Christmas in Revelstoke

by Gordon Elliot from Vancouver, BC

In 1937, we moved to Revelstoke, B.C. from Williams Lake. In Williams Lake my father had been the butcher and we always had plenty of meat, and the vegetables to go with it. The depression had walloped us less drastically than it had our farming relatives near Armstrong, and for that reason my parents had always shared with those families, especially to my Uncle Dick and Aunt Bea who at one time lived on a bone-dry farm with their three daughters and one son.

In 1937 my father sold the land and business for five thousand dollars and moved us to Revelstoke where he and my mother began building a motel. Neither he nor my mother really knew what they were getting into. They didn’t know how much the building was going to cost and neither knew that the new road they were depending on– the final link in the Trans Canada Highway – wouldn’t be bringing any tourists for three long years. 

Because building the motel had used up far more than the $5000, because the anticipated highway had not yet brought rewards, and because of the unexpected high cost of living —it had come to pass that in less than two years we found ourselves in serious financial trouble. By the Christmas of 1938 – the most traditional of holidays, this season of feasting – we had nothing at all to eat. Forget the giving of presents.

My parents didn’t know what to do. For that one single time in her life my mother, could not cope with the problem: she went to bed. My father went for a walk in the snow, he too refusing to face the facts. Eighteen years old, I didn’t know what to do, which of them to comfort, how to comfort either of them therefore I sat in the small living room near the stove and pretend to read.

At about 5 o’clock a bright and moving light shone across the snow outside. I leapt from my chair and ran to the door and spotted a passenger bus. I went outside to see if the driver was lost. He stepped down into the snow, and told me he had some boxes to unload. And he did. Boxes and boxes and boxes, maybe more now in my memory than in reality. But boxes and boxes anyway. The noise roused my mother who came out from the bedroom; the strange lights across the snow attracted my father home through the dark. 

We stood there in the snow in a kind of fretful wonder, the light from the window shining on the boxes. We carried them in and we opened them. Had they been filled with frankincense and myrrh or even gold we could not have been more ecstatic and yet more silent. Inside was a huge turkey; and there were chickens all ready for the oven; with stuffing for all of them; there was a loin of pork; a slab of home cured bacon; a chunk of ham; some spare ribs; there were turnips and parsnips and carrots all still with a root house smell; there were onions and potatoes; there were jars of pickles and jars of chokecherry jelly and jars of preserved saskatoons; there were apples; and there was a fruit cake and there were gingerbread cookies; and there was butter fresh from the churn. And there was a piece of paper torn out of a school scribbler and on it a note signed by Uncle Dick and Aunt Bea which simply said, “Merry Christmas. We don’t need as much as we have.”

My mother stood there a moment and then began to weep. My father strode back out into the snow, taking his handkerchief out of his hip pocket as he went. I had never before seen either of them cry and, embarrassed, had no idea of what to do about it or say about it. My mother broke the spell: “Run over to the neighbours and ask them to come for dinner tomorrow. And tell them that they needn’t bring a thing.”

That Christmas of 1938 is for me, unforgettable. It underlined what Christmas is supposedly all about: sharing, giving, accepting, enjoying, remembering, thanking; loving. My parents are gone, as is my Uncle Dick, but my Aunt Bea is still on the go. At her 100th birthday in April, I quietly asked her how she knew the straits we had been in that Christmas long-ago. Being a wise and with-it old lady she merely smiled and said, “Well you know, we had no telephone back then so it must have been ESP.”

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