One Perfect Christmas
by Ellen (Doyle) MacDonald
There are moments in time that are forever immortalized in our memories. Often, these include events that jar us out of our daily routines, tug at our emotions and force us to take notice. Perhaps we are ambushed and thrust into change brought about by circumstance. Or something so gloriously joyous or devastatingly horrible decides to visit us without warning, cruelly doling out happiness to some and sadness to others.
There are memories we cherish and those we ignore into extinction. Very few happy memories are given the celebration they deserve, coming to mind only by chance instead of enjoying a special reservation in our yearly calendars. However, on occasion, either by accident or by some perfect mix of tangible experience and heightened perception, there are moments planted steadfast into our hearts that truly last forever.
Such was the perfect storm of Christmas magic the second last week of December, 1977. With “Dancing Queen” and “Da Doo Run Run” adding an extra bit of glee under our skates, my cousin, Susan and I glided around the Sinclair Rink with broad smiles born of freedom and anticipation. Christmas vacation was upon us and, like most first Graders, we jumped into the fun head first! I can still recall her giggle as I failed to complete another attempt at an Olympic worthy spin, landing consistently on my backside and joining in the laughter.
After our toes were tingly and our cheeks rosy, we left the ice, the chill in the air making our eyes sparkle all the brighter in contrast.
“Hurry up, slowpoke,” Susan tittered as I made one last spin.
We were a genuine kind of happy that day. Later in life, we would look back on that time and think that we took it for granted. However, the smell and sounds of the rink return. The comforting feeling of family and friends wash over us and we know that we made that week count. Unaware that we would savour its embrace for years to come, we headed home, content that soon, Santa Claus would be leaving a special surprise for us that evening.
I remember trying hard to get to sleep that night, my mind racing with thoughts of how I’d spend the next day. Family and friends would drop by and the house would be filled with banter and kindness.
Just before drifting off to sleep, I heard the shuffling of footsteps above. I squeezed my eyes tighter, certain that it was Santa’s reindeer and I should be asleep. Then, magically, it was morning. I jumped out of bed and raced to the living room. My eyes drank in the wonder of the brightly wrapped gifts and brilliantly coloured toys beneath the tree.
Then my eyes lit on what I’d hoped would be there. A little white school house complete with a ringing bell and miniature characters smiled back at me. I lunged at the toy, examining every corner with unbridled enthusiasm. There were magnetic letters, chalk, desks, chairs, playground equipment, a dog and students with bright faces.
Then, there was the teacher. She was dressed all in blue with her blond hair in a whimsical bun. She was smiling. Smiling so big that her mascara thick eyes were squinted in a cheery grin. I cannot say for certain that this moment with this special gift influenced my future decision to become a teacher. However, I can say that from a very young age, I learned that the teacher was a smiling, happy, cheerful leader of that school house, smiling even as one student frowned out the window of her classroom. She was sincerely happy to be there.
Today, I have learned to teach the importance of taking pride in your accomplishments and gratefully sharing joy with others. Like that teacher in the little white school house. Gazing in the window, anyone could see that she truly felt at home in her classroom.
When I think upon that Christmas morning, I can smell the scent of the pine branches warmed by huge bright bulbs of light. I can hear the happy chatter of my little brother nearby and feel the comfort of my mother’s presence in the kitchen. Clearly, I can see that some Christmas memories are made to last, be celebrated and shared, over and over again.
Ellen (Doyle) MacDonald is a graduate of Saint Francis Xavier University with a B.A. Honours Degree in English, French Second Language and a B.Ed. Ellen teaches Post Intensive French and Civics at Nelson Rural School where she instructs the Glee Club and coaches soccer. She is the volunteer instructor of the Irish dance troupe, the Nelson Doyle Dancers. Her son, Pàdruig is also a member of the troupe and travelled to Ireland with the group this past summer.