Vernon_1997I’m going to do something this year that I’ve never done at Christmas – ever. I’m staying home with my immediate family – my beautiful wife, my beautiful son and my beautiful daughter who is home from University (yeah, that 11 Km trek from the suburbs will be a huge sacrifice!) in my rustic World War II bungalow which isn’t quite as enticing as the one David Byrne talks about in “Once In a Lifetime” but has its own cottage-like charm. I am starting a new tradition – one that allows me the luxury of not having to battle it out between two sides of the family for a change.

TreeOut of circumstance, my in-laws came into town a week ago and we had an impromptu Christmas celebration then. I love my adopted other Mom & Dad dearly – their love and support has been immeasurable over the last (gulp) twenty years even back when my wife, The Rock Goddess, and I weren’t even seeing each other yet. My wife’s younger sister – the Rock Chick – hosted our gathering and her older brother and his wife (whom we have not seen since 2006) surprised everyone by dropping by unexpectedly. There was one more sister who wasn’t able to make it down from Quebec but as someone who communes regularly with nature she was definitely with us in spirit. It was a picture-perfect night. It’s something that’s become rarer and rarer as we continue to be engrossed by our own personal circumstances – not the least of which is the annual loss of more family members.

Xmas_1977cTo this end my own side of the family has suffered heart-breaking loss in the last 5 years. There’s less and less of us to go around and those who are still with us have scattered to the four winds. As a small remedy to this situation my mother and sister will be connecting with a cousin in Barrie, Ontario whose father passed only a year ago. My Mom has been a surrogate parental roll model to my cousin since losing her mother when she was only 12 years old. My cousin has two kids of her own now and with my Mom & sister for Christmas Day they have a chance to be a new spiritual family.

I think back on my family’s own Christmas traditions when I was growing up and it was a lot different. It was an exciting, exhilarating, Jaimie_Xmas0001exhausting 24 hours of frivolity, food and fun. Despite living in an apartment building, my Dad insisted on a real Christmas tree. As we lived in the Cedarbrae area of Scarborough, Ontario, the neighbourhood arm of the Boy Scouts had set up shop in a wooded area just south of Cedarbrae Collegiate at the bottom of a ravine on Markham Road to sell Christmas Trees every year to raise funds for the Scout troop. We’d go down and pick one out, Dad would strap it to the roof of his ’67 Valiant and we’d head back up the hill – one full block. It seemed like a ridiculously lazy thing to do when I look back on it until I realize that he could have made us drag it back up that massive hill. Instead we had to drag up four flights of stairs because the superintendent screamed blue murder if you took it on the elevator and dropped pine needles all over the hallway carpets. Instead, it dropped needles all over our carpet. My Mom was not pleased. She’d Hoover the floors twice a day until we tossed the sad, dried out relic over the balcony on January 2nd.

Xmas_Early70seChristmas morning always started with my Mom, Dad, sister and myself opening gifts at the crack of dawn. Sometimes my sister and I would wake up super-early and just sit in front of the the tree shaking boxes with one eye on the clock until it was safe to wake up our folks. We’d then be tortured by having to eat our breakfast before opening a single gift. I think it was my Dad’s revenge for waking him up so early on a rare day off. The presents were always amazing – not simply the store bought ones – but the ones my Dad would spend all year making by hand. Two specifically come to mind. One was a scale-sized doll house my Dad made for my sister which was suited for Fischer-Price block people. It wasn’t a Barbie Dream Home in that God-awful pink – it was replica suburban house. It had a retractable roof with hand-drawn shingles and bricks. The windows had Plexiglas, the floors in each room had a different variety of carpeting, paneling, and even real wallpaper. It was furnished a bit of retail plastic furniture but there were several pieces that he carved, by hand, out of balsa wood. I seem to recall it had a working doorbell and light fixture in the foyer. Oh, and the doors in and out had handles and metal hinges. He thought of every practical detail. The house served my sister and her girlfriends with years of fun. When my own daughter was born in the 1990s, he dug the damn thing out of storage and renovated it – passing it down to her on a subsequent Christmas! When she outgrew it, my son used it as a home-base for his Star Wars figures.

GIJoeThe other two home-made gifts which he made for me was a foot-locker to house my talking G.I.Joe (with Life-like Hair TM) and its various accessories – including a miniature locking mechanism – and a bed-room sized train table for my Lionel trains. If you’ve ever seen an old episode of ‘The Addams Family’, Gomez’s system was not that much different than what I had. Remember, we lived in a three bedroom apartment – the train table occupied half the room – my bed and dresser the other half. That train was passed down to my son and I, in turn, built a replica of the table for him which now occupies half of his bedroom in our World War II bungalow.

Xmas_BarkersThe remainder of Christmas Day involved visiting my Mother’s family – specifically her two sisters and their families and, of course, our last stop was with my Grandma Barker. In a very rare situation that few get to experience today, my Grandma B. also lived with my Great Grandma Smithson. If that wasn’t cool enough, those two matriarchs lived in the same apartment building off of Dawes Road and Danforth Avenue in Toronto as my Dad’s mother – Grandma Vernon. And if that wasn’t cool enough….they all lived on the same floor!

Grandma B. and Great Grandma stuffed us with short-breads and custard and chocolates and cookies. My mother would berate them with “now they’re bouncing off the walls from a sugar rush” and my Grannies would snicker and say “better you than us”. They also gave us freshly minted $10 bills (I suspected Ma Barker and Great Gran were printing the stuff in the utility room in the apartment as they always seemed to be loaded with dough) to spend on whatever my sister and I wanted. As it turned out we always seemed to want new clothes or some such un-fun thing when we went to the store with Mom & Dad later to spend our money.

The Christmas capper was running down the hall in the apartment building to go to Grandma Vernon’s place as she lived at the very end of the L shaped hallway. It was a dream come true – because we would get spoiled twice. It was every kid’s dream come true if you lived in Candyland!

My Dad’s mother always held court with her second husband Larry and together they had a small two bedroom apartment. They would decorate the place with blue and red dazzling aluminum wreaths and baubles and frilly bells and bows like some Dr. Seuss cartoon come to life. But, it wasn’t until the blinding chrome aluminum Christmas tree came out that we knew it was truly Christmas with The Vernons.

GrandmaV_XmasEarly70sThe most memorable was the Christmas of ’73 when the entire extended family was able to return to their homestead for the first time since the early 1960s. It was an extremely rare event to have Dad’s sister and her daughter fly in from California to complete a Vernon reunion that included six brothers/sisters, their respective spouses and no less than nine cousins in attendance.  Did I mention it was a two bedroom apartment?

The women helped Gran cook the meal. The men stood on the balcony and smoked/drank, attempted to assemble toys from the instructions Grandma_Judy_Darlene_late1960ssupplied and/or take the kiddie brood out to the park for ice-skating and tobogganing in Goodwood Park. I had an unfair advantage over all the kids in attendance as I had been, for many years, the only male child out of all the brothers and sisters. As such, my aunts and uncles spoiled the crap out of me. I’m sure my sister and my other cousins resented every minute of it, but I don’t regret getting a single one of those 200 Hot Wheels cars!

GrandmaVernon_Xmas1969Then the time would come for dinner to be served. The children sat at tables in the kitchen or in the living room using TV trays while the adults sat at a massive mahogany dining room table. It was adorned with candles and a crocheted table cloth handmade by Gran. The table required a centre leaf to expand it for accommodating the size of our clan.

In no time at all the ladies paraded from the kitchen with various dishes of potatoes, turnips, peas, corn, stuffing, Pillsbury dinner rolls and cranberry sauce. And the piece-du-resistance was always the 30 lb turkey carved fresh and escorted to the centre of the table by my Uncle John.

As we prepared to dig into the greatest family Christmas meal of all time, the weight of the turkey buckled the table in the centre and both ends began to flip upward like a buffet hall on the Titanic. With  precision military style, Uncle Joe stood up to catch the sliding turkey, my Dad dropped to the ground and was holding the table up from underneath while Larry pulled the table cloth from his Kingly position at one end and my Gran at the other. In rapid succession everyone saved as many dishes as possible. Only the candle sticks and condiments slid into the chasm that used to be the centre of the table until several hands reached under to help my father right the table once more.

GrandmaVernon_Xmas1966_608DawesAIt took team work to make the meal. And it took teamwork to eventually eat it. After a good laugh and a tryptophan overdose, we dimmed the lights and retired to the living room to catch the annual airing of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ where Vince Gauraldi ‘s soundtrack – including the musical highlight “Christmas Time Is Here” –  danced along to the blinking lights on Gran’s aluminum tree.

Eventually, we’d all excuse ourselves to take our leave. The ride home was an excursion through the East York and Scarborough decorated houses. No inflatable snowmen or Santas just raw lighting and tasteful holy and wreath adornment. Soon we were home and all snuggled in our beds dreaming of G.I. Joes and doll houses.

Jaimie_FamilyThose days, those traditions, seem to have evaporated with the era itself only to be replaced with a mad-dash of commercial angst. I want to slow it down. I want my family to grow until The Rock Goddess and I are holding court and entertaining the grand kiddies ourselves one day. We’ll spoil them with short bread and custard and chocolate cookies and they can spend the $10 on whatever they damn-well please.

I hope that everyone has a wonderful traditional holiday in whatever way your family celebrates it. Thanks for reading the blog this year and hope we can meet again on the other side of the holidays to ring in 2013. Until then I leave you with some of my favourite new Christmas tracks for those that want to add a new rockin’ Christmas tree soundtrack to their annual celebrations:

Laurie Biagini “Can’t Wait For Christmas” (audio)

The Mockers “(There’s No War On Christmas) When Christmas Is In Your Heart” (video)

Terry Draper “I Won’t Let This Christmas Go By” (video)

Carpet Frogs “Christmas All Over The World” (video)

Rich McCulley “Christmas Song” (video)

Randy Bachman & Beverley Mahood “Takin’ Care of Christmas” (video)

Lannie Flowers “Christmas Without You” (video)

The JAC “Stockholm Christmas” (audio)

El Cento “Too Much Snow” (audio)

Deadbeat Poets “Christmastime In Painesville” (video)

Attic Lights “Why Should Christmas Be So Hard” (video)

Michael Carpenter “Sunny Day For Xmas” (video)

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.
Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS_Button“Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 34 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia (www.bullseyecanada.com) and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at http://www.amazon.com

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