JAIMIE VERNON – ROCKIN’ AROUND THE (ALUMINUM) CHRISTMAS TREE

jaimie_xmas0001 Here we are once again, dear reader, when the tinsel is hung like your panties with care in hopes that your knickers while end up down there. No, wait…that’s not right. But it is Christmas time and I intend on taking full advantage of the fact that for the first time in four years I have a Christmas vacation. This year we’ve been blessed with warm weather. That’s certainly a bummer for many but I’ve never considered snow the defining aspect of Christmas. Snow or not, I still view it as a magical time of year.

xmas_1977cI think back on my family’s Christmas traditions when I was growing up and it was a lot different. It was an exciting, exhilarating, exhausting 24 hours of frivolity, food and fun – or longer if you count all the shopping and prep time in advance of the big holiday. Despite living in an apartment building, my Dad insisted on having a real Christmas tree. We lived in the Cedarbrae neighbourhood of Scarborough, Ontario, and the community arm of the Boy Scouts would 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 it 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.

Christmas morning always started with my Mom, Dad, my 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 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 home (which we didn’t have as we grew up in an apartment building). 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 with authentic looking 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.
Vernon_Xmas2001_b 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; the other two home-made gifts that my Dad made for me was a foot-locker to house my talking G.I.Joe (with Life-like Hair ͭ ͫ and its various accessories – including a miniature locking mechanism – and a bedroom-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 my bedroom – 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 post-World War II bungalow.

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The 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!

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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!

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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.

The 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, Jean, and her daughter, Darlene, 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?

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The women helped Gran cook the meal. The men stood on the balcony and smoked/drank, attempted to assemble toys from the instructions supplied 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 my Dad’s 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!

Then 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 tablecloth handmade by my Grandma Vernon. The table required a centre leaf to expand it to accommodate 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.

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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 the 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 middle of the table until several hands reached under to help my father right the table once more. It took teamwork 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 gijoeroom 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 brightly decorated houses in East York and back home to Scarborough. There were no inflatable snowmen or Santas, just raw lighting and tasteful holly and wreath adornment. Soon we were home and all snuggled in our beds dreaming of G.I. Joes and doll houses.

jaimie_family Those 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 $20 (inflationary pricing) 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 2016. Until then I leave you with a link to my Bullseye Records digital Christmas compilation ‘Get Yer Fa La La’s Out’. https://bullseyecanada.bandcamp.com/album/get-yer-fa-la-las-out-a-bullseye-christmas-vol-iii

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “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 33 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 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 Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon

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