I have no wish to predict the future and could hardly claim such prescience. When I said Christmas cookies were the only thing you could count on in December, I was bang on this year.
Whoopee for me for what did it get me? Frigid rooms done up for the ghosts of Christmas present.
There is a child in all of us at this time of year. I was embarrassed at the one that came out in me this frigid December when my most fervent wish was for toasty toes. It is now surely a permanent wish ever since a severe ice storm coated our city and caused days of power outages.
I pouted, not briefly enough, when the lights went out here, four days before my turn to host our large family, four days after my tables were set and much of the food prepared.
My sisters and brother plotted and pondered how our feast and rituals would occur when none of our houses had power. Everyone soothed, Anne, you can do it all again next year. I looked around my decorated darkness and thought, this is hardly Christmas as I emptied the rancid fridge of all its prepared treats, my mood threatening to sour quicker than the cream. I threatened to make a bonfire if I saw another Keep Calm anything.
The phone rings. Mom and Dad have power back on. Bring the family, she says, we have power, why do you need to stay?
It’s a funny thing, a street with no light. Dark coming in, dark going out. Do thieves work at Christmas? Earlier that same year, they were working hard enough when they robbed our house and made off with treasures I try not to miss.
Ah, but what’s a family for but to keep you honest? Remind you sharply that it is you, you sad and sputtering fool, who tells us daily to find our grit and quit moaning. This is hardly a crisis.
When your children throw your own lessons back at you, you’re done. Get over yourself and have some wine, or maybe some grapefruit beer?
Soon, we are dancing to a battery powered iPod, shouting Oh but they’re weird and you’re wonderful…B-B-B-Benny and the Jets in front of our flickering flame in the fireplace. Maybe there’s a better way of keeping warm in the midst of a sub-zero power failure, but this was the slap this spoiled mug needed. Mommy kissed Santa under the mistletoe, and we whooped into the quiet night as someone across the street peered out into the dark, muttering about those crazy people at it again in that house with the wonky snowman.
Hey kids shake it loose together,
the spotlights hitting something thats been known to change the weather.
Morning came with hollow broken tree limbs sprawled across my lawn and two wires dangerously drooped. There was one neighbour, sprinkling salt on my walkway as he’d heard there was a shortage. Another was stepping tentatively across massive cracked branches, and a third quickly stepped up to take her arm. They walked down the middle of the icy stretch together.
I find my camera on the phone and try to capture some of it, any of this strange and terrible beauty.
Through the week we were invited to share not one but several hearths, and a generous out-of-town angel offered to tell me the location of a hidden key that would open her whole house to my family, should we be in need.
Are we in need?
Surely the line ahead of us is long and we belong in the back.
We managed to save the cherished holiday. Of course, it didn’t need saving. Power was finally restored to all my siblings around midnight on Christmas Eve. There, around a makeshift long table at my brother John’s, we ate turkey minus the trimmings (sorry all, I forgot the cranberry) and sang Silver bells, silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city as if our city was a sparkling ice palace and not a slippery, half-lit frozen ghost town. There was a rap version of We Three Kings and my five-year-old nephew found that wearing a miniature bow tie will put a smile on this auntie’s face any day. The fire was warmer than any I remember and all thoughts of missed meringues or melting sorbets vanished as my eighty-two-year-old dad read to us about Mrs. Prothero’s fire. Although he wasn’t Dylan Thomas and we weren’t in Wales, I was having my very own child’s Christmas in Toronto.
Bring out the tall tales now that we were told by the fire.
Late that night, Peter, the girls, and I came home to a dark house. Still, it was slowly warming up, thanks to a midnight call to a friend in the electrical business. The next day these saviours fixed our damaged wires and connected us back to the grid. I have a special love for friends who pick up the phone at midnight.
When the lights finally came on, nobody cared about the mess. Lucy, the darn dog, had peed on the back room carpet, but could you blame her? There was our tree, chopped at the farm and decorated with all the familiar baubles. A tree in the middle of the room as cold as the yard. No wonder she was confused.
What did I learn in the short five-but-felt-like-one hundred days without power? Scratch beneath the surface and our veneer of civility smears as dripping wax. We paw for our place near the fire, grumble about no coffee, and wonder just how we’ll make it through the night. But the reach of neighbours and friends and the embrace of family is potent enough to light the darkest cell.
Oh, and candles are only romantic for a spell.
Living rooms are really good for living, especially if they have the only fireplace in the house.
If your front steps look like a skating rink, then they probably are a skating rink and you shouldn’t attempt to descend.
Reading or writing at night with a flashlight is only for kids.
Sleeping naked under a duvet in a very cold room sounds counterintuitive. Not if you have your honey along. Hats and socks in bed are acceptable in exceptional circumstances. And you are never too old to be tucked in.
My teenagers were awakened by their worried father, who thought maybe the old tree in the front yard would fall on their bedrooms. He ushered them, half asleep, to the basement couch. I opened up our sleepover stash and handed over some bedding. He knelt down to tuck the blanket in around their curled-up forms, and right there gave me back my Christmas cheer in one moment.
Toasty toes. Toasty heart.
I hope your toes are toasty wherever you are this holiday.