I was much too young to remember my first Christmas but I do remember one from 1950 when I was 8. It was a torrid Buenos Aires summer Christmas Eve. A few days before my father had sprayed our Christmas tree with a can of Noma snow that my mother had obtained from her friends at the American Embassy. Whatever it was that Santa Claus was going to bring me would not happen until we came back from Misa de Gallo (rooster Mass or midnight Mass). These Masses, around the corner from our house on Melián were held in a small chapel. My father had had too much to drink and I was embarrassed to note that he placed some mints in the collection basket.
When we finally got home my main present was a beautiful Schuko model car racer. It was red and it was similar to the Maserati that Juan Manuel Fangio drove. It had suspension and steering. Alas! I lost the wind-up key. I was in tears. My father came up to me and said, “Alexander, Santa Claus left me a spare key, just in case.” That first Christmas that I can remember is also the last that I remember with my father.
Since then I have experienced good and sad Christmases. One of the saddest was the one in December 1966 when I was returning to Veracruz after two years in the Argentine Navy. I was the only passenger on board the Argentine Merchant Marine (ELMA) Río Aguapey. It was a Victory Ship that I subsequently, many years later found out had been built in the Burrard Shipyard in Vancouver. We docked in New Orleans on Christmas Eve. I decided to explore the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. I entered a bar that featured strippers. This was my first time I ever saw an almost naked female. I ordered a Bourbon whiskey which I did not like and the stripper danced mechanically like a robot. I was depressed as I went back to my ship. Before calling it a night I played some ping-pong with the young second officers. This was after we had a sumptuous Christmas dinner that featured pre-dinner drinks, a different kind of wine for every course and then Argentine Champagne and liqueurs. As a non-drinker I forgot my depression and floated into a calm sleep.
Christmas 2015 went without a hitch. The granddaughters behaved and the food was close to perfection. I started a baron of beef in our new Jackson Grill and finished it (and the potatoes, onions and carrots) in the oven. Rosemary made her signature Yorkshire pudding and I prepared the gravy. For starter we had my homemade consommé. To the consommé my daughter Ale, my son-in-law Bruce and I added a shot of very good La Guita Manzanilla Sherry. We sipped the rest as we had our soup. For the main course that did include a big salad an my homemade cranberry sauce (I use fresh squeezed oranges and nutmeg) we tried an Argentine rosé Torrontés wine. Dessert was a beautiful apple pie made by my younger daughter Hilary. There were plenty of sweets after. We then opened the presents. To help smooth the whole process I had insisted on taking our perennial Christmas family picture before dinner. Thanks to the Fuji-X-E1 I downloaded the picture immediately and it was sharp and clear not like scanned Polaroids of Christmases past.
But, all of us knew that this was to be our last Christmas on Athlone Street inVancouver. We have celebrated Christmas Eve there (here?) since 1986. Rosemary and I both avoided looking at each other. We did not want to pass on our deep melancholy for times that will never return.
Our Christmas tree was the tallest we have ever had. I had to snip the leader as it bent under the ceiling. It was only one of three trees that I found at Garden Works on 70 and Granville where I have purchased all our trees. I bought the tree on December 22. It was nicely formed but sparse in its branches. Lauren decorated it and because the tree was not dense the ornaments were visible in all their glory. I liked this tree.
On Christmas Day I began the process of unmaking our home. For me a home is a place with pictures on the wall. I removed a few pictures and took them to our new house. As soon as the pictures were up I could sense the transfer from one home to another. Homes are palpable entities that reflect their owners. And like their owners they are born, they live and they die. That process, while inevitably necessary, is a sad one. But then as our new house in the Vancouver zone called Kitsilano becomes a home a new life is in the works and that is something happy to bring into the new year.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.