I have been waiting to tell my Christmas story from 20 years ago, and I just had to sit down today to finally share. I hope it will be inspiring to those who might be searching for what the season means, and if miracles, love and hope exist.
As Christmas approached, I was having a few complications in Halifax, and my doctor delivered the bad news that he did not think it was a good idea for me to go home and be so far away from the hospital during the holidays. To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. I had been home for Thanksgiving, and had just taken it for granted that I would be home in my own room for Christmas. Finally on December 20th, the doctor said I could go home, but would have to be back on for a few days on Boxing Day. The only way that I could go home though was to follow instructions, there would be no mass, no crowds, and avoid anyone who might be sick. You know how everyone takes pictures going across the Causeway, well I closed my eyes, rolled down the window and cried from there to Mabou. I was so happy to be home, to have another Christmas in Cape Breton, surrounded by friends and family.
Of course, when my friends heard I was coming home, an impromptu get together was held on the 22nd, and most of my friends from high school poured into my parents house. I remember before they arrived me going to my Nanny's for an emergency. It was not bad enough that I had no hair or eyebrows, but my dress pants that I had to wear would not fit, I had lost so much weight. Nanny quickly stitched them up for me to wear and told me to have fun. The evening was full of laughs and old stories, and the crowd rule was a little bit broken.
The next night was the annual Christmas tree lighting in Mabou Harbour. At the end of my lane at home is an old school house, and over the years it housed us on cold winter mornings while we waited for the bus, but at Christmas the Beatons would clean it up and open the door to the community. Debbie and A.J. Beaton started the tradition, and a huge tree would be decorated outside and lit up every year with lots of food, treats for the kids, singing, and a visit from Santa. For the Christmas of 1992 I would not be allowed to attend, there would simply be too many kids who might have colds or flus that might be contagious. My family went with me saying that I did mind at all, that I would feel worse if they stayed home and missed the event.
Our lane is quite long, and one hill in particular is steep, so sitting in my parents' living room I could see the school house all lit up, and the cars parking on the lane. After about a half hour the tree was lit and shone the little lights into the cold snowy night. And then there was a knock on the door, and in came Debbie, A.J. and their kids. They had brought me a present and a treat bag from the party. But after some quick hugs, they left to go back to the party. I went to the living room to watch them walk back down the lane, when another knock came on the door. It was Gil MacEachern, and his wife Mary, an elderly couple who were very near and dear to my heart. They were not usually in the Harbour at Christmas, but they had traveled from Antigonish for the evening. They too left fairly quickly, and when I went back to the window, I saw more people walking up the lane. And so the evening went, when everyone heard that I was home and unable to go to the school house, each family took their turn to walk up that hill to see me and give me their love and prayers. After about the third group I realized what was going on, and I called my Nanny who was home in the house below me, and she put tea on and had several visitors herself.
For many years, my neighbour, Brian MacPhee would don the Santa suit to play the part for the evening, but that night in '92, my former teacher, and another neighbour, Mr. Cummings, was Santa. Edmund Cummings, who had watched me grow up with his daughters, had pushed me out of his driveway a few times in the winters, and had me coming and going his house over the years as his daughter Shelly and I worked and played together, was the last to come to the house. By this time my swollen eyes were even more swollen from crying, and I really don't think I had ever felt so much love in my lifetime in one evening...so when he came in the door in his suit, I was laughing and crying all at the same time. My mom snapped a polaroid picture of us hugging, and it was the only picture that I let anyone take of me during that whole experience. If you look at it closely you can see my scarf on my head, my drawn in eyebrows, and discolored skin. But if you look at the picture, my face shows joy. It was something that I had wondered for a few months if I would ever feel again, and my friends, neighbours and family gave it back to me that night in Mabou Harbour 20 years ago.