the Christmas tree, do shopping/wrapping, make cookies and decorations and cards from the boys, help the boys write letters to Santa. In spite of my low mood, I did want to make Christmas special for my kids. I just did not know how I could do it all. The division of labour I had been used to in my marriage was suddenly gone. Like Atlas holding up the world, I felt like it was all on my shoulders.

First things first. A phone call to Mom — “Will you come for Christmas?”

She was eighty years old and having her first Christmas without Dad in sixty-two years. And it was her first solo travel, not to mention across an international border. Daunting but doable.

“We need you. You need us. Will you come? I will organize all the flight details.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

Great relief. The kids and I wouldn’t be alone. I knew my mother and I could muddle through our first Christmas if we did it together.

Mom arrived in early December and quickly shifted into high gear, making pies for our freezer. She got the boys involved choosing cookie recipes, rolling out dough and frosting cookies. She made casseroles for dinners. A huge weight lifted off my heart having her with us. She reminded me we can go on even when our hearts are sad.

Next — the tree. I wondered if I should buy an artificial tree. We lived in the country and had our own pine woods, but I simply didn’t know if I could cut down a tree on my own, drag it home through the snow and then set it up. The phone rang, and it was close family friends on the line.

“We have an idea,” they said. “Could we get our Christmas tree from your woods this year? We will take the boys out with us, cut one down for you all, too, and even help you put it up in the house.”

“Oh yes,” I agreed, with relief. “And please stay for supper.”

One more thing taken care of, and a happy, noisy holiday tradition preserved.

In the next two weeks, other moms invited my boys over to play so Grandma and I could do a little shopping unhindered. The nursery school my younger son attended gave him the star role of Santa in their holiday play, which greatly cheered my little one, and offered a delightful surprise to me on the night of the performance. Another holiday gift.

The four of us watched Christmas specials cuddled up on the sofa, and gave in to tears while watching Grandpa’s favourite, White Christmas. It was a tender time for all of us. And one by one, the Christmas tasks were getting accomplished.

Several friends called to invite us to join their boisterous extended family celebrations on Christmas Day, but we opted to stay home and be a little family of four instead. I knew it would be a bittersweet day for us, and I wanted us to have time and space to just be.

We sent letters off to Santa, and were surprised and delighted when he replied, his letters bearing the postmark of the town where my sister lived in the States, 2,000 miles away. I smiled as I thought of all the tender love coming our way.

The butcher gave me another light-hearted moment. When I asked him for his smallest turkey, since we did not need a big one this year, he offered to cut a turkey in half for us and vacuum-seal the other half so we could freeze it for a later holiday. “Serve it with twice-baked potatoes and you’ll be all set.”

Did my sadness show so much? Did the entire world know we needed extra help that year? I was grateful.

It was Christmas Eve. Stockings were hung, cookies and milk waited on a tray for Santa, boys in pyjamas were tucked into bed. Mom and I cleaned up the kitchen, and I put out the gifts, adding in some old teddy bears under the tree to fill up the space. I was about to turn off the lights when I had an idea. Opening a package of balloons, I inflated them, and tumbled them in around the gifts. The effect was lovely, colourful, and festive. The bright colours seemed to multiply the number of gifts under the tree.

Christmas morning came early, as it always does. While it was still dark, my four-year-old came running into my bedroom.

“Mama!” he shouted. “Santa brought loons! Lots and lots of loons! Get up, Mama! It’s Christmas!”

Loons? Did my mom do something Canadian for us? What could it be? It was winter. There are no loons in Canada in December.

Taking my hand, Noah led me down the stairs to the living room, where his eight-year-old brother Josh grinned up from the floor with a bulging Christmas stocking on his lap. Noah ran and picked up a bright red balloon and gave it to me.

“Look, Mama! Santa came and brought presents and loons!”

We played with the balloons; the boys drew faces on them and popped some. The cat chased them. We had a good Christmas. The boys were happy. My mother and I laughed at our roasted half-turkey, and again when we realized we had finished half a pie. The boys and I played in the snow. We all roasted apples in the woodstove and toasted marshmallows. We talked about Grandpa and how much we missed him. Our family phoned from the U.S. with warm wishes.

What stands out about that Christmastime was the tender, sweet love at every turn, from friends and family, teachers and shopkeepers reaching out to lift us through a difficult season. That is what Christmas is all about. Love. And that year, loons.

~Deborah K. Wood

Newmarket, Ontario

More stories from our partners