by Dwayne Holmes
As I pondered about the celebration of Christmas this year and our isolation due to Covid, I remembered the big family gatherings over 70 years ago. Like most families, we were a large group and I was 9th of10 kids, meaning that I had many nieces and nephews who were also close in age.
After weeks of studying the Sears and Eaton catalogues for possible gifts we would like, the day approached. Christmas Eve was often spent helping make the traditional brown bags of candy, nuts, and the one orange that we would ever get all year. In later years, the number climbed to about 50, as the family added new kids and in-laws. The old kitchen table was just a mass of open bags into which we dropped the goodies.
Christmas morning, around 5 am, we were awakened by the sound of sleigh bells as Santa took off from the roof. We hustled down to the living room, which was heated with an old coal stove, and remained warm all night. We opened our gifts, which usually were one book or toy, plus a shirt or socks, and, occasionally, maybe a new hockey stick. No time to play, though, as we headed to the barn at 6 to milk and start the chores, and by 8 would be in to enjoy a hearty breakfast. We returned to the barn and, since it was Christmas, added a little extra oats to the horse feed, meal for the cows, wheat for the hens, and corn in the pig slop. We rushed through this, as we then headed to the field east of the barn where, in a low area, we often had a small pond that we could shovel off the snow, or in some years we went to the Nation, just west of Cass Bridge. Others might be turning the crank on the icecream maker to have a treat with our dessert later.
By noon, we had worked up a good appetite and went to the house, where many of my older brothers and sisters with their kids had arrived to enjoy dinner. Mom had put the 25-30 pound turkey in the oven of the wood stove before we got up, and it was cooked along with a duck or goose. The door between the summer and winter kitchens was opened, and some heat poured out into the uninsulated area. Thus, close to 20 adults sat around the great kitchen table, and the 10 or so younger kids ate at a makeshift table in the summer kitchen. What a feast that always included all the fixings and 6 or 7 different kinds of pie and cookies. The kids might get a little rambunctious, with tricks like putting a pickle in somebody’s milk, but the words “That’s enough” from my dad quieted things in a hurry.
After lunch, we headed to our rink, and 10 to 15 kids from age 5 to 50 played shinny for a couple hours. Back to chores at about 4 pm, and then another almost as big a meal, as some people had stayed since lunch, and those of the family who might have gone to in-laws made their appearance. Milking called again at 6, and after all chores were done, we were glad to just enjoy our gifts before heading to bed early, as we had to be up at 6 again the next day.
The family has continued to grow, and seven of my siblings are still living and healthy, with the oldest now 95 and two others in their 90’s. A planned reunion of the clan at brother Stu’s farm in Dalmeny last July had to be cancelled, but it is hoped we can gather this summer. If only half of the crew of almost 300 leaves on our family tree arrive, the potluck dinner should be grand. Though alone this Christmas, I am sure that the phone will be ringing, and the zoom calls will keep me company, although my cooking may not rival the wonderful cooks we have enjoyed over the years.