Sunday, December 25, 2011

Dad's Christmas Gift

As a child, I was always intrigued by my father's declaration that he needed no gift.  He always enjoyed getting them but, whenever he was asked what he wanted, he would say "I don't need anything."

In 2003, on Christmas Day, he and I were sitting alone at the table after the meal and Dad talked about another Christmas 60 years earlier in Ortona, Italy, which was spent "lying face down in the mud while Jerry pounded us with artillery".

That Christmas, I got a better understanding of why Dad was always content with, as he put it, "our health, a roof over our heads, and food on the table".

Anyone wishing to find out about the battle of Ortona can simply google it.  The following is an exerpt from my father's book (unpublished as yet):
" Christmas Day in Ortona, we didn’t go out on the town to celebrate.  We took a pounding all day from enemy artillery. (New Year’s Day we pounded them all day).  All we could do was keep our faces down in the mud.

(Major) Alex Campbell was killed that day leading a charge on a machine gun nest.  “Come on A Company!” were his last words.

His father was killed in action on Christmas Day in World War 1."

Dad returned home to the farm after five years in the infantry, married his sweetheart and raised a family.  He got immense pleasure from the simplest things; a cold drink of water on a hot day, a bluebird in a tree or a conversation with a friend.

1983: Christmas with one of what would be six grandchildren

2005:  60th Wedding Anniversary with first great grandchild

This Christmas, my wish for you is time; time to savor the little things that mean the most.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A New Family Tradition

In 2009, our third grandchild, Ashley, was born.  She was the first for our second daughter, Megan, and her husband, Gary.

They live on a dairy farm not far from our place and Gary's parents are the next house down.  To commemorate Ashley's birth, John (grampa) and I (Poppa) planted a row of soft maples along the road in front of the farm.  A picture was taken to record the historic event.

To everyone's delight, a year later, Emily arrived and so John and I got the shovels out again and planted hard maples.  Fortunately, the first trees were spaced far enough apart that there was plenty of room for the second planting.  Another photo was needed, now with our two little girls.

Thanks to three good summers (and John watering as needed), all the trees have survived so far.  They're not growing as fast as the girls right now but, we hope to be able to repeat this photographic tradition for many years and eventually be standing in the shade together.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Traditions

This time of year, I think back to Christmases past, when my Dad would take an axe and a toboggan and the children to go look for a tree.  There must have been trees to buy in town, but we would never have done that.  It made no sense to spend good money on a boughten tree when all we had to do was go out and get our own.  Usually this meant walking through a neighbour's woods (with permission) as we didn't have many conifers on our farm.  Later on, thanks to Dad's love of planting trees, we would have pines and spruce growing in every corner that wasn't suitable for tilling or grazing.

Dad would let us choose the tree, so long as it met his conditions.  It couldn't be too big (topping a larger tree would be wasteful) and it should have another tree close by that needed the room to grow.  After much walking and debate, the choice would be made and we would come home to show Mom our trophy.

As we grew up, we children came to realize that, more Christmases than not, our tree would be what would now be called "a Charlie Brown tree."  Rarely would our tree not have major gaps in the foliage and the challenge would be to set the tree up with its best side out.  Often we realized there was no best side.  Since Dad was the adult on these excursions, he would ultimately bear the responsibility and the response would usually by "you'll never notice it once the decorations are on".

In 1973 Lois and I married and moved to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.  While we did usually buy our Christmas tree, occassionally we would venture out to cut our own.  The poor spindly specimens we brought back would have made some of the trees from my childhood look almost good.

Our first Christmas in Yellowknife, we asked our families back home to send us something homemade for our tree.  The resultant decorations were a wonderful gift that made us feel much closer than the thousands of miles that separated us.

In 1985, when we returned to Ontario, I tried to carry on the family tradition of cutting our own tree.  My children would also say I was continuing the tradition of the Charlie Brown tree.  They would say it every Christmas and say it often.  Like my father, I always took it in the loving way it was intended.

Now, on our property, we have spruce trees planted over the years and, each December, I try to find one that fits the criteria set by my father so many years ago.  This year, I found two spruce growing in the open but too close together for both to prosper, so one is now in our parlour waiting for the family to critque it.  This one is actually pretty good (but it won't be Christmas if they don't find something wrong with it!).

As with all families, digging out the decorations trigger a flood of memories.  When I was a child a few faded balls were specifically kept from my grasp as they were the last of my Gramma's decorations.  Now, I realize that we are the "Poppa and Nanny" and some of these items will eventually find a new home with a new generation.

A variety of decorations adorn our tree, many you will never find in a store.  Treasured are eggs splattered with candle drippings, homemade birdhouses and for me, the crude baler twine angel my Dad sent to Yellowknife for our first Christmas. He said he couldn't think of anything fancy but it will always be my favourite.

Merry Christmas from Shagbark Farm.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fall 2011

After a very hectic October and November, I finally have time to jot down a few lines.  Today marks my last day of employment before venturing out into the world of retirement so, in theory, I will have a lot more spare time to do this (yeah, right!).

In August, I attended the Glengarry Wood Fair in eastern Ontario, the first time for me.  The good things I'd heard about it were confirmed as there were a large number of vendors, the crowd was enthusiastic and everyone was interested in all things wood.

One customer bought a small bowl for a friend in Ireland.  She planned to deliver it in person via the Mediteranean so, it will be well travelled before finally reaching its new owner.

November is always a busy month with two sales, the Presquille Park Christmas Show and the Trenton Woodlot Conference.  Cheese boards and knives were popular this year including my first "email sales".

Just in time I built some shelving to display my bowls, because more folks are coming to the house to pick out one-of-a-kind gifts for anniversaries and Christmas.  It's so much more convienent than lugging the large bowls around to the shows.

This fall, I went back to the woods to select firewood trees, only to discover about forty had blown down.  Even with the help of the four wheel drive Kubota and several friends, it took weeks to clean up.  We concentrated on the maple and hickory leaving the oak for next year.  Some of the trees produced sawlogs, but most were firewood; we now have enough to heat the house for several winters!  The oak will produce timber that I plan to use in a small timber frame building in 2013.

Obviously, retirement is not going to involve much lounging around!