I have told this story every year since 1991 first because it happened, and second because there has to be someone else out there who can relate to it.
Christmas was the best kind of adventure for us kids. Growing up on the east coast of Vancouver Island, in a small coal-mining, fishing and pulp town, Christmas meant a blizzard-backed trip down-island over the Malahat Pass to Mecca, which went by the very English name of Victoria.
I cringe now at what the drive must have meant to my folks. It was like going over Camel’s Hump in the dead of winter, packed with traffic. But to us kids it was plain high excitement.
I had been to Disneyland and I had been to Victoria. They did not compare. Disneyland had paper mache mountains and long lines, but Victoria had teak and brass, the Empress Hotel, the Crystal Gardens, the ship’s chandlers, a wax museum and the roundabout.
It had also T. Eaton, Simpson-Sears, and the Hudson Bay Company, plus a place where you could buy Spode china, and a Wilson’s, which meant pure English wool and tweed.
Most important to kids growing up in a one-storey town, Victoria had escalators and elevators. I realize that kids nowadays require a Mario Brothers distraction, but for Marc and me those moving stairs, and the little brass-trimmed rooms with the sliding doors that went up and down between floors, beat the socks off anything Disneyland had to offer.
Our parents parked us on the Hudson Bay Co. escalators, with a rendezvous time an hour later. Off they went to do serious Christmas shopping. So did we. This was my first big year for buying Christmas presents. I had dough. The source of my income was a newspaper route, which paid $4 per month. I had saved two months’ pay. Serious cabbage.
Ditching my younger brother, I cruised the Hudson Bay Co. from basement to top floor. When you are 8 or so, and a boy, your mother is the most romantic figure in your life. I sought something for her so sweet and so feminine that she would remember my remembrance forever. Zeroing in on the perfume deck, a new world of love and excitement unveiled itself to me. I sniffed all the bottles and all the spritzes, and after a good half-hour’s study, lit upon one. Its scent surpassed that of Butchart’s Gardens in bloom, or even the elegant leathery odor of a Trans-Canada Airlines DC-3. It was sweet, wonderful: her.
I peeled $3 off my wad of wealth, had the bottle gift-wrapped, and secreted it away in my coat pocket until Christmas Eve, when I laid it under the tree. I remember that Christmas Eve, not because it was the first one of my tender young life that I lain awake all night. Those come before conscious memory.
This Christmas Eve was special, its anticipation of a different sort. I could not sleep because I could not await Mom’s delighted reaction to the beauty and excellence of the gift I had purchased for her.
I had discovered giving.
And when on Dec. 25, 1959, mom tugged the wrappers off my precious gift, this bottle of Old Spice men’s aftershave lotion, her smile did not miss a beat. I learned, though did not know it until years later, that the best acting in the world is never recognized with an Oscar. Happy holidays, and may all your Christmases smell as good as our house did that day.Share on Facebook