By Ken Wylie
It was Christmas in Calgary in 1972. I was seven years old. Christmas in our household was usually anticlimactic. Lots of hype and hard work with little delivery. Harsh but true. My mother was brilliant in preparing ice-cream-bucket-loads of treats and goodies for us to eat. This was perhaps her language of love, though I did not understand it at the time. She was too busy trying to be the perfect mom. For me.
Months beforehand she would be busy making cookies, fruitcake, perogies, cabbage rolls and meatballs; all for the greatest feast of the year — Christmas Eve dinner. This dinner was a Ukrainian 12-course affair; the one dinner of the year where we did not try to get food off of each others’ plates. At that point there were seven of us kids. Enough said. Eat or be eaten.
With all of the food and celebration, there was still something missing; a shortage of one commodity — time. Skilled time for each other. That is why Christmas was anticlimactic.
Among all of the food, beverages and celebration we typically did not make real and important connections with each other that were based on acceptance, interest and the desire to understand. The epidemic of anonymity existed in our family of nine; all of us wanting attention but unskilled at giving the kind of focused attention that leads to understanding. Parents just as needy and lost as the children. So forgivable. In a crowded house, everyone was lonely.
However, the seeds of change happened for Daryl, Shauna and me on Christmas 1972. It was an enterprising move for my brother Daryl to offer an activity as a gift: time together in nature. It was intrepid because it was a change to the normal pattern in our household of sitting around the house watching TV and killing time. Thoreau wrote, “When we kill time we wound eternity.”
Daryl brightened my eternity that Christmas. He was 17 and in high school. He was turned on by the bold Canadian Rockies. He had been on a school trip cross country skiing with Mr. Hergott, one of his teachers at Bishop Carroll High School. Daryl decided to spread this newfound awakening to the joys of cross country skiing to two of his siblings.
I am not sure of the reason, but Daryl chose the youngest two for this gift. He could have easily made arrangements with Debbie or Pat, Floyd or Peggy, but for some unknown reason he chose Shauna and me — the youngest. Easier to lead the young, perhaps.
I awoke Christmas morning, like most children, early. There was a pair of wooden cross country skis leaning against the wall next to the Christmas tree. Unwrapped. They were much too large so I completely ignored them. I suspected that they were for Daryl.
They were used. Perfect. With so many people in our household, the space under the tree was heaped with gifts; piles of miscommunications that rarely addressed a precise want or important need. Inanimate, lifeless messages that intended to convey love but, more often, conveyed a lack of understanding, almost without exception, for me. Feigning appreciation for these items deepened the rift. Does our human penchant for tools rob us of the real connection to all things? Is it possible to use stuff to convey love?
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