The holiday season had arrived, and we were far from our families on the Canadian prairies, and there would be no going home for Christmas. We had a one-year old daughter, and I was pregnant with our son, although in the mid-1970s, I did not know he would be our son. As a part of the Canadian Armed Forces, my husband had been posted to CFS Masset on the former Queen Charlotte Islands off the northwest coast of Canada for the next two years.

Just like our current feelings in our retirement home in Florida, it did not look or feel like the Christmases we had known in our childhood. The climate was temperate and very changeable. I would dress my toddler in long pants and a light windbreaker ready to ride in the stroller for the walk downtown to get the mail, even if it was a bit foggy. Often, as soon as we’d go outside, it would start to rain, and we’d go back indoors to watch “Mr. Dress-up” on the fuzzy CBC television station, the only one we could get. We would try again later when the sun peaked through, only to discover rare snowflakes were falling. Back indoors to put on parka and snow pants. This unpredictable rainforest-like climate earned the islands the nickname The Misty Isles, and this was the setting for our first Christmas in Masset.

Since coniferous trees, such as spruce and cedar, were in abundance in this environment, a real Christmas tree was a must. We’d been assigned a PMQ (Private Married Quarters), so this was the first Christmas since we’d been married that we weren’t living in an apartment and had a house with room for a real tree. Supporting the local Boy Scout troop, we ordered one from them. The day arrived for its delivery, and we were excited–until it actually came. We opened the door to the Scouts, and before us was what I can only describe as a giant-sized Charlie Brown Christmas tree. The tree was so tall it would have touched the ceiling and bent over had we been able to get it inside the door. The “Ho! Ho! Ho!” we heard wasn’t Santa Claus—it was the Jolly Green Giant. Having no saw or axe to shorten the tree at the trunk’s thick bottom end, my husband used a kitchen knife to saw the top off. We then tugged, pulled, and pushed, and finally forced the tree through the door and into the back entryway. Our tiny daughter stood with eyes wide open and mouth gaping in awe, wondering what was happening. This was her first Christmas being aware of holiday preparations, and what a sight to behold!

After forcing this monstrosity inside, we discovered that the bottom half was so big in circumference that its branches touched all four walls of the 8 x 8-foot entryway. These branches, like the ones on Charlie Brown’s spindly tree, were sparse, but in this giant-sized version, there was about 2 feet between each row. Needless-to-say, there was no room in our living room for this ugly tree even if we’d been able to get it in there. The tree went back outside ready for pick-up, and we dug out our tiny, artificial table-top tree that we had used in our apartments.

Our first attempt at getting in the holiday spirit having been a disaster, we wondered how we could make this Christmas special. We weren’t the only ones far from home and family. Many of the service folks with whom my husband worked were single. We decided to invite them all for a holiday party. I baked all our favorite holiday treats, including mincemeat tarts, shortbread, and fruit cake, which, in my opinion, gets a bad rap. We also wanted to have a traditional holiday meal with turkey and all the trimmings. I bought a twenty-six-pound turkey, then realized I had never cooked a turkey before. In those days, long distance telephone calls were only made in emergencies. This situation qualified. A quick call to my mother on the prairies solved that issue.

It was a successful, appreciated evening, so in spite of our tree fiasco, we had a special Christmas and learned that, as the saying goes, “It is better to give than receive.”

Rosemary Vaughn

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