It has only been a few short months since my grandfather’s passing. He was always the one with the stories, the kind of stories that grabbed the attention of everyone in the room. Tales from long ago, tales of humble beginnings, tales of family.
My grandfather was born in a time where childhoods were lost, he grew up in Newfoundland during World War II. Everyone has been touched in some way by that vicious war, and maybe none more so than the children who would perhaps forever be robbed of a childhood.
Hearing his stories from when he was a little boy always reminded me how lucky I was to enjoy the things I did have, and it still does. When my grandfather was 6 years old he had to give up school in order to work full time to help with the bills. He worked as a pin boy at the local bowling hall. Before it was done by machines. He would sit and wait for the pins to knock over and then retrieve them.
That’s right working at the age of 6. The pride I feel when speaking of my grandfather’s hardships and endurance is something that I wish I could have shared with him when he was alive. However, that praise will have to wait until I see him again.
For now, I will cherish not only our many memories together but I will also remember his stories, remember the man that worked so hard and received so little. I will this Christmas remember old Christmas tales told by me and my cousins by a man we all admire and who perhaps never knew. Today I would like to share a story of an old Christmas in Newfoundland during World War II.
I was 8 years old when Newfoundland, at the time a country completely independent of Canada joined the war efforts against Germany and her allies. I was 8 years old and working a full-time job, helping in any way I could to put food on the table.
The war was hard, I don’t think I need to tell you why. We were poor, the horses were going hungry, the dogs, the chickens. We hardly had enough food most times for our own plates let alone to feed them. I remember I would lay a napkin on my lap while we ate supper and when my father wasn’t looking I would sneak a carrot into my napkin. After supper, I would creep out to the barn and give the carrot to our horse. It was all I could do to keep my beloved Newfoundland pony alive, during the war.
I have to admit there wasn’t too many good times during the winter months, it was cold, and we all worked so hard. When Christmas eve would come it would always be the happiest time for us, time for a break. We would load up our horse and head out into the woods and search for the best-looking tree. I would be off work for a full day the next day and Saint Nicholas would be on his way that night. There were times when I thought that Saint Nicholas wouldn’t bring me anything because how could he still bring me a toy when we were at war? How could I even ask? But a tree we would still get.
Me my father and my brothers, lugging that big old tree with the horse and all, all the way back to the house. We would but bells on the horse, I loved the sound of the bells. My mom and my sister would decorate it will handmade trinkets and shiny things. And that night we would go to bed early, never daring to sneak out of our rooms or make a peep. If Saint Nicholas was able to come this year then we would have to be grateful.
When morning came and we all rushed into the living room we would see our little toys tied to the tree. You see we didn’t get boxes wrapped with all kind of gifts, we would have one toy and it would be so small it could sit in the tree. That’s all we needed and that’s all we wanted. My favorite toy was a wooden boat. The rest of the day we would play with our toys, go to Christmas mass, and listen to Christmas stories on the radio. And I can’t forget about the food that my mother and sisters would prepare, that was the best.
It was simple and it wasn’t much but it was a great Christmas…
I wish I could remember the exact words of my Grandfathers stories, unfortunately, I had to improvise a bit. I wish I could remember the name of my grandfather’s horse. I wish I had a picture of him when he was a little boy. I hope to find out those things someday.
In memory of my poppy and his Christmas stories, I would like to urge you all to sit with your grandparents this Christmas if you are lucky enough to still have them with you and ask them about their favorite Christmas memory. Write that down and cherish it forever sometimes with all of the hustle and bustle we forget what matters the most this time of year. And that is family, memories and the gratitude to have love and happiness no matter how small the amount during the holiday season.
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