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COLUMN: A true Christmas story

Columnist ML Burke relates a tale of childhood yuletide wonder

By ML Burke

We used to get big-snow winters and 1957 was one of those. I was 12 and spent much of my spare time looking after seven nieces and nephews. Considering we lived at the very top of Capitol Hill in Burnaby, 670 feet above sea level, it challenged dad getting the family car all the way home before Al and his grater could plow the bus route.

Our home was a bit unusual in that it was on a couple of acres and was half home and half laboratory, including three outbuildings surrounding a large driveway. Dad was a radio/electronics man and chose to build there for the good radio reception. The lab employed six technicians who were like family, frequenting our kitchen for coffee, lunch breaks, and entertaining mom with their tall tales.

During some of these big-snow winters dad would compensate Al the grater-man with a hot lunch, grandma’s sweetbread and rum-spiked hot-toddies in exchange for plowing our block and driveway. This resulted in 15-foot high snow banks, which became neighbourhood caves and fortresses for snowball-wars and, best of all, after a couple of days of garden hose flooding, a well-used skating rink.

With mom being Finnish and dad being English, we celebrated both the Scandinavian and Canadian traditions, which was almost like having two Christmases. Christmas Eve involved aunts, uncles, cousins and guests who all contributed delectable dishes. Mom would cook a ham and the requisite lye-soaked lutefisk, mercifully camouflaged with an egg sauce, which any potential new members of the family had to try or risk being abandoned at the alter.

After dinner on this particular crisp Christmas Eve, around 50 of us got all bundled up and trekked through the narrow snow-path to our aunt’s house for dessert. The kids were very excited because everyone under 12 got to open one present.

On our way, there was much laughing and questions about Santa and how he could get to every child’s home in the world in just one night, when dad, who was leading the family pack, suddenly stopped. He hushed everybody and pointed up to the eastern sky.

Silent, following his finger, there was one star amongst all the others, very high. It was moving and flashing. Blip, blip, blip, blip. A young voice shouted out, “Santa!”

Dad immediately responded, saying, “By golly, I think you’re right. That must be Rudolf’s nose flashing”. Well, you can just imagine the excitement that ensued: kids jumping, shouting, pointing; adults laughing, looking at each other quizzically, others standing, looking up, dumbstruck as the magic slowly disappeared over the western horizon.

That Christmas Eve in 1957 is my most memorable. I learned later that Sputnik 1 had been launched just two months before. It had four antennas emitting radio signals that pulsed every second. I’m sure dad had an idea of when it would be traversing our part of the sky. He never did admit to it, for the sake of the true believers, young and old. Sputnik or Saint Nick?

This believer wishes you and yours peace, wellness and affordability in the coming year.

ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team and the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors.

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