A curmudgeonly Christmas to all

Bob Wakeham
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It was a fella named Glen Kirby, as I recall, who probably made one of the first significant deposits in my Christmas memory bank, an account that now has entries, many of them grand, some not so grand, accumulated from six decades of being around for the 25th of December and thereabouts.

Glen was a neighbour of mine on Balbo Street in Gander, a Protestant, one of those "blacks" we only saw outside of school hours and during vacation time, the orders having been given to all of us Micks to stay clear of the Amalgamated School for fear of getting a rock in the skull from those evil non-Catholics. (We were warned about the future, as well: God forbid, so to speak, that you might marry a Protestant and have yourself suffering the disaster of a "mixed marriage.")

Glen's religion, though, had nothing to do with his decision to tell me, when I was nine or 10, in mid-December one year, that Santa Claus was a load of crap, or words to that effect. (Protestants seemed to be able to get away with more off-colour language than the Katlicks; they didn't have to worry themselves sick, I guess, about having to confess the sin of cursing to a man in a box, a direct spokesman for God as the brain-washing had it, and then being punished with a trip around the Stations of the Cross, frightened to death with the delightful sights of a scourging at the pillar and a crowning with thorns, images that seemed at the time to be worse than any horror movie playing at the Crescent Theatre.)

In fact, I don't know what Glen's motive was for squealing that Santa didn't actually deliver that set of six shooters to me the Christmas before, and that it was probably my father who drank the glass of rum I had left to give Mr. Claus a slight buzz to make his trip from Gander to Grand Falls a bit more enjoyable.

In any case, I distinctly remember being shattered by the news and running into the house in a panic and shouting to the old man: "Dad, Dad, Glen Kirby says there's no Santa Claus!"

Dad, a local actor with the Avion Players in his spare time, then performed his theatrical magic and tried to let me down easy with that classic lecture about the "spirit" of Christmas being more important than any presents from the North Pole. He was a terrific actor, and a ham, and had a fine way with words. But Dad did nothing during those few minutes to relieve the deep despair I was feeling with the revelation that "The Rifleman" Winchester, the one that ejected 10 plastic bullets in 30 seconds, wasn't travelling that year in a sled dragged by reindeer from the top of the globe to central Newfoundland.

Oh, the horror. The trauma.

But I did recover, probably around the age of 40.

As I say, the Christmas memories that seem to stand out since then have varied.

On the sad side of the ledger, I can remember during the peak of my booze-soaked years getting drunk by myself in some dive on Water Street one Christmas Eve, and staggering home to an empty dump of an apartment and passing out on the floor (the story ends like one of those sentimental Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commercial, though, because I eventually gave up the sauce).

There was also a Boxing Day in 1976 when I covered a tragic fire at the Chafe's Nursing Home in the Goulds in which 21 people died, a decidedly unpleasant experience.

And just eight years ago, I was like a zombie during Christmas as I wondered whether the cancer that had invaded my colon and liver was going to kill me (I survived, as you might have noticed).

But those painful events were the exceptions because the bulk of my Christmas memories are of the warm and fuzzy type, not necessarily unique, or dramatic, just of quality time spent with family and friends (I'm starting to sound like the back of a Hallmark Card).

But I may as well keep going with this schmaltzy contribution to Saturday reading: indeed, I look forward to traipsing with my wife along the trails in the woods just up the road to kill a Christmas tree for our living room. And I enjoy putting up the decorations inside and outside our house on the hill overlooking the harbour. This year, we even put a string of lights around a 19-foot speedboat resting for the winter in the driveway, an aging vessel we bought with some friends several months ago to take to the waters off Beamer Rock here in Flatrock during the food fishery.

And yes, Mr. Editor, this is definitely a piece of Christmas mush.

But, surely, even a curmudgeon, as I've been baptized by some, deserves the right to destroy the image, even for a day.

Merry Christmas to all - even Glen Kirby.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Amalgamated School, Crescent Theatre, Avion Players Nursing Home

Geographic location: Gander, Balbo Street, Newfoundland and Labrador Grand Falls North Pole Water Street Saints Goulds Beamer Flatrock

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