Welcome to the December 2016 issue about Christmas in Small Town. As you know, Small Town is located in Maple Leaf Township, in Canuck County, somewhere in Canada. Our town really gets into the holiday spirit and we want to share that with you.
We start by introducing the latest issue of Outhouse & Home magazine. Then our reporter, Margo Prentice has a story for you. We then have a special photograph series sprinkled throughout the issue about how people in town have decorated for the season. Our new reporter, Annatooshus Belle, tells us her favourite memory of Christmas in Bancroft. Franklin Fogg reports about new holiday traditions in this town. Small Talk is a new column started by yours truly where I interview locals about hot topics of the day. Deborah Poirier reminisces about her Christmases in Cheticamp.
Outhouse and Home’s Christmas issue is out now. Outhouse and Home is Canuck County’s favorite magazine about rural life. December’s issue is about preparing for the holidays.
Designed in Canva
She always tells the best stories. She’s our correspondent, Margo!
It was July, the middle of a heat-wave when the Mall store managers had their first meeting. Christmas promotions needed to be finalized. I held the position of promotions manager. Not one of us was in the mood to talk about Christmas. It was a scorching hot July day, yet best time to start the process of the holiday sales. Wholesale shopping by each merchant had begun and advertising outlines set-up.
It was my job to hire and interview employees for Santa, his elves and wife after Halloween. The Santa from the previous years was contacted and would be returning. He was a dear old soul and the perfect person to play the role of Santa Claus.
I planned to have Santa’s entrance into the Mall as a parade (a small version of the bigger parades Eaton’s held in cities all across Canada.) The parade had children in costumes, a band and clowns walking through the Mall. Santa would ride on top of the back seat of a small redVolkswagen convertible. His red and green costumed elves were to throw candy to the children watching the parade. Workmen were busy setting-up Santa’s castle. A photographer is hired. Days on the month are put aside for special children to see Santa.
Then the unthinkable happened! A tearful young lady rushed into the Mall manager’s office. She sat down; pulled a tissue out and through her tears told us that her Father had died suddenly of a heart attack! Her Father was to be our Santa! For so many years he had been the delight of all and perfect for the job. He did not have the booze breath that tended to be an occupational problem of some Santas. He knew his role well and could relate to the children. Santa was dead! A new Santa had to be hired right away.
I decided to put an ad in the paper for a new Santa which I put in the personal column of the local newspapers. Nov 16, 1984, read Personal Column: “Santa if you are out there please give me a call I have speak to you it’s very important, love Virginia.” Phone 433-4367. A reply from an interesting candidate came. Bill was his name and he had been a rodeo cowboy and a rodeo clown. However, he also was a professional entertainer who sung country songs in bars.
“Did a lot of ‘gigs’ in my life,” he said. He told me that he had stopped drinking long ago, that working in bars he had seen what too much booze could do. Not too tall and a little portly, he had long hair, sparkling eyes and an engaging smile.
His grooming left something to be desired; I suggested he could have the job if he had some grooming done. Bill was given an account at the drug store for shampoo, toothpaste and after shave to put on his beard. I had his hair and beard trimmed by one of our mall beauticians. He was pleased with his new look.
He was a delightful man. He sounded and looked like a real Santa. When he walked from his dressing room down the hall to his castle he would wave a call out to the children with a ho, ho, ho.
Bill considered being Santa just another ‘gig’ he took this one seriously. He was a professional who never strayed from the role as long as he was dressed in his Santa outfit. You could hear him coming and leaving, saying with a wave for everyone “Ho! Ho! Hello boys and girls! Merry Christmas to all.”
Bill admitted that he had been thinking of finding himself a woman and that he had spent too many years alone. The new grooming and job gave him renewed confidence. The Mall manager decided to hire an older woman to be Mrs. Claus. Bill sure fell hard for Mrs. Claus; it was love at first sight! She felt the same way about him. Romance was in the air in Santa’s castle even before the children arrived!
Santa’s parade was a great success! Outside the snow was blowing and it was 25 F below. There was magic in Santa’s castle that year. I received many telephone calls about this wonderful man! Parents dropped into the Manager’s office say that Bill was perfect as Santa! Maybe this man was Santa Claus in disguise as a cowboy!
A group of blind children came to see him he was not told that the children he would be seeing that day were blind. The children ran their hands through his beard and hair, smelled him and gave him tender kisses. He left his station after they had gone and it was the only time he stepped out of his Santa character. Bill walked into the office with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had been deeply touched by these very special children.
The following summer on a sweltering July day, he came by to say hello with his new wife the former Mrs. Claus. He said being Santa was the best ‘gig’ ever and that he and the new Mrs. were settling in the country to enjoy the rest of their days. As he left that hot July day he waved and yelled, “Ho! Ho! Hello boys and girls! Merry Christmas to all.”
This month we thought we’d bring you some of the ways in which Small Towners have decorated for the Christmas season.
We’ll start with one of our sponsors, Coop de Jour. The Coop de Jour is a one-stop shop for all your chicken coop needs.
Annatooshus is a new correspondent but not a new resident to our town.
My Favourite Christmas Memory
As I crept down the creaky old staircase of our farmhouse Laddie became even more excited and headed to the front door. I could see out the picture window that we had fresh fallen snow through the night and that meant I’d have to make my own path to the barn. I made my way to the kitchen, let Laddie out who immediately ran to the closes tree and I turned to start the fire and get the house warmed up before my Mom had to get up and start her day. With her Diabetes, some mornings were tougher than others and were becoming more frequent lately. I didn’t want this to be one of them, especially with Christmas so close. I tried to be as quiet as possible and thankfully the kindling started quickly. With the fire started, and the airtight drawing, I made my way to the coffee pot and impatiently waited for the first cup to drip through. I shivered while filling a five gallon pail with hot water to take to the barn with me. Ten minutes later, I drained my cup of liquid life, zipped up my winter coat and opened the front door to head outside into the cold. My Dad came around the corner into the kitchen just then with a “Morning Squirt!” and habitually checked on the woodstove. I was 20 years old but Dad still called me Squirt with affection and I couldn’t help but smile back. “Morning Dad, coffee’s ready, I’m going to feed Stardust.” as he nodded he understood and headed for the coffeepot.
One thing about growing up in Bancroft, Ontario the weather can be quite moody. I discovered just how moody trying to make my way through the new snow that was over the top of my boots while lugging a 50 lb pail of water. Its days like this that make you wish for a Floridian address! I knew once Dad had his coffee and breakfast he would get the old 1970 Fargo snow plow going and make short work of last night’s storm. It was slow drudging across the yard to the barn but halfway across the yard our old Husky Keeshond dog came out of his kennel and barked his greeting to me. “Good morning my Pepperoni! Did you ask Santa for all this snow again?” I received a happy bark, bark, bark! in reply. Of all my animal friends, Pepper absolutely loved Wintertime!! We tried to keep him in the house but he was miserable with it being so hot so we had a kennel for him and a thick bed of straw and hay mixed and he was a happy thirteen year old dog! When Dad would plow the yard, Pepper would stand at the top of the snow bank waiting for Dad to come whistling up the driveway and cover him with snow…all you could hear was a happy bark! bark! bark! Silly old dog!
As crisp and cold as it was, it warmed up immediately when I opened the front door and was greeted with a “buff buff buff!” I saw my beauty with her ears perked forward happy to see me. Stardust nickered her greeting as I approached her stall. Her long black whiskers were covered in ice as I placed my hands on her muzzle to melt the icicles, her soft bay fur coat was so thick that I couldn’t resist and she quickly warmed my freezing fingers. “Good morning my FuzzyWuzzyNickerbum!” as we shared our daily hug. Her wise gray eyes and sunken temples showed each of her twenty-six years and her returned hug reassured that she loved me as much as I did her. After our moment shared of affection I was off to fetch her breakfast of hay while she drank the now lukewarm water that would warm her belly after a cold night. After a few bites I led her out to the front of the barn where she immediately dropped and started to roll in the snow. I laughed at her antics because nothing is more comical than watching a 1500 lb horse roll in the snow, four legs in the air and letting out several grain farts , ha-ha! When she was done, I put her back in the main part of the barn where she could come and go as she pleased all day.
I made my way back to the house with her feed bucket to make her warm mash of oats, sweet feed and bran with a few carrots and apples mixed in. She loved the molasses! Oh how I loved my mare! As an ex-Toronto police-horse, a Thoroughbred/Tennessee Walker cross, she had tons of spunk and personality and she was my best friend! My Dad received her as part payment for a bulldozing job he’d done for a neighbor in 1973. I am the youngest of four children and only four years old at the time and sadly I was the only kid who wanted her. For many a year after, my Dad would marvel at how he never expected the “old quiff” as he fondly nicknamed her, would still be with us. He would often mention how smart she was and swore she could count because she always knew when one of our cows went missing. This was our sixteenth Christmas together I marvelled and thought to myself I hope we have many more to come. Unfortunately two years prior we had hoped she would foal but sadly that didn’t happen and we all agreed we would not put her through that again at her age. So each moment was an even more cherished moment from that point forward knowing I would not be able to keep a piece of her with me for years to come.
As I entered the kitchen, the warmth of the woodstove sent my cheeks into a tingling frenzy, it felt so good I wanted to hug the stove! By this time, my Mom was up and sitting at the table having her breakfast after taking her insulin. She was having a good morning, thankfully! I started to mix Stardust’s mash and mix Peppers kibble with some warm water and leftover gravy from the night before, while sipping at another cup of coffee. That’s when my Mom asked me “Annie what do you have planned for today?” I had the next few days off of work and I replied “Not a whole lot Mom, just the usual, I have to clean out the barn, bring in a load of wood and then possibly some last minute Christmas shopping.” That was her cue! She had a list of groceries and things for me to pick up that would keep me busy most of the afternoon traveling from Bancroft to Bird’s Creek to Paudash. “Ok, Mom, I’ll get to it after I finish my chores.” I headed back to the barn stopping by Pepper’s kennel to give him his warm breakfast and several scratches of affection. One thing about Winter, you work fast when you’re outside. And you learn to bring in a lot of wood so you don’t have to keep going back to the woodshed!
Later that day as I was getting ready to drive to town and run the errands Mom had asked of me, my Dad pipes up “Since you’re going to town why don’t you head out to Graf’s Feed and buy your horse a bag of sweet feed for Christmas, here’s $20.00!” I was in total shock! My Dad never did that before. He’d help buy her the basics but any “treats” were my total responsibility and with minimum wage at just $5.25 an hour, well it could be tough for extras sometimes. “Really Dad?! That’s the best Christmas present, thanks!”. And off I go to Bird’s Creek in my old Ford pickup.
The town was busy being just two days before Christmas with everyone hurrying to finish their shopping and the lovely thing about small town life, most everyone was in a happy, friendly mood. Bancroft only had a population of 2400 then and as quaint as it was, it could sometimes be challenging. It was nice to be home again and to run into familiar faces, people asking how your folks are and wishing us a Merry Christmas and they genuinely meant it. Close to three hours later I was finally done and heading back home to our farm on Bay Lake Road.
I was still smiling about Dad’s gesture and how much it meant to me that he remembered a present for Stardust too. When I got home and drove up our driveway, I saw that my cousin was visiting and his truck was parked in front of the barn doors. My first thought was that he must be borrowing some hay. I parked the truck and headed toward the barn. As I approached I could hear Mom and Dad talking with my cousin and I squeezed past the truck through the doorway. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust from the bright sunlight to the darkened entrance but the first thing I noticed was Stardust outside looking in the back door excitedly and whinnying at everyone. Before I could even say hello or ask “What’s going on?” I heard it! At first my brain didn’t believe my ears but then I heard it again and my eyes focused on the cutest chestnut colt I’d ever seen in my life! I was stunned beyond words and then I saw my Mom’s face and her gigantic smile! “Merry Christmas Annie!” I heard my parents say in unison! I was shocked, stunned and didn’t know what to say other than “Oh my gawd! Really?!” My parents and cousin were all chuckling at my surprised response and the fact that they had me totally fooled this year. The Belgian/Quarter Horse cross colt was just a baby of not quite six months, he had a large blaze down his face, with one white sock on his back left leg. He was so beautiful and affectionate and I couldn’t believe he was all mine! And the cutest little nicker!! I was in love instantly!
I learned a lot with raising baby Shadow, Stardust and I loved him very much. It was a different bond with him than I had with Stardust but I loved them both equally. Our family shared many laughs and a few tears that next year when my mare suffered a bout of colic. Thankfully to the wisdom of some great local farmers and Dr. Fischer in Eganville, Stardust pulled through. We marvelled at how Stardust became Shadow’s adoptive mother and taught him what a young horse needed to know. And she disciplined him when he was naughty the only way a mother horse could. My Mom got to see me train and teach Shadow to trust and when it came time to see if he would allow me to ride him, he did without a single buck! That’s when I knew he had my heart and I had his. By the time my Mom passed on, I was in college then and my mare passed away from old age a few years later. She’d had a good long life and lived almost an extra decade with Shadow’s help. Stardust was 36 years old when she went to Rainbow Bridge. Unfortunately, I was unable to keep Shadow and had to find him a new home.
I was always an easy kid to please at Christmas and birthdays because of my love for animals but this particular Christmas will stand out in my memory for all my days. You see, what made it even more special was that my mom was terrified of horses. Even though she was raised and chose to live on a farm all her life, she was always afraid of horses after being kicked as a wee girl. And of course, me being her youngest child and I was absolutely head over heels in love with horses from an early age of three. I still remember my Dad’s friend’s horse King, he was a big old, gentle draft who loved children and the first horse I ever sat on. Looking back I know it was hard for my Mom and I know I scared her a lot with various injuries from learning to ride on my own over my childhood. But she loved me enough to let me spread my wings and find myself. That Christmas of 1989 will always remain my favorite memory because of the sacrifice my Mom and Dad made to make me happy. My Mom’s health started to deteriorate the following year and she was passed away just four short years later in the summer of 1993. To know that she loved me that much will forever warm my heart.
Shadow has a good life living amongst a herd of four other horses and is loved and well taken care of. He hasn’t been bounced around from home to home thankfully and I can visit when I come home to Bancroft from Toronto anytime. I was able to visit Shadow this past summer and he remembered me as soon as he heard my voice and came straight up to me from the field. He turned 27 years old this past summer and looks amazing! Its bittersweet when I visit him but I know in my heart he will always be mine and I his. I was his first human to trust wholeheartedly and I see the loving impact I had on his life.
This memory is from 27 years ago and it will forever be my favorite and I will always remember what my parents did for me and especially my mother’s love and the delighted smile on her face that December afternoon.
Here’s some more photos from around town this season:
A now a word from our foreign correspondent ’cause he’s from the other side of town.
Christmas Canceled in Small Town
On November 30, local denizens reported a strange visitation on the grounds of the First Seventeenth Century Puritanical Church on Brimstone Street. Several witnesses reported seeing a suspect described as looking like a “skinny green bigfoot wearing a red coat and stocking cap” approach the church and nail a notice to the front door. The notice read:
“The observation of CHRISTMAS having been deemed a Sacrilege, the exchanging of Gifts and Greetings, dressing in fine clothing, feasting and similar Satanic Practices are hereby FORBIDDEN.
The Christmas holidays thus having been summarily canceled, a calendar of events has been drawn up for the month of December to wit:
December 5th: Krampusnacht–a boisterous celebration of winter featuring a mischievous scary/funny goat-demon who brings naughty children pieces of coal and bundles of sticks. There will be a torch-light procession. a Krampus costume contest, and a schnapps tasting. There will also be a appearance by Krampus’ lady friend Perchta, who distributes small silver coins to the good children.
December 17-23: Saturnalia–the festival of the Roman god Saturn, which will include a town-wide potluck supper to which the Mayor’s office will contribute a suckling pig. There will also be a masquerade ball and gift exchange and a five day work holiday presided over by Sherriff Gunther Toadstool as the Lord of Misrule.
December 21: Yulefest–A celebration of the winter solstice under the patronage of the Norse god Odin, a white bearded fellow who rode his eight-legged horse through the sky to visit households and distribute gifts. There will be a municipal tree trimming and burning of the yule log and decorations of holly, evergreens, and mistletoe. Town children will fill their boots with straw and grain in hopes to prompt a visit from the yule goat, who is another bringer of gifts.
December 25: Dies Natalis Solis Invicti–the birthday of the unconquered sun. A slightly belated solstice celebration, this is actually the birthday of two Roman sun gods, Sol and Mithras. Mithras was said to have been born of a virgin on a rock in a cave attended by shepherds, and to have been sent by the supreme god to offer salvation to humans.
December 31: New Years Eve–the twelfth and final night of the celebration of Yule. The town will have fireworks and hard cider at midnight.”
The “skinny green bigfoot” may have cancelled Christmas, but the spirit of joy, community, and revelry lives on.
Here are some photos from how Jesperson’s Store decorated this season:
Small Talk is a new column where I interview people at a local bar – before they get sent to the drunk tank. In keeping with the season, we asked people to share Christmas memories.
“My favorite memory is decorating Christmas ornaments with my boys when they were little. ”
Nick, the town drunk, says he hasn’t had any memories since 1997.
“When my brother and I were still very young (I was about 2). My stepfather spent a fortune on Xmas gifts. My brother and I opened each one. Then, instead of playing with any of the toys, we went into the kitchen and played in the lower cupboards banging on pots and pans.”
Here’s a photo:
“Christmas is crass commercialism, man! That’s why I’m offering 50% off the festive nog.”
Deborah is our Gossip Columnist. This month she talks about Christmas in Acadia.
Christmas in the Country
In the community of Cheticamp
People are going out at the beginning of the month of December to get their Christmas tree so that they can start to decorate and make it look like Christmas around the house. Stockings are hung in the living room and waiting to be filled by Santa.
Everyone is getting ready for the holidays, going out to the filled-up stores to shop for their Christmas gifts.
Then on Christmas eve, we all go to bed early in hopes that Santa will arrive and fill our stockings with gifts and put gifts under the Christmas tree. We leave out milk and cookies so that Santa can take a snack before he continues to other houses.
Then on Christmas morning, we all wake up to all the presents under the tree. We spend time with our loved ones and open the Christmas gifts that Santa has brought us.
Then we would join with our family members and have Christmas dinner together reflecting on all the great things that happened in the past year.
And as we grow old (and broke), we can still remember how the holidays were and take a look at it through a different type of lens.
Our final look at how locals are celebrating the holidays is a photo of the tree at The Anarchist Cafe owned by Terry Floyd. Terry says he’s a professional anarchist.
When we asked Terry about his holiday decorating choice, he said, “It’s the most joyous festively brainwashed time of the year! People come to my place for the nog not the decorations!”
We would like to Thank our contributors:
Margo Prentice as herself, Anne Bierworth as Annatooshus Belle, Annette Joyal as Deborah Poirier, CJ Jackman Zigante as Corajean, Tabetha Farnell as Gertrude Smith, Moonstorm White as Franklin Fogg, Gord Pollock as Terry Floyd, and Jessie Blair as Mike Litoris and Nick the drunk