Thursday, December 24, 2009
The Night Before Christmas...
There are few moments in a young child's life that are as magical and unforgettable than Christmas Eve in Canada. I'm sure that if you were to ask anyone you know what the most special Christmas present or Christmas memory is, they could tell it to you with surprising accuracy and passion.
And certainly, I am no different.
I can remember my favourite Christmas. And it's funny that when I think of it, I don't see it through the eyes of a 7 year old. Instead, I seem to see it as if it is a movie, or I am time travelling, and watching myself come down those stairs at my Grandmother's house that magical morning on Christmas morning
Being a 7 year old was very tough. Every smart ass in school is trying to tell you that Santa Claus doesn't exist which really goes against everything that you have come to know to that point. You really don't question your parents, as they are the sun, moon and the stars to you. Every relative and cartoon can't be wrong in telling the tale of Santa Claus and his 8 flying reindeer, who all make a world-wide gift giving run from the top of the North Pole in one timeless night to all the good girls and boys of the world.
So I was battling all the bullies at school trying to tell me that Santa didn't exist. I told my father this, and he promised me that Santa really did exist; and my father would never lie to me. And I guess looking back at it now, my father didn't lie to me. I mean Santa really DOES exist in our hearts, doesn't he?
So, just like Ralphie from the classic Christmas movie A Christmas Story, had his Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, I had my own childhood obsession.
-A pair of hockey goalie pads.
I had been obsessing about goalie pads and a goalie face mask ever since I saw my first hockey game. I can remember the smell of that old wet leather and how excited I got just looking at them. My best friend in Virginia, Michael Lamprecht, had gotten a whole set of goalie equipment the year before, and it was like hitting the child lottery. My first thought was if something awful were to happen to Michael, what would happen to his goalie pads? hmmmm, child hit-man on the job... I was absolutely evil about goalie pads.
But goalie pads were expensive!! They cost about a hundred dollars, which was about how much my father made in an entire year (in 1980 kid's dollars) So there was just no way a middle class family like us would be able to afford a pair of goalie pads for Christmas.
So Santa really was my last hope...
Part of me (my ghetto side) wanted to be cool and tell the other thugs peer pressuring me to not believe in Santa that he really didn't exist. But the good Catholic boy (goalie pads oriented) side of me wanted to selfishly believe to make my Christmas wish come true.
Well, we had left our home in Manitoba for the long drive to my Grandmother's in Toronto for Christmas. My mother was the oldest of all the children in her family and so I had really cool young uncles and aunts. They were the best uncles and aunts a little boy could ever ask for. Each in their own way, made special alone time with them a lasting memory to this day. The holidays were filled with family time, laughs, Hockey Night in Canada watching the Leafs lose badly, and lots of food. But there was something missing from this little boy's heart.
My father approached me on Christmas Eve to tell me some awful news. He looked all around, but he couldn't find a pair of goalie pads anywhere. We came from Beausejour, Manitoba which was a small town northeast of Winnipeg and there wasn't a lot of shopping options there. Surely, being in Canada's largest city like Toronto would enable my ol' man to hit the stores and find his eldest son a pair of Freakin’ goalie pads!!
But it was not to be.
This devastated me, but I knew that I had to keep it together. I just told my dad, "It's ok Dad, I know you tried" and he gave me a hug and said, "I really did" and that was all I could ask for. Deep down, I knew that I couldn't ask my dad to pay a hundred dollars for my goalie pads when I didn't even play goalie yet.
We left Santa some milk and cookies, and some sugar for the reindeer and a full carrot to munch on, and we wrote him a note thanking him, then we were whisked away upstairs to go to sleep.
I went to bed that night with my brother in the bunk bed below me as my uncles and aunts, mom and dad, and Grandma took turns at tucking us in. My heart raced as I thought about trying to catch Santa when I heard his sled hitting the roof. I could make it downstairs from my bed to the Christmas tree in 5 seconds. My brother and I had timed this to see how fast we could pinch Santa if we could catch him.
Santa didn't stand a chance...
But then the excitement and long day really caught up to this little boy and when I finally dosed off, I was out for hours, and I finally woke up at 5am realizing that I had missed Santa and my opportunity to bust him cold. I felt all cold and sweaty like I had missed the most important moment of my life! I jumped off the bed and woke my brother Chris up and told him that we had slept in, and missed Santa but he didn't seem to care. My brother LOVED his sleep. But I, on the other hand, had a mission in life and it was about to come crashing down. I had missed my ONE chance at asking Santa for my goalie pads.
I looked out my bedroom window and saw a new blanket of white snow that was illuminated by the soft cadence of the street lights. It was a silent night, and the most picturesque setting that my 7 year old eyes had ever seen. However, my A.D.D. kicked in, and I flew down the stairs at Mach 1 speed. I hit the bottom and I looked across the room towards the tree and it was magic. The entire room was filled with presents. The tree was the one centrepiece that seemed to corral everything, and right in the middle of that picture was a hockey net. And my tractor-beam eyes zoomed in on something suspiciously lying on top of it. My breath was stopped for a moment, just long enough for my heart to skip exactly 3 beats which only held me back momentarily. That split second hesitation was enough for my young eyes to confirm what my heart already knew.
I screamed like I got shot and ran towards the tree, and in slow motion flew in mid air like Superman in a diving motion, and did not land for what seemed like minutes. I hugged the net and stood over my prized love for seconds, which in kid's time, meant hours. I immediately put them on my legs and looked around. -I was alone. There was nobody to share this with. But I didn't care for the time being, I was too busy taking in this momentous moment.
Santa had come through!!
And just when I had this epiphany, I looked over at the dining room table and I saw the evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt. The cookies we had left him we all but eaten and replaced with crumbs, the carrot had bite marks in it, the milk was half gone, and the note we left for Santa was lying there with a pen on it. I walked over there and saw to my surprise, that Santa had left us a note, thanking my brother and I for being such good boys.
This was just too much for my little 7 year old body to take in. I was thinking that just a few hours ago, Santa had just been where I was standing, eaten these cookies, and had left me the goalie pads that I was now wearing. -This was truly magical.
When my father came down the stairs, I ran to him shouting "Santa came, Santa came!!" and jumped into his arms with my pads wrapped around my legs. I imagine my father seeing my extreme excitement filled him with such a joy that only a parent can appreciate. That was the greatest thing my father ever did for me...
By now, my entire house had been awaken by my glee, and they slowly started downstairs to watch us open our presents at this ungodly hour. The smell of coffee and the sight of everyone surrounding my brother and I in housecoats was the perfect moment.
When all was over, my Uncle Ron came up to me and asked me if I was happy with my pads, and he showed me how to put them on properly. He was my childhood idol, and he was a goalie too, and had his own goalie pads. He said, "Something is missing" and he reached around the tree and pulled out his goalie mask and gave it to me with a hug and said "Merry Christmas Chuck"
This could've very well given me a massive coronary, which would require triple by-pass surgery. This was the greatest Christmas a boy could've ever hoped for. I wore those goalie pads to bed that Christmas and sleeping in them was everything I thought it would be.
That was almost 30 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I can still see the pictures taken that morning in my head, and I will remember it forever.
When I returned to school after the holidays, I became the biggest ambassador for Santa Claus that the world had ever seen. I did everything but go door to door campaigning for the Santa Claus Cause. The bullies who tried to tell me that Santa didn't exist needed a howitzer to penetrate this kid's armour. Their little bb gun shots just pinged off my impervious will that indeed Santa lived in the heart of at least one more 7 year old boy...
I hope you all have the most Merriest of Christmas's, and I hope that they are as magical as they always should be...