I was sitting down the other night staring outside my living room window with a drink in my hand and the way it looked outdoors reminded me of what it was like at Christmas time in the small town where I grew up. It was the second time that day that I started to think about home actually, I walked to the store earlier that evening and had the same reminiscent feeling come over me. The snow had just fallen and the street lights had this orange tinge to it, the atmosphere was thought provoking and I began to flashback to another time. As I trudged along I began to think how walking was a huge part of how I celebrated Christmas, one tradition that I really enjoyed was going door to door to have a few drinks and spend time with friends and neighbors. It didn’t matter either what part of the town you lived in for everywhere was within walking distance and there was no need for a drop off or cabs like you have to accommodate for in the big city, nope it was two legs and a heartbeat that got you to where you needed to be.
I had a lot of good ol’ times at Christmas with my friends but one friend in particular was always by my side and that was Willie, he was my best friend and pretty much anything thing that I did, he was always a part of it. Every night during the holidays the phone would ring and it would be Willie wondering if I was ready and if he should leave his house to come down to my grandparents where I lived. I ‘d tell him to get his butt down here and within minutes of hanging up the phone he would come strolling in all decked out in his Christmas best grinning ear to ear in the best of moods, although he knew I was there he always asked anyway – “Is Ash here?”. My grandmother would call out to me and give him the ceremonial “sit down Willie my dear; you’re not a stranger now are ya?” He would then slowly proceed to take a seat at the kitchen table acting like it was his first time he had ever visited; he was always his bashful self when it came to my grandmother. Once I finished getting ready I too also took a seat at kitchen table, “my spot” as it were and all was in now in place. My grandmother, god love her, would already have a pre-purchased six pack stored covertly under her bed for such an occasion, she seemed content when we spent time together and she especially enjoyed the fact that we were there, it was like company for her too. Our nights always started at Nan and Pop’s place and once we felt like moving on my grandmother would make sure we had our hats and mitts (“yes nan we do”) and see us to the door where she would leave us with “stay out of trouble and be careful”.
It took us no time before we were sat at another kitchen table being poured a drink of our choice and being ushered to take off our coats and stay awhile. All the homes were nestled together on the hillside so once we ventured on from one place there would be someone else bellowing from their patios for us to join them; this would go on all night. Yarns were spun and good times were had by all, Christmas spirit was in abundance and no doubt our glasses stay filled the night through. Small town life has a different feel to it; everybody knows who you are and what family you came from and after twenty minute of drilling you with questions regarding your upbringing you could pretty much clue up your family tree in one sitting. There was no traffic in site, the houses had Christmas lights which illuminated the pathways just enough to show us the way. We were always met with a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year by all whom passed by and we would often pick up a strangler or two nowhere near done with their night of festivities, the more the merrier we’d say. There was a sense of belonging no matter where you went, everyone felt like family and would make sure to offer a spare room or the couch if things got a little too fuzzy.
Every year for many years Willie and I would do this and it was a tradition that we kept alive for much of our young adult lives. When I think back today it makes me feel good that I had to the chance to spend some quality moments with someone who was very near and dear to my heart, someone like Willie. Looking back in hind sight and especially now that he has passed on I’m very thankful that I had gotten the chance to be friends with such a wonderful guy who I miss every day.
Willie was also good friends with my uncles as well, so whenever we were together there was a good chance that one if not all my uncles were there too (I had five). Never a dull moment with them around trust me, they would torment us and call us light weights when it came to drinking and every now and again we would get body slammed into a snow bank for no apparent reason at all. There was no point in retaliation either because it only came back worst then the first time around but it was all in good fun and that was the genuine theme when we were all together was to “have fun”. They ‘re all a good bunch of guys who have created beautiful families of their own and I miss hanging out with them like that, it seems like it was a lifetime ago but the memories are just as vivid as if it had happened only yesterday. Stop and think about that someone that you miss spending time with and if they are still reachable and a part of your life then call them up and go spend time with them, it’s the perfect opportunity this time of year to do it.
As Willie and I got older we migrated from just going door to door to visiting the local watering hole, the “Hook N’ Line”, which at the time was owned by my parents so most nights we’d wind up there. A huge congregation of familiar faces filled the room as we escaped a cold winter’s night; it was like walking into Cheers on TV where everyone knew your name. There was always an energized atmosphere about the place with people laughing, carrying on and a game of pool usually took center stage as people young and old alike would try for bragging rights in an impromptu on the spot Christmas tournament. The pub was all decorated, music was festive, the place was packed to its capacity, a prime opportunity to see some of your old friends and catch up. There were some good times that we had back then at that quaint little bar, for the most part it seemed like the whole community was there all coming together to celebrate the holidays by sharing stories and drinks until the wee hours in the morning only to do it all over again the very next evening.
So the other night as I looked outside it was no different than most nights but for some reason it struck me differently, I was gifted with memories of Christmases past, it was nice. I remember those days fondly and in retrospect I’m grateful to have been asked to be a part of so many peoples’ lives in celebrating Christmas in small town Newfoundland. I was welcomed into their homes to share in their joy which I sometimes miss but we all have to move on which may mean leaving home behind to find a life for ourselves somewhere’s else. No matter where that journey takes us we can always look back, we may not be able to recreate the past but the past is a big part of who we are today and how we continue to celebrate the holidays.
It’s true, we all have loved ones that are no longer with us, for me they include some that I have mentioned in this post. It makes me sad yeah, but it also makes me feel good that I have memories that they will always be a part of, that night while I walked to the store or while I looked from my window might have been a gesture from above that they too are missing me. Just take inventory of what makes you happy and use that to celebrate who you still have in your lives, eat good food and share great stories while keeping their spirits alive and those traditions going. If you feel lonely during the holidays maybe it’s an indication that you need to get back in touch with someone or somewhere, the solution may be just as simple as picking up the phone or knocking on that that door and I bet there’s a friendly face waiting on the other side maybe thinking the very same thing. I leave you with a simple thought that whether it’s a kitchen party, a drink with a best friend or a pub full of friendly faces, the only thing that should be on anyone’s mind during Christmas is “who’s got the next round?”