Merry meet all,
My grandparents Alfred and May Timmons live in Pleasant Bay, Cape Breton and have been married for over sixty years. My grandfather was born in Pleasant Bay. Alfred was a fisherman, boat builder, miner, farmer and soldier during the Second World War. My grandmother worked as a nurse. She sailed from Edinburgh, Scotland, to marry my grandfather. They share many memories of their years together.
Pleasant Bay is a quiet fishing village. The two-room schoolhouse my mother attended when she was young stands to this day. A school bus arrived in the mornings to take her to school but she sometimes hid and helped her father build the boats. He processed and preserved food such as meat, vegetables and fish without using electricity during the winters. He built a boat to aid the fishermen in fishing for mackerel and haddock one winter.
The Christmases we spent with our grandparents at their house bring back wonderful memories. We regaled the tree in the living room with the handmade decorations saved from our childhood. Nicole, Jesse and I often went show shoeing, tobogganing and played in snowball fights till we were exhausted. We trooped indoors to the comforting scents of gingerbread, bannock and scones. Our soaked woolen hats, mitts, scarves and socks dried above the woodstove.
I played the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky on a tape cassette and made apple cider for everyone. As the snow fell, my mother nestled near the woodstove on a rocking chair, a blanket wrapped around her and a cup of tea to warm her hands. The logs burned as swiftly as we put them in the fire, to compete with the fury of the wind. May read the Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service in the evening, sending nervous twitters from her captive audience.
We baked gingerbread houses and created the North Pole scene of reindeer, Santa and his wife, and snowmen, coating it in mouth-watering candy and frosty icing. The date squares, fruitcakes and shortbread cookies filled our stomachs and seldom lasted long.
Nicole, Jesse and I were so excited on Christmas Eve we could not contain our excitement. If we behaved, we could open one gift. We hung the stockings near the tree and our relatives phoned us from far away every Christmas. Uncle Jet pretended to be Santa Claus to our delight. Once as a child as I slept yet half-awake, I recall hearing bells ringing on the roof. Everyone was tucked in bed as visions of sugarplums or cranberry sauce danced in their heads.
Nicole, Jesse and I rushed downstairs early in the morning to the tree. The gift tags stated the gifts came from Santa yet the handwriting appeared familiar. We examined our stockings replete with nuts, candy canes, mandarin oranges and soaps, dolls and other toys. I bought my grandparents sweaters, books and tapes of the Vinyl Café by Stuart MacLean. After the gifts were shared amongst everyone, we played with our toys or read our new books.
Christmas dinner was the best part of the day. In our house, we had dinner at noon. The table was set, using our best dishes. The turkey was so tempting I tried to steal a piece of tender meat. I flinched from the sharp rap on my hand from my mother who worked hard on the dinner. We enjoyed cranberry sauce, turkey and stuffing, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and stewed carrots.
After the delicious meal ended, I busied myself with a new set of watercolor paints. I received an easel one Christmas, the best present I ever received. I set my easel by a window and painted the snow covered birch and spruce trees outside. Nicole is musically gifted and played the fiddle for us after much persuasion. We tapped our feet in time to the lively jigs and reels. I liked going on long walks accompanied by our dog, Sasha, down the road after the dinner. Sasha ran down the banks to chase the squirrels.
We had little company in the winter. The only vehicle that passed by the house was the snowplow to clear the roads. The ice on the roads sometimes forced us to turn back and remain at our grandparents’ house a few more days. Nicole, Jesse and I returned to the pleasure of snowshoeing and tobogganing. Mom, Alfred and May returned to drinking tea and arguing over world politics, or playing card games.
Pleasant Bay captured the spirit of Christmas. Snow blanketed the roads, fields and spruce tree boughs. A snowy mist shrouded the mountains and the heavy icicles awed us as we slowly drove over the highway. I spied white rabbits and foxes running in the woods, and seals giving birth on the ice. Moose gnawed on the bark of the trees. Woodpeckers and squirrels entertained us, competing for birdseed from the feeder outside.
The comforts of the gingerbread and the warm woodstove were hard to leave behind when we returned to Halifax, a bittersweet mix of happiness and sadness. The holiday took long to arrive and ended too quickly. The memories of sharing the season with family and friends live in our hearts.
Blessed Be, Lady Spiderwitch )O(
*My grandfather has since passed on. My grandmother lives in Cheticamp, in northern Cape Breton. But the memories live on.