John and I met during a course we were both taking at Lakehead University and we became good friends over the next 11 years. Eventually John decided to leave Thunder Bay to move closer to his roots in Southern Ontario and we now seldom talk. But the comradery we shared over those years kindled a friendship that I know will last a lifetime. John was keenly interested in botany, especially flowering plants. These were followed closely by birds. John was an avid bird watcher. Next was the natural world in general. I can’t say I shared his enthusiasm for any of these, but it was the naturalist in John that would get us both into an interesting and afterwards a somewhat amusing situation.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse …”
I’m sure everyone can recite this story at least in part and no doubt reciting even just the first verse of this classic brings a smile to everyone’s face. To me and I am certain many others, this story, above any other, brings back warm childhood memories of the magic of Christmas. My Dad recounted many times having read “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” every night as my bedtime story of choice from Hallow’een till Easter when I was small. Although I didn’t know what sugar plums were and never thought to ask, they sure sounded delicious. And even though I didn’t know what an elf was or had never seen a mouse in our house it really didn’t matter because that timeless rhyme would cast its spell every night. I guess that’s why I can still recall it almost in its entirety even though I haven’t read it for many years.
Thinking back to when I was eight years old or so, one of the people who would influence my life from then until my late teens was a man named Pat Donohue. He was a lanky, six foot two gentleman who, to my sister and I, stood as tall as a tree. Pat immigrated to then Port Arthur, Ontario in the early 1960’s with his friend Paddy Doyle from their native Ireland. When I first met them, Paddy managed the Safeway store on Court St., and Pat as well, who managed the dairy department there.
I have received some very nice Christmas presents over the years. But the presents I remember most fondly are from my childhood and one in particular stands out as I recount the years. It was 1969, I was ten, and the excitement of ripping the wrapping paper off a gift pulled out from under the tree was still very much a part of Christmas.
July of that year had seen Apollo 11 roar from the launch pad and the dramatic first lunar landing. I had avidly followed the all the Apollo missions with wonder and awe dreaming maybe one day I too could blast off into space, a dream I still have today. Like my friends I was at the age where gluing plastic models together was my hobby of choice. Model airplanes, helicopters, ships and cars all vied for space atop my bedroom dresser. But that Christmas there was only one thing on my list and that was a model of a Saturn 5 rocket identical to the one that had blasted off from Cape Canaveral that summer. It stood nearly four feet tall, almost as tall as I was at the time. The third stage had a window so you could see the lunar lander inside just as it would have been in the real rocket and you could take it out and extend its movable legs so it could sit on your desk just like it did on the moon – cool! It was the ultimate, and that far above anything else was what I wanted for Christmas.