I decided to write this column before I read Harley Hay’s new book, A Christmas in Parkvale. Harley has written another fictional account of his childhood in a fictional place that seems very much like Red Deer, largely because it is Red Deer for those of us who also remember Harley’s childhood vision of this city.
The beauty of Harley’s trip down memory lane is most of us who grew up here also know the way when it comes to the Christmas season from our kid years here in Red Deer. I did not know Harley in the early 1960s, but I did know life as a young kid here in Red Deer during the Christmas season.
There are two parts to the Christmas equation for every kid: pre and post-Santa. Christmas will never get better for any of us than the pre-Santa Christmas segment of our childhoods, the part where we absolutely believed that a fat guy in a loud red suit was able to coax an around-the-world milk run out of six game animals and deliver presents to every kid on the planet in one night.
Sure there were some obvious problems with the logistics behind Santa Claus. I actually went outside our house on Christmas Day to check for hoof prints on the lawn and roof when I was about six or seven years old and was curious about why I found none. I also wondered how Santa could get through the small opening at the bottom of our only chimney attached to the central heating system in our house because we had no actual fireplace to provide easy access for the guy with the presents.
But no kid will ever look a gift horse, or reindeer, in the mouth and I accepted the gifts without question until eventually I was given the rest of the Santa story, the one where childhood dreams get crushed by the reality of a closet full of toys in my parents’ room. This unwanted revelation was provided by my older brother Pat and I still doubted his story until the same toys showed up on Christmas morning with my name on them.
These are the moments of germination for the seeds of cynicism in most of us and I was not an exception to this rule. I realized the Simpsons-Sears Christmas catalogue played a bigger role than I initially thought in the grand scheme of Christmas presents after Pat unveiled that giant cardboard box full of childhood happiness for me as a kid. Prior to that, I thought the catalogue was simply a great way to check out the Santa toy collection.
Initially I had accepted the Simpsons-Sears Christmas catalogue as simply a part of Santa’s game plan but I had learned otherwise in my young life. The Christmas catalogue came in the mail around mid-fall and it was completely wornout by mid-December, weeks after my parents sent the gift order list to Regina to be filled by the unionized elves in the giant Simpsons-Sears warehouse.
The only other paper periodical to get this much attention from me was the first Playboy I found in my older brother’s bedroom, long after I had gotten over the grim news about Santa. A few other mysteries were also cleared up with the Playboy magazine, but I was actually eager to learn more about that topic as an older kid on the threshold of puberty.
However, when all is said and done, I would still exchange the anticipation and excitement found in a Simpsons-Sears Christmas catalogue from my childhood days when I believed Santa was more real than the air-brushed centerfolds I later found in my brother’s Playboys. That time in my life was the true magic of Christmas that I miss the most.
Jim Sutherland is a Red Deer freelance writer.