This year will be the first time I celebrate Christmas without mom. Every year, My mom and dad had a big party near Christmas at our house in Kerrisdale. It was a lot of work and an important event. My father was a businessman, and many prominent men would attend with their wives. Everybody dressed up; the women wore fancy dresses and jewellery: the men wore custom-tailored suits, starched shirts and silk ties. I didn’t understand what it all meant, but I knew it was necessary. Then, of course, everybody smoked and drank. It was the sixties; cocktails were the order of the day. My brother and I helped serve drinks and listened to the chatter. My father was an executive in the forest industry, which was very powerful and drove the economy.
We made sure to top up Uncle Wally’s drink, Rye and Ginger. He was a Marine Biologist that travelled the world; He was a brilliant man who liked to drink and smoke. After a few drinks, we could hear his distinctive voice above all the others: “Trudeau is a goddam cocksucker,” He would say, referring to Pierre, our Prime Minister. Then he would laugh hysterically. Finally, my mom would rush over and say, “Time to go to bed, boys.” She looked like Doris Day, Glamorous and radiant. It was her house, and she was the star. My brother and I listened from the top of the stairs. Earlier that day, we had discovered a new dish, Tomato Aspic. “Would you care for some Ass Pick?” said my brother Duncan. “Yes, I enjoy Ass Pick,” I replied. My father gave us a smack on the back of the head.
A couple of days later, our Dalmatian got the Christmas turkey and made a run for it. My dad chased him around the house; of course, I laughed, so he smacked me as he chased the dog. Sixties Dad’s could drink, smoke and hit the kids. It seemed normal at the time.
One year we went to our Aunt Helen’s house for Christmas dinner. She served Cornish game hens, which grossed us out totally. They looked like cute little birds. Then she got drunk and tried to cut my brother’s hair. We left early. Grownups drank a lot back then.
When I was ten years old, I joined the choir at Holy Rosary Cathedral. It was the first time I sang to an audience, and it changed my life forever. The biggest show was midnight mass on Christmas Eve. A brass band and organist were in the balcony with an adult choir. The organ had thousands of pipes, and the natural reverb in the stone cathedral was hauntingly surreal. The boy’s choir was at the side of the altar where we could watch the spectacle. I sang a solo to one thousand people. That was the beginning of a life in music. The subsonic from the organ pipes made me aware of the power of low frequencies. My solo was in Ave Maria, but the best song was ‘Angels we have heard on High.’ The boys and adult choir, brass, and organ came together for the finale. That night I became an entertainer. Churches can convey a compelling message and bring people together. That night was a rite of passage for Me and many others.
When I learned to play the flute, my favourite Christmas songs were ‘God Rest Yee Merry Gentlemen’ and ‘We Three Kings.’ Both were in the Aeolian Mode and had a medieval feel. ‘O come Emanuel was another favourite of mine; it is E minor, both mournful and inspiring. Finally, ‘Good King Wenclelas’ is written for Boxing Day by John Mason Neale, who wrote ‘O Come Emanuel.’ I developed those songs to suit My playing style and played them often. I was Catholic, but the Protestants had better Christmas carols.
Years later, I went out with some friends to play carols at old folks’ homes. Big Mike, Kim, Ian, and my girlfriend, Jennifer. We dropped into a senior’s home near Oakridge with our makeshift choir. I played flute, and the others sang. Mike was a massive guy with a beautiful clear voice; we had gone to Europe with the school choir the year before. We were pretty good: Mike and I performed ‘O Come Emanuel’ as a Duo. It was a show-stopper. Big Mike passed away a few years ago, but I can still hear his high, clear voice harmonizing with my flute. The old folks were delighted.
Our next stop was at Chalmers Lodge near 12th and Granville. We wandered into the lobby and sang a couple of songs to a very appreciative crowd. Then, one of the staff came up and asked me what organization sent us. I said, “We just came to sing some carols” she kicked us out; we smelled like weed.
Woodward at Oakridge had the most fantastic Christmas display. Santa had a natural beard, and there were actual reindeer; the Woodwards family owned the Douglas Lake Ranch and had a small herd of reindeer for this purpose. They hired dwarfs as elves, but We called them Midgets. We bought our Christmas presents at Oakridge: Mom got something nice from Birks. After I left home, I got a pendant from Birks for mom that said, ‘My name is Joannie, take me home with her phone number on the back. She loved it. Two weeks after Christmas, venison was available in the meat department.
My mom was an artist; she painted a beautiful angel on a piece of plywood for the front door, resplendent with red, silver and gold glitter; we always had a giant tree and decorated it as a family. Dad had to secure it with wires so our cat named ‘Mary Christmas’ could not knock it over. When we were teenagers, we sat around the dining room table with glue, felt pens and construction paper. We were making dirty Christmas cards! Well-hung reindeer, big-breasted snow women and many other holiday classics. My parents welcomed many kids to the house; it was a fun place to be. The kitchen and bar were always open.
At Magee High School, I produced a Christmas musical about Mrs. Claus trying to keep Santa from eating the reindeer. ‘We love you, Mrs. Santa Claus, ‘Protect us from your Husband’s Jaws’ was the significant production number. I also ran a Christmas tree lot to raise funds for the choir’s European tour. When I was about 12 years old, I talked in rhyme for a whole week before Christmas. Yes, it drove my family around the bend.