SC Rewind: Christmas Memories
Published: December 25, 2015 8:27 am ET
Last Comment: December 29, 2015 8:24 pm ET | 4 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments
In this week's edition of Rewind Robert Smith offers a couple of short reminiscences about Christmases of yesteryear's. He also offers his traditional Holiday message to the Rewind audience.
Home For The Holidays [Thomas Kinkade]
I can't say that I wasn't warned, and now it is coming true. An elderly man in our neighbourhood often prophesied that the older you get, the quicker the years go by. How right was he!
Another year has slipped by so quickly and the time has come to observe and celebrate yet another Christmas season. I have mentioned in previous years that this is a favourite time of year at our house. It is also an occasion that I look forward to when I pen yet another Christmas Rewind. Like all writers, I am first faced with a blank sheet, but eventually some thoughts come to mind.
I have been blessed by many people, events and "things" in my lifetime; one special happening was being hired a half century ago by a great company. Throughout most of my adult lifetime I was fortunate to work for what was then one of the largest distilling companies in the world. Working for a liquor company was always jokingly said to be the safest place on earth to be employed.
The rationale was that in good times people drink whiskey to celebrate; and in bad times they consume just as much to drown their sorrows! There is another old time worn saying that "There is no bad whisky, some is just better than others."
Whatever the riddle or the reasoning, it was a great place to be employed (and eventually retired). The Company's founder Hiram Walker was apparently a kind and benevolent man who cared deeply about his employees and wanted them to be always well treated. Early in his stewardship of the Company which began in 1858, it is documented that he instituted the practice of giving each employee a large turkey at Christmas time. He believed that a family should enjoy a hearty meal together to celebrate the special day. His theory was that the big "bird" would be the centrepiece of the annual repast and each family could choose the trimmings. The practice went on for parts of three centuries until it became a cost cutting measure and was discontinued a few years ago.
Each year a week or two before Christmas, every employee received a ticket in an envelope entitling them to a very large high quality turkey. The company annually contracted out the purchase of several hundred of the best gobblers the industry could provide. On the last day of work the birds were given out at various spots throughout the premises. It was a time of well wishing and handshaking as everyone paused for the holiday break. It must be remembered that in days gone by the gift of a turkey was considered to be a special gesture. I truly appreciated each and every one received over the years and will be forever grateful to our Company's founder. Despite passing away in 1899 he continued to brighten many a Christmas table, holding true to his promise.
The Old Post Office
An artist's rendering of the old Maidstone General Store and Post Office by Harold Burton
My wife was blessed to be born and raised in a very small village; the kind that once dotted the countryside in rural America. St. Mary's, one of the oldest Roman Catholic Churches in Upper Canada, a grain elevator, and a couple of general stores marked the centuries old settlement of Maidstone, which was once a stagecoach stop. What it lacked in size it more than made up in quaintness and the quality of life that its citizenry enjoyed. Many large families inhabited the area; most were several generations in number. Regardless of religious beliefs or ethnic background, they worked together in good times and bad.
One of the main centres of activity in what was always called simply "The Village", involved the small general store and Post Office, owned and operated by my wife's family. Back then one of the most important people in the community was the postmaster or postmistress. Linda's grandfather served in that position for some 55 years and was recognized for his service when the Jubilee Award was bestowed upon him by King George V. Following his long tenure, her mother followed as postmistress for another almost 30 years. It was an amazing record of public service that lasted close to 85 years.
Each year as Christmas approached, the old Post Office and store was a literal 'beehive' of activity. In those days nearly everyone mailed out Christmas cards, not to mention the countless parcels that were sent to destinations both at home and abroad. It was not unusual for people to pay a visit to the post office more than once a day; just to check to see if anything had arrived in the latest delivery. It too was a social outlet for those who had a story to tell or just wanted to go for a short walk.
In addition to the 'walk in' people who picked up their own mail, a large rural delivery area serving the nearby mainly farm population was staged here as well. Once sorted, the mail carriers headed out on their daily runs, regardless of the weather or road conditions. At Christmas many of the rural residents showed their appreciation for the immense task of delivering the mail each day. Numerous thoughtful folks left some special treat for the trusty mail carrier, carefully placed in the roadside mailbox just before delivery time.
Many were handmade, and truly given with the true spirit of the season in mind. Home baked fruit cakes, jams and jellies, batches of fudge, beautifully decorated Christmas cookies and freshly baked breads were among the tasty treats. I suspect the odd customer may have even left a bottle of 'good cheer', always an appropriate holiday gift.
The family became involved even more at holiday time, as all five brothers and sisters helped to sort the huge piles of mail as well as their duties at the store. The 'rush' went on for quite a while and when the last card and parcel was headed to its final destination, it was a time of relief and a feeling of satisfaction that everyone had done their part once again in making many people's Christmases happy occasions.
The old landmark 'Village' general store and Post Office at Maidstone Cross that meant so much in its time was razed around 1970. A new more modern structure housing just the postal service replaced it and is still in service. New rapid electronic communication and shipping services have replaced the once vital service and central part of each small community, relegating them to distant memories for those who were part of those days. Today we phone, text or email but it is still nice to receive an old fashioned Christmas card even though the cost of a stamp has risen slightly from a penny or two way back when.
In closing I would like to wish everyone in the Rewind audience the merriest of Christmases and the best of the coming New Year. My thanks to those of you who enjoy reading my tales of bygone days and for the many who send in comments or contact me. I would also like to thank Standardbred Canada for making Rewind a regular feature. Remembering our past is so important.
A Santa picture framed with wood salvaged from an old barn on my family farm