The holiday season has once again returned to our house. Gayle and I are planning two more book readings before the end of the year. She chose this coming Thursday, December 13th, which just happens to be St. Lucia Day, the start of Christmas celebrations in Sweden. Since her family heritage is mostly Swedish-American, she likes to do the day up big and invite friends in for some good Swedish Christmas baking. She’s been baking and decorating for over a week. We’ll be combining her Swedish Christmas atmosphere with two book readings for friends, acquaintances and the public at our home: one at 2 p.m. and another at 7:30 p.m. In contrast to her candle and ornament laden decorating and entertaining, Gayle has chosen and assigned me several readings that have to do with my unique and unusual memories of the holidays. My memoir, “From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada” which was published this year doesn’t contain the usual fond and nostalgic accounts of Christmases past or holidays celebrated up big and fancy in the midst of large family gatherings. (I leave that to my wife/editor for her writings on her childhood memories.) One probably notices from the title of my memoir, that an impoverished childhood and a Scottish upbringing puts a certain slant onto many of my reminiscences.
From Chapter One, “The Cold and Hungry Years,” – (My Non-Event Christmases of Childhood)
“Speaking of winter, that brings up Christmas. Ah, Christmas! That time of year was a “non-event” for us. The day would come and go–and I didn’t know a thing about it for years! Then I found out that there were kids who would get a toy cowboy outfit that had a cowboy hat, a belt with a holster for the shiny revolver and maybe spurs. The poorer folks would share the things among the family members. Using the above for an example, one would maybe get the hat, another, the gun-belt, another would get the gun and the spurs and then they had to take turns with them!
“I was about six or seven when I learned that there was a man dressed in a red suit who would come and give good children a present and I wondered why it was that I didn’t get anything as I didn’t do anything bad. Gradually I learned that the man in the red suit was only a story—a farce—a great big lie. Then I didn’t feel so bad. It’s no wonder that I still don’t have a great deal of love towards the occasion, or Santa Claus, for I know there are still lots of kids around today who get the very same as I got back then–nothing!
” Today, my heart goes out (not really!) to people reminiscing about Christmases long ago and proudly stating how they didn’t get very much compared to the kids of today, that they only got a little doll, or they only got a children’s bake oven or something simple like that¾or maybe that their parents could only afford a chicken for the Christmas dinner as a turkey would have cost too much. (I don’t think I knew what a chicken was at that age and if I did, I would probably have thought it was food for a king!) If I can remember right, my first Christmas present was an orange¾and that was from the Salvation Army Sunday school when I was eight or nine years of age! Yep, some people didn’t know they had it so good!”
From CHAPTER SIX, “Back to ‘Dear Old Blighty'” (This chapter told of my return to Britain after serving in the Royal Air Force in the Suez Canal Zone, 1951-3. I married my penpal Mary and we eventually had two daughters. This New Year’s Eve story tells of my youngest daughter’s birth and how her life was saved by a bottle of Scotch whisky.
“Two years later our second daughter, Shirley Christina Morrans, was born. She wasn’t due until February 1959 but decided that she couldn’t wait and so arrived at around five-o’clock in the morning of the 31st of December, 1958–seven weeks early. She was born at home, as this is what Mary and I decided (we could do that—our choice) after the carry-on we had at Motherwell Maternity Hospital during Audrey’s birth. At that time, technology wasn’t anywhere nearly as good as it is today, and apparently it was dangerous for a baby to be that premature.
“It was fortunate Shirley chose the 31st of December which is New Year’s Eve, called Hogmanay in Scotland. Hogmanay is about the most important holiday for us Scots. It was tradition for everyone to have a bottle of Scotch in the house at that time of year so as to be able to offer a ‘wee dram’ to any ‘first footers’ who may appear at the door to wish us a ‘Happy New Year.’ If it had been any other time of the year I wouldn’t have had any whisky in the house as I didn’t normally drink the stuff then!
“The midwife was sent for shortly after midnight. She arrived, checked things and left again, saying that she would be back in two hours. She returned exactly as she promised. The midwife then worked with Mary while I did all the hard work (again!) of walking the floor downstairs! When Shirley finally arrived, she was blue—and that was not good. The midwife asked me if I had any whisky in the house. I said “yes,” that I had a bottle. She ordered it and a basin, too. When I had brought her both, she laid the baby in the basin, opened the bottle of Scotch and poured all of it over the baby, massaged her with it. The midwife then told me I had to rush to the phone to call for an ambulance and oxygen immediately.
“It was a one-minute run to the nearest phone kiosk (call box). There I found a button that could be pushed in case of an emergency. A male voice answered and asked me what I wanted. I told him I needed an ambulance and oxygen immediately for a premature birth as the baby was struggling for life. This idiot told me to go and find a policeman to verify my story. Well, I think I called that bloke everything under the sun and told him that if my daughter died I would hold him personally responsible!
” The ambulance arrived at the house, took the baby away–not to Motherwell Maternity but to Bellshill Hospital, where she was put into an incubator. Mary was fine, as the afterbirth came away just before the ambulance arrived. Shirley came home after two weeks in the hospital and remained in excellent health.
“(For many years I kidded Shirley about owing me a bottle of Scotch.) One day–maybe around 1995–she and her family were spending a vacation with us when Shirley came to me with a bottle of Ballantyne’s. I asked her what that was for. She gave me a nice wee kiss and laughingly told me, “This is the bottle of Scotch I owe you, Dad.”
“Well, I gladly accepted it, not only because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings but also because I had learned to appreciate a good whisky by then!”
Copyright © 2012 Ian Moore-Morrans