RICKTER SCALE: Stringing along the fa-la-las with dad

Of Christmases past

Rick Stiebel | Contributed

The holiday season always brought out the magical side of my father.

All dad had to say was that he needed help hanging the outdoor lights and presto, my older brothers would disappear.

That left me and my reputation as the clumsiest son standing under the ladder to fetch the wrong tool for whatever design dad had in mind for the lights that year. A chorus of curse words soon followed, some reserved solely for the holiday season, sputtering on and off in fits and starts on like the bulbs we were trying to hang.

When we were done we dragged our frostbitten butts inside to mom, who would invariably ask what possessed us to hang them that way.

The indoor lights were another festive event waiting to unfurl, one the whole family shared, which kept the cursing to a minimum. This was back when bulbs were so fragile that they shattered if you even looked at one the wrong way, and the entire string would fail to flicker if even one bulb wasn’t working. You can fill in the blankity blanks.

Somehow we always managed to get the tree decorated to some semblance of approval by mom.

It amazes me after all these years how my parents managed to make every Christmas special for six kids, no matter what life threw their way. We always got what we wanted and more than we expected, despite the constraints of one income.

One Christmas past, however, could have been unspeakably bleak. My sister Susan and I were in elementary school and came down with the whooping cough. Within days it ravaged the little ones, Rod barely three, and Tom, still in his infancy. It was a time when young children died from that disease at an alarming rate, long before there was a universal medical plan.

Oldest brother Max was in his late teens, brother Gerry four years his junior. They became the Everest and Gibraltar for Sue and me, shielding us from the gloom that hung over our household throughout those dark December days.

I still can’t fathom how my parents managed, how Max and Gerry kept the holiday spirit alive while mom and dad dealt with the trauma of daily doctor visits, their two youngest near death’s door. Imagine shopping for presents for kids who might not make it to Christmas morning and you have a sense of what my parents were going through.

Mom and dad kept it together somehow, and we pulled through what could have been the Christmas we would never forget for reasons too painful to consider. The years have piled up since then like snow on the roof after the worst winter storm. Mom, dad and Max are no longer here to share the stories we still cherish, but we all carry our favourite memories of them in our hearts, even more so at this time of the year.

•••

Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi-retired journalist.

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