A memorable holiday season

It will soon be 49 straight years of these weekly columns, minus very occasional holidays, such as every seven years when the lead paper, The Advocate, is not publishing on Christmas and New Year’s Days. We used to travel a lot in the festive season: to Herself’s parents west of Pincher Creek, and mine at Brooks, often also alternating Christmas and New Year’s at one place, then the other. Many of those trips are now family legends.

It will soon be 49 straight years of these weekly columns, minus very occasional holidays, such as every seven years when the lead paper, The Advocate, is not publishing on Christmas and New Year’s Days.

We used to travel a lot in the festive season: to Herself’s parents west of Pincher Creek, and mine at Brooks, often also alternating Christmas and New Year’s at one place, then the other. Many of those trips are now family legends.

The absolute classic was when the clutch on my beloved Landcruiser went out on Boxing Day just as we turned north onto Hwy 2 off Hwy 3 to head home. We were towed to Claresholm and Herself, me, two kids, two dogs and one case of chicken pox hove up at the Blue Bird Motel in a town that was all but shuttered for the holidays.

Thanks to the great kindness of the Bluebird folks, we all, including repaired Landcruiser, celebrated New Year’s Eve in Red Deer.

As usual in recent years, my Christmas shopping has all been online to places with superb service: L.L. Bean, Hammacher Schlemmer, and Lee Valley Tools being among the best. Bean almost failed me for the first time in more than half a century when they informed me they could not ship the geezer shoe of choice, the New Balance 577 Walking Shoe with Hook and Loop (Velcro) closure, outside the U.S.

Meanwhile, son John ordered me a pair from a dodgy-sounding site. A package duly arrived from China with shoes that might have been New Balances, but not 577 Walking Shoes, not the right colour, and with ordinary laces.

This international operation was necessary because not one of the Red Deer stores that claim to carry New Balance had the slightest interest in ordering in a pair of 577s for me. Anyway, the snowbird friend Bean had shipped my shoes to in Arizona had just left after delivering them to me in Red Deer, when the next book-buying visitor slipped off a pair of new 577s identical to mine, which he says he got from Henry’s, a shoe store in Trochu!

A holidays resolution was to get the word out on the too-little-known Disability Tax Credit that can save people with mobility and other health problems big bucks in taxes to help pay for walkers, stair lifts, etc., maybe even New Balance 577s. Check the rules and forms on the Revenue Canada website, then get your doctor and accountant on it.

It was a vintage annual oyster-caviar season in this house. Fisherman’s Pride in Red Deer supplied Malpeque (P.E.I.) oysters frozen on the half shell, the Co-op had live Colville Bays (New Brunswick) and old buddy Mac Johnston came by with his usual gift of two dozen live Malpeques in the shell.

Never having had a lesson in his life, son-in-law Chris Hooper shucked the live Malpeques so quickly he should consider big city competitions. I had oysters raw on the half shell twice, stewed once, and Herself and I dined on them fried and scalloped. Farmed oysters are a sustainable fish success story; they even clean the water that sustains them.

International House of Caviar in Burnaby took only a day to deliver my annual caviar fix, perfectly iced, to our house in Red Deer. Sustainability strides are being made in caviar from farmed sturgeon that even seem to bring the price down.

Thus, this year I was able to feast twice on a full 50 grams of only somewhat ruinously expensive German Siberian Sturgeon Caviar; at a quarter the price, it reminds me sufficiently of my beloved Beluga caviar of my youth.

Resolution: I’ll never touch Beluga again until conservation initiatives bring the supply up and the price down, or until someone else is treating.

IHOC also shipped me two jars of the inexpensive Danish rainbow trout caviar, always a treat, and a jar to try of Icelandic orange Capelin roe, which is the crunchy, tasty flying fish roe garnishing many of the rolls in sushi joints.

Lots of visitors came by, many buying books, and all with great stories to tell. It was our turn to host the whole family, including four grandchildren from five to 10.

We wouldn’t have it any other way, but very early Christmas morning reminded me that I may be a tad too old to be a young grandfather.

The cards, letters, photos, calls and emails, especially from readers, were another holiday treat, especially from the growing number of females who hunt and fish.

I rarely get reports from the new owners of my prized firearm collection I sold five years or so ago. But Jim Wiseman, who bought my favourite rifle, a semi-custom Mannilicher-stocked seven-by-57 Husquvarna, sent me a gem, a trophy: a picture taken precisely where I hunted years ago, of his niece, Julie, with her first deer, a mule deer doe, and holding my old “Husky,” the rifle with which she made a perfect shot.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

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