I suppose to get more to the point I could skip all that stuff I normally write this time of the year about me rattling around the office on a cold snowy night.
You know. If you’ve been on this page on a Christmas past you’ve heard me talk about being down here at the Vanguard office on Second Street yet another night when I hear a sound and presto, he appears like the ghost of Christmas.
Talking in that crazy language nobody but him ever uses any more. I mean, who in this day and age starts off a conversation by saying “Hatfield, my lad?”
Heck I’m hardly a lad. And when I was, nobody on Queen Street ever called me a lad.
I could skip all that. But….
There I was on a cold winter’s night, snow blowing outside, the walls of the newspaper building steady as they’ve been for a century or so and I heard him once again. Not that I didn’t expect to hear from him. After all he’s been coming around for a lot of Christmases now, hasn’t he?
So I could skip all that and presume you’ve read a few of these Christmas offerings. But for those of you who haven’t been on this page before: he visits every Christmas. And magically, or so it seems, takes me up and down memory lane, bringing me to places from Christmas past, and always, I mean always, leaving me with a message. Sometimes I even understand what he’s doing.
So it was, the other night. I’m down here walking around, looking to see if anyone has any of those toffee candies kicking around. This time of year there are treats on just about every desk it seems.
So I pried open a tin of those candies from someone’s desk down back, took out one and turned as if someone was watching me.
Sure enough. He was there.
I wasn’t surprised.
“Hatfield, my lad, what have you been up to since last we spoke?”
I didn’t say much. I never do. He does all the talking. Instead I stuffed the toffee into my mouth and walked towards the front of the building. I suppose that could be seen as being rude but I’ve been down this road many a Christmas so I knew he’d be right behind me. Or, as the case often is, up front waiting for me. Sure enough.
I got right to the point.
“It’s late, let’s get to it. I have to go home soon.”
“’Tis where the heart is, eh my lad?”
When he talks like that I am always wanting to stop him. Drop the my lad stuff, will ya. Call me Fred instead of Hatfield and get to the point. But I play along. Hey, I have a whole page to fill this week…no time for abbreviated dialogue, right?
“Hatfield my lad, you’re still in the Christmas rush are you? In a hurry. As always. No time for an old acquaintance?”
I didn’t nod. I didn’t speak. I know by now there’s no point. He will do whatever he’s come to do no matter what I say or do.
Sure enough. As quick as that we were outside.
At first I didn’t really know where and I know this town pretty good. Ah, then it came to me. I was on Butler Street in the town’s south end. Just walking down the hill by the Gordons’ place. Looking towards Sycamore at the big house the MacInnis family used to live in when I was a kid in the neighbourhood.
Anyway he was gabbing non-stop like he always does.
“You spent a lot of time down here as a wee lad, didn’t you Hatfield?” This time I nodded.
We were walking, I could tell. But we didn’t seem to get anywhere fast.
He stopped by a small house.
“Remember when they moved that house here?” I nodded again. “They moved it when they built the youth centre.”
“And this house?”
He pointed across the street. I nodded again.
“That used to be 18 Queen St., I think. I used to live there when I was, as only you say, ‘a wee lad.’ I think it was where the parking lot is now on Queen Street for the church.”
I can never tell if he smiles or if that’s just a silly grin he wears from time to time. In any case he was wearing it now.
“You know a fair bit about this end of town don’t you my lad?”
I never said anything. Everyone who’s ever lived down there knows a lot about life in the town’s south end. I know no more than they know. And as quick as that I was on Argyle Street heading east. Towards the old Temple church if that means anything to the directionally challenged.
I was, to use his words, just a wee lad then. Laden down with two shopping bags, one in each hand full of gifts. It was Christmas Eve and I was heading to old lady Hatfield’s mother’s place on Doane Street.
“Do you remember?”
It was like I was there. Me, just a kid and armed with all those parcels, heading to grandmother’s house alone on a snowy afternoon. A man stopped and wished me a Merry Christmas. It was like out of a movie.
Snow falling. Me skipping along with the shopping bags full.
“You remember that Christmas don’t you lad?”
I nodded again.
“Was it a happy time?”
I shook my head north and south. No. It started that way but what I remember most, besides the fellow wishing me a Merry Christmas, was when I knocked on the door. She greeted me crying. She had nothing to give for Christmas. She kept telling me that. They were poor. And down this way poor was normal. But they were REALLY poor.
I remember saying to her that it was okay, don’t cry. I understand. (But I didn’t, I was just a kid.) And handed her the two shopping bags jammed full.
Then I mumbled something in kid language about hoping she has a great Christmas and be sure to visit us on Christmas day and turned and went back home, cutting through Trinity Place where the Bisharas were living at the time. I used to always wonder about their Christmases. They were so many of them. I don’t just mean living there but with their uncles and family members along Main Street where they all seemed to have a shop. They must have had great Christmases I always thought. Such a big family.
“So, you remember that day, eh my lad.”
“Clear as if it was yesterday.”
Then he moved me from there to, of all places, the Sergeant’s Mess on Parade Street.
I was there with all kinds of kids waiting for a bag of candy, watching a cartoon movie I think and anxious to get a present. Old man Hatfield brought me there every Christmas when he and the rest of the old military fellows, then with the 14th Field Regiment, had a party for their kids.
I got a truck that day. I remember talking with a boy named Tommy at the party. We were being kids at their happiest at Christmas. Candies and toys.
“You remember that Christmas, don’t you my lad.”
By now I sensed there was a point to this but as always seemed to be the case with him and those trips down Christmas memory lane I hadn’t quite gotten it.
And as quick as that I was back in the office. Still munching the toffee, and wondering how so much could have happened from the time I had put the candy in my mouth until now. I mean Butler Street, Argyle Street, Doane Street, Trinity Place, Parade Street. Time does indeed fly, I laughed to myself. I walked around the office. Sort of in a daze I suppose.
Then he spoke in that bellowing voice: “So Hatfield, my lad, what did you learn tonight?”
“You can walk through most of Yarmouth and still not finish a toffee?” I said.
Even he laughed.
“You know what I mean.”
I paused for a second. Well maybe longer. Trying to guess what the big lesson was on this cold, snowy night. I drew a blank.
“We can play a guessing game for an hour if you want to but…..”
“I know, my lad, get on with it. You’re forever in a rush.”
“Did you learn anything tonight, my lad?”
I stood there silently. “Nothing that jumps out at me.”
“We saw two Christmases, my lad. One happy, one not so happy. But they were both Christmases. You remember them both as clear as the ice on Allen’s Pond.”
“So? Can you get to it, I’m running out of room on this page.”
“The lesson my lad is simple. Christmas is a time of memories and ALL the memories, the happy ones, the sad ones, make Christmas what it is. There are no bad Christmases. No matter how sad one or two might be. They are all Christmases. And they all make the next Christmas what it is. Remember them all. Remember this year’s and remember they are all important.”
And with that he was gone.
Me alone, as the night started, standing there working a toffee to its end and thinking of what he just said.
He truly is a wise man. Annoying at times…but wise. All Christmases are indeed important.
And I wish you all a very merry one.
Thanks for reading.