Remembering Christmases past

Dec 13th, 2018 | By | Category: Connecting With

Christmas means many things to many people. We all have special memories of that special time, and for some of us the memories can go back decades. Take Laura Desjardins for example. This year she celebrates 103 Christmases! Mary Cook asked Desjardins to share some of those memories with our readers.

Y@H: I’m sure your memories of Christmas could fill several volumes, but lets start with your earliest memory of Christmas. How far back does your memory go?

LD:  I can recall back to age three, 100 years ago. We lived between Toronto and Owen Sound. I was the second oldest of seven children. We were not well off and everyone was grateful for whatever they received at Christmas. I longed to have a doll, but the only gift I remember getting when I was so young was a sewing kit with some material.

Y@H: Do you remember a favourite Christmas gift when you were a very little girl?

LD: There just wasn’t money for gifts but oh how I longed to have a doll from Santa Claus. I remember the little girl across the street from us, the local undertaker’s daughter, whose family was more affluent, received a doll carriage and would parade up and down the street with it. I was so envious of her.

Y@H: Gifts in my young years were very practical and useful, would you say your gifts would fit that category as well?

LD: I suppose Mother thought getting the sewing kit was more practical. We were grateful for anything we got.

Y@H: Did you hang a Christmas stocking? If so, what was in it?

LD: We always hung our stocking out for Santa Claus to fill. I really believed that he would visit our house. I must have been nine years old when we moved to Ottawa and I still believed in him when other kids didn’t. We would get an orange in our stocking with maybe some hard candies that were striped and had a peppermint taste. Sometimes there were cookies in the stocking.

Y@H: Do you remember writing letters to Santa?

LD: I always wrote to Santa Claus. I so believed he was real even while other kids didn’t. I even imagined seeing him at the front of our house with all his reindeer.

Y@H: Were gifts exchanged with your siblings, and if so, like me, were you expected buy them with the few pennies were able to squirrel away over the year?

LD: I don’t remember giving gifts to my brothers and sister. There were seven children in our family and I was the second oldest. We just didn’t have money to buy gifts for others.

Y@H: Do you remember leaving a treat for Santa? What was it?

LD: We always left a treat for Santa. Mother made gingerbread which I hated, but we put it out for him. My father made us go to bed early on Christmas Eve because Santa Claus would be coming. I honestly heard the tinkle tinkle of him and the reindeer outside the house.

Y@H: When you were raising your own family, what traditions did you carry over from your youth?

LD: We celebrated Christmas much the same way when I had my son Bailey. We spoiled him so badly through the years. Whatever he wanted he got, including a dune buggy when he was older. It was the first in the area.

Y@H: Were there any family traditions regarding your Christmas dinner?

LD: We usually ate goose with vegetable and the usual things. I recall one Christmas time we were all in our beds upstairs when we smelled smoke. My father realized we could not go downstairs so he went to the window of the bedroom and broke the glass. It had been frozen shut by the cold. He tied bed sheets together and lowered all the family out of the window to the snow below –  mother first and then the children from the youngest to the oldest last. He ran through the snow in his bare feet into town to ring the fire bell. All the neighbours came and threw pails of water on the fire. He saved his whole family, but we never lived in that house again.

We always had music. My father became infatuated with Viennese music from listening to cylinder recordings put out by His Master’s Voice, the label with the dog on it. When he was 14 years old he made his own violin and I remember the bow was made from the hair of one of the horses. He loved to play the music of Vienna.

Y@H: When did you discover that Santa Claus was really Mommy or Daddy?

LD:  I’d like to believe there still is a Santa Claus.

Y@H: What do you think of the way we celebrate Christmas today?

LD: I think Christmases are much the same as in earlier years. There are some people who are misers but it is important to share. My Christmas will be with my very good friend Gordy as we dine at the Chateau Laurier in the early part of the afternoon so that he is free to go out with his friends in the evening.

Y@H: Tell us about your life today, now that you have reached this wonderful milestone.

LD: I have this Eiffel Tower-looking thing in front of my window that I decorate with lights and tulle and here and there place little items that are very special to me. Over in the corner, sitting on the French Provincial chair, is my framed picture and letter from Queen Elizabeth who sent greetings on my 100th birthday. I am hoping that all my paintings that I have had framed will be given out before Christmas. I am keeping the painting I did of my father’s violin –  it is so special as it reminds of how wonderful he was. I will go to the special Christmas program that the Women’s Canadian Club put on and wear my special hat with the pearls. I am known as the hat lady –  I love hats and don’t care if people don’t like them. I am involved in Eastern Star and would never miss a Canadian Club meeting at the Chateau, the golf club and running the household and grocery shopping.

Y@H: You have earned the right to give advice to those of us who frantically try to cope with all the hassle of getting ready for Christmas, what advice can you give that would help ease the chaos that surrounds most people this time of year?

LD:  Oh I don’t think I could give advice. Just put into Christmas what you can put into Christmas. I still send my cards out to friends at this time of year. I love to get letters in the mail. I am very fortunate to have had an exiting career, a good family and good friends. I often recall the early days when I had to do health work with people in the north, Moosonee and so many places way up there. I even did work in Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories which, in those days, was only accessible by float plane. I remember one time we had to evacuate a patient and when all of us got on board, we had a real time trying to get the power to lift the plane off the water, but we did.

Editor’s Note: With thanks to Garth Hampson his for assistance with this profile of Laura Desjardins.

Leave a Comment