A collection of true Christmas stories by Gary Collins, Newfoundland and Labrador’s favourite storyteller! Gary Collins invites us to live again the gone forever. These stories embody the soul of Christmas in outport Newfoundland, and each one carries a message that rings true every time: all roads lead to home. Christmas, with all its lights and music and gift giving, is also a time to remember days long ago. Community togetherness and the strength of family come alive in these pages, where Gary Collins, in his inimitable style, reminds us of the poverty of possession and the wealth of sharing. Stories include . . . The Christmas Rescue Mummer in the Barrel The Christmas Salmon Flowers for a Queen Concerts and Times . . . and many more!
I stood there looking out our living room window at the darkening mid-December sky. The lights of Christmas were coming on around the bay. An expensive stereo system behind me crooned familiar Christmas tunes. Outside the window, traffic hissed along the paved street. The supermarket across the way glittered with coloured lights and blared out Christmas music to draw patrons inside. My daughter joined me at the window.
“Nice out, isn’t it? All Christmassy and lovely.”
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s very nice.”
“Time to get your tree up, ya know,” she said, as she does every year. Though she had a family and home of her own, she always looked for the tree in the home where she had grown. But then, my daughter knew that her mother and I still decorated a real Christmas tree and usually waited until just a couple of days before Christmas Eve before bringing it into the house. Our other decorations, inside and out, were complete with lights in the lawn trees and around both doors. The eaves of the house were framed with twinkling colours. Only the large living room window remained bare, awaiting the sweet-smelling fir tree that would soon be displayed there. It would draw the eye and outshine all the other decorations.
My daughter soon left my side. After a while, I was turning away from the window when there came a knock at the door, and a high-pitched voice with indrawn breath asked, ”Any mummers ’lowed in?” Quickly, I looked out the window again, fully expecting a troupe of mummers at my door. I was so filled with a sudden wave of nostalgia that it took a second or two for me to realize the sound was coming, not from outside my door, but from my stereo. The music started, and the duo called Simani sang the history of a mummers Christmas in the outport Newfoundland of my youth. The song ended with the line, “Good night and good Christmas mummers me dear, please God we will see you next year.”
In a trance, I gulped the emotion down before my eyes betrayed my feelings. The songwriter had captured and brought it so vividly to life, I nearly cried over the God-given memory of a time that was.
I watched him come down the hill with the fir tree bouncing on his broad shoulders on the eve of Christmas. My warm breath removed frost from the window in the front door and melted a hole through which I could peer out. My father was now coming out the lane and I could see the tree bobbing up and down a time that was above the naked alders above the fences. I ran from the door window to the one facing the lane in the frigid living room, but the layer of frost upon it was too thick to clear quickly, so I ran back to the one with the better view. Now my dad was coming through the garden, walking through the gate, which had been long since held wide open with snow. Now he was crossing our garden of snow. Our yard never seemed so long.
Then he stopped and shrugged the load from his back. My mother’s smooth face warmed my cheeks as she pressed next to me against the window to inspect our prize. My father held the tree up proudly with his left hand. He stepped an arm’s length away, his ruddy face beaming with delight at the treasure he had brought out of the forest.
“Turn it around,” cried Mother through the frozen pane. Father turned the tree as requested. Mother stepped back from the window and rubbed her hands with glee. “’Tis perfect, b’y! ’Tis perfect!” she exclaimed. Father’s face beamed all the more. His tree had passed inspection. My mom and I hurried to the door and, oblivious to the cold, threw it wide open.
“Bring the tree in. Hurry up, hurry up!”
My father squeezed the precious tree through the door, its branches sending the smell of myrrh throughout the house. The “inside room” door was opened and he bore the tree inside, stamping the snow off his boots as he went. For once my mother didn’t notice. Soon the tree was fastened to its proper place in the bay window. Lengths of twine leading from nails driven in opposite corners of the alcove and tied to the treetop kept it secure. To hide the twine, cards kept from years past were draped over it, tent-like. My mother never threw away a card. At Christmas my father was like a young boy, always full of excitement and mystery. He and I were allowed to place the store-bought bulbs and dangling icicles as well as homemade woollen crafts anywhere we liked on the tree—at least until my mother laughingly adjusted most of them to her liking. My mother was not a very excitable woman, but her face glowed as she hurried back and forth from the kitchen to the parlour and made sure my father and I had placed the precious bulbs on just the right branches. She couldn’t stay long, for the wood stove oven was filled with partridgeberry tarts, and on this day above all others she would not allow them to burn one bit. The evening set in. The room was dark when the door was closed, but when the hall door opened and allowed the Aladdin lamplight from the kitchen to fall softly upon it, the tree glowed and sparkled like our moonlit bay.
The scene from that long ago Christmas Eve is such a simple and carefree one, I sometimes wonder if we are any better for the passage of time.
Collins’s gift is that of capturing real people and real lives.-- Northeast Avalon Times --
A book to re-read every Christmas.-- The Guardian --
Readers disheartened by the panic shopping and often forced conviviality of the holiday season will rejoice in the sagas of family, community, triumph and travail that native Newfoundland writer Gary Collins delivers in A Time That Was.-- Chronicle Herald --