No TV, few cars, but we still made merry!

In the week before Christmas, while my mother was developing her four- or five-layered cake just to have plenty to give away and still welcome callers for tea, my dad would be busy in the backyard creating a skating rink and a tall slide for our sleds—plenty icy from his garden hose and ready for neighbourhood kids to help me enjoy the holidays.
The fact that I was their only child did not diminish their ideas about showing everyone who came around a good time.
Also, the parties of adults were encouraged in our small rented home with plenty of homemade wine and beer because, for most, that also was an important part of Christmas celebrating!
This was during the ’30s, when nobody knew about holidays in Florida while keeping in touch with relatives across the Atlantic was something many of our people must have yearned for.
But our pre-war expectations were seldom on the expensive side and, in fact, most had very little excess income. Rather, everyone knew how “to cut the corners” and hold onto their money.
We always managed to keep a pet dog or cat, or both, that regularly timed arrival of offspring to coincide as useful gifts!
And while my mother was great to produce socks or sweaters with her knitting needles, our neighbourhood would be famed even today for having these gifts ready to be passed around!
With the hard winters we knew then, nobody sneered at homemade clothing, for sure!
New skates and skis might appear among children of wealthier families but as gifts these could be an exception.
Getting back to the drinking that seemed to survive the Depression years, my dad was popular for his dandelion wine. But homemade liquor, or “moonshine,” was not well known in this town, although someone is said to have gone blind by imbibing “the wrong stuff.”
Meanwhile, my mother’s canning, mostly of wild berries, and dill pickles and sauerkraut, kept coming up from our small cellar and others may have marvelled at the generosity of my folks because they gave so much away.
This had not cost much except work—not to mention many miles of walking after wild berries all summer long!
Back then there was no heating bill regardless of how cold the winters because almost everyone kept an adequate woodpile at the end of the backyard next to the sawhorse and chopping block, where the old bucksaw or “Swede saw” and axe were kept handy.
So, we boys were often too busy carrying in firewood to spend much time after school on skating, even though a night light hung above our rink.
My dad became widely known for manufacturing wooden items such as small tables and flower stands, as well as canes of diamond willows which he carried home from his cranberry and blueberry patches around Blue Mountain (today’s landfill site, only farther out).
He also made castanets which he alone played.
Dad discovered that raffle tickets on such homemade items sold very well indeed, if cheaply. Many of our friends and neighbours coveted his 25-cent tickets and handicrafts were always acceptable gifts.
So, one way or another, sufficient dollars came along to stave off complete poverty although my dad’s employment cheques were few and far between for a long time! Unemployment cheques were still unknown.
Yet, it’s true that “misery loves company” and many of his friends also got along at the height of the Depression years, and especially around Christmas, with little resembling money.
But it’s also true that keeping yourself busy despite financial circumstances was fully half the battle. And Christmastime could be very busy indeed! Even without many cars, or TV!
And for rich or poor, the old Canadian legend continues to live on! Just go ahead and make the most of whatever fate serves up at this time of year!
The main point here being, “Have a Merry Christmas!”
• • •
Little Nick Andrusco has been sick, and there’s news for you because at 86 this doesn’t happen to Nick very often! Although wife, Mary, herself ailing lately, reports Nick is coming along, his roaring laugh is missed in his coffee circle mornings at McDonald’s.
His laugh has replaced the great singing he used to give everyone, and generally Nick is so unstoppable, he even rides his two-wheel bicycle through snowbanks while carrying a passenger.
In fact, Nick has been doing so much for so long, his continued absence would be unthinkable!
• • •
I keep encountering folks I’ve never met before, such as the new Crozier resident by the name of Caleb Giesbrecht from Switzerland and a Charlie Wendigo from Red Gut Bay, all good company.
And then there’s the memory of building the Kenora highway in the
Depression years which will never leave some men here. The memory brings up the pay scale, which seems to have been only $5 per month (eventually changed to 25 cents an hour).
Something to talk about there, all right!
• • •
I’m always glad for a phone call from Mildred Brockie, who corrected me on my regular mistake of the week after I had Alma Alderson, my high school music teacher, marry George Henry when it ws really Bert Henry, the garageman!
I promised readers to include one mistake weekly in my column and find it easy to keep my promise!
• • •
The name of Kerr came up here so frequently for so many years, it’s safe to assume this was among our better-known families.
I knew Barney Kerr’s children from having an aunt work for him and there also was Charlie Kerr’s family, including Violet Dittaro, who reported her youngest brother, Don, is not getting around much this Christmas because of feet problems.
Telling about the rest of the Kerrs we knew certainly would take a while. But among the first generation was Pat Kerr, a pension official who had no children.
• • •
You wonder about families at this time of year and I learned from one country couple of elders that they now can count 35 living descendants this Christmas.
But then, as I understood their story, both had been married twice and were now including even great-grandchildren.
Nope, I don’t want to hand out that many gifts!
In fact, if I remember everyone I should in my own family, I should think about at least 10 Christmas presents! That’s not that many in only two generations.
• • •
I just hope everyone is as happy in their present circumstance as Mr. and Mrs. Bill Sieders, who now reside in Emo where they appreciate having three doctors in proximity as well as home being again on the river as in La Vallee.
And, oh yes, there’s that big new Cloverlead store created by the Loneys.
The Sieders formerly were prominent in beef cattle farming.

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