Christmas past

It cannot be denied the power of memory to summon the past and, through the medium of the mind's eye, force the present and real to the periphery while all of the sensual invocations of the memory become the current experience.

So it was that Cyril Johnston, standing on a busy street corner crowded with frantic Christmas eve shoppers was transported from the reality of his own experience and down halls of memory hung with the framed portraits of other cities and other places to a comfortable suburb of Vancouver and the spacious bungalow nestled on the edge of a tree lined culvert; his childhood home.

For Cyril, that memory was to him all the security that he had or had ever wanted but, as the vision expanded before him and he was whisked away into the substance of it, he wondered how it had been raised, dusted off and held up before him by a capricious mind after so many years.

'The sleigh bells, maybe,' he conjectured, whispering to himself - 'The Salvation Army collector that I saw up the block.'

Then he was gone.

The house, his mother's treasure and exclusive domain, was done up like a Christmas tree and, sitting on the floor with a cup of hot cocoa enclosed between his little fingers, five year old Cyril gazed in wonder at the lights, reflections and wondrous glass ornaments hanging from the tree at the end of the room. He took a sip from his cup and then placed it on the floor.

Only feet away, his mother was in the kitchen which was warm and cozy with the heat of the oven and pots on top and it was filled with the perfume of spices and good things. His mother, already early in the morning, was working away over her creations and, now and again, her humming would turn to singing and Cyril was lulled by the sound of her musical voice.

“Cyril, dear?”

“Yes, mommy?” Cyril unwillingly disregarded the beautiful Christmas tree and looked toward the kitchen door.

“Do you want a cookie fresh from the oven?”

“Yes, please!” shouted Cyril and jumped up ready to race into the kitchen. His mother's face, framed in dark curls tied back with an elastic, appeared.

“Bring your cup, sweetie. Don't leave it there on the floor.”

“Oops,” said Cyril.

Moments later, the gooey, semi-liquid chocolate chips filled his mouth and he sat on his chair at the table while his mother sang 'Oh holy night'.

Then came the sleigh bells. Cyril's eyes widened. His mother stopped singing and smiled.

“I think daddy's up,” she said. The sound of sleigh bells grew louder and Cyril heard heavy steps coming up the hall from the bedrooms.

“Merry Christmas!” shouted his father emerging into the kitchen with two strings of bells tied to his wrists. He was wearing a bright red sweater. He shook the bells again for emphasis.

“Daddy!” shouted Cyril. He raced across the space and was scooped up and enfolded by two strong arms. He received a kiss on the cheek.

“Have you been a good boy all year, Cyril?”

Cyril nodded his head, his face a portrait of seriousness.

“Then who is coming to visit tonight?”

“Santa,” whispered Cyril into his father's ear.

Sam Thomas didn't like Christmas. He was aware, at the same time, that it was the fault of the past and not the present.

Now, with some Christmas cheer in the canvas bag over his arm and, essentially, his chores done, he was looking forward to going home to his wife and the peace and tranquility which he had found with her.

Those sentiments had been hard won for Sam. By ten years old, he had been beaten by a drunken father more times than a boy should have to count. His mother worked the streets and was rarely at home at all. He was fairly certain that, in all those years, he had never had a Christmas like a child should have. There were even times that, his parents too high to notice the calendar, had forgotten it altogether.

On his sixteenth birthday, he left home and started to fend for himself. By degrees, he had won his battles, moving aggressively from job to job, saving his pennies and trying desperately not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

He also knew that not everyone had his fortune.

Sam drew the collar of his coat tightly around his neck to guard against chill and slowly shouldered through the Christmas eve crush of shoppers and passers-by. Arriving at the corner, he noticed a homeless man with a tin cup which he was using to collect change. The fellow was ragged and disheveled with a distant look in his eye. The coins, sloshing around the bottom of the tin cup, made a ringing sound not unlike sleigh bells.

Sam fished in his pocket and, as the light changed for him to cross, he deposited the coins in the cup.

“Merry Christmas, friend,” said Sam and turned to cross the street.

“Santa,” whispered the other and, then, the word drifted off into memory.

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