The Cherished Ghosts Of Christmases Past

Edmonton - Monday, December 23, 2002 - by: Ron Thornton


What a wonderful time Christmas can be, as my mind scans back through the years to rekindle memories, the events and the people from Christmases Past. So many times I awoke in the middle of the night and padded out to take a look at what Santa had delivered. In the gloom of the darkened room, I would just stand there and look at the silhouettes of the many gifts under the tree and breath in the sweet pine aroma before returning to bed. It all seemed so magical to me. The best time was just before we opened anything when, without touching any of them, we checked the name tags as best we could, searching to see what gift might be our own, and wondering what magnificent discovery awaited within.




Christmas also meant visiting our grandparents, seeing all our uncles, aunts, and cousins as we gathered together. One brother and seven of my cousins were within three years of my age, with my cousin Dexter Marsh only a week older, which meant we had tons of playmates. Of course, the biggest kid of the bunch was our Grandpa John Thornton, who never failed to get us all geared up and in fine vocal form. Meanwhile, when she wasn't trying to settle Grandpa down, Grandma Annie Thornton would be busy in the kitchen preparing the meal. On at least one occasion Christmas brought together four generations in that house, as I still remember my grandmother doting on her mother to help make Great Grandma Mahala White's visit enjoyable amongst the din in that tiny house.




Throughout my pre-school years, four generations of my mother's family gathered every year for Christmas. My great grandparents, Albert and Frieda Schulz, would join my grandparents, uncles, and aunt out on the farm near Ardrossan. The heat came from the wood stoves in the kitchen and living room, while a large tree with old-time decorations stood in the corner. Should nature call, there was a trek down the bush-lined path to the wooden outhouse. It is interesting how such a walk during a 40 below night, with coyotes howling in the distance, can sear its way into one's memory.




A more soothing recollection were the hot glazed donuts Grandma Viola Schulz used to make. In fact, she introduced me to her version of "timbits" at a time when Tim Horton was only a hockey player.




More than a few memories involved the drinking of spirits, like the time I saw my Grandpa Albert Schulz, Jr. overcome his shyness for once and let himself go. A warm room and a few cool drinks resulted in the first, and only, time I saw my grandfather tipsy. That Christmas, Grandpa was truly the life of the party, with his family around him greatly enjoying his antics. He was warm and funny, and I wish he allowed himself more opportunities to break out of his shell.




One Christmas Eve, in my early 20's, I dropped by to visit my uncle and aunt, Bob and Kay Dixon. As I came up the stairs into their kitchen I remember seeing my Great Grandma Elizabeth Goslin reaching for her glass of wine. Funny how that thought remains with me, as for some reason I didn't think my grandmother drank. As I settled in on the couch in the living room, cousin Wayne Dixon brought me my own holiday drink. I remember that it consisted of about 99% spirits and 1% cola. Not surprisingly, I began to fit right in with the festivities in no time.




For a number of years, a Christmas Eve tradition was to join my school and ball playing buddies Ritchie Hipkin and Gordon Grams, among others, at the Hipkin family home. We would toast the season with his parents and family by playing pool, cards, or some other game, all the while having glorious conversations, and sharing a whole lot of laughter.



in our

Many of the people who helped make Christmases Past so wonderful are no longer with us. My 88-year old Grandma Schulz remains in our lives, while my other grandparents, my uncle Bob and cousins Wayne and Dexter remain with us in our hearts. The last I heard, Gordon was a teacher in Okotoks, while I have not seen Ritchie or his family in years. Maybe I need to make a phone call or two this holiday season.



be merry

Which brings us to Christmas Present. My family will spend some time at our church as we remember the spiritual reasons for this holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. We will spend time with my parents, all of my siblings, their spouses, and children on Christmas Day. We will eat, drink, and we will most definitely be merry in our fellowship. We will spend time with my in-laws, who I'm pleased to say are far from being outlaws, and we will celebrate anew.




Still, on a morning before that, I will hear the padding of four feet heading down to our Christmas tree, as two young boys look upon the mysteries wrapped up in colourful paper. I will witness the magic renew itself in a new generation, creating new memories for me and for them that will last a lifetime. May you and yours be touched by the blessings of the season.


Ron Thornton




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