RICKTER SCALE: Stringing along the fa-la-las with dad

Of Christmases past

Rick Stiebel | Contributed

The holiday season always brought out the magical side of my father.

All dad had to say was that he needed help hanging the outdoor lights and presto, my older brothers would disappear.

That left me and my reputation as the clumsiest son standing under the ladder to fetch the wrong tool for whatever design dad had in mind for the lights that year. A chorus of curse words soon followed, some reserved solely for the holiday season, sputtering on and off in fits and starts on like the bulbs we were trying to hang.

When we were done we dragged our frostbitten butts inside to mom, who would invariably ask what possessed us to hang them that way.

The indoor lights were another festive event waiting to unfurl, one the whole family shared, which kept the cursing to a minimum. This was back when bulbs were so fragile that they shattered if you even looked at one the wrong way, and the entire string would fail to flicker if even one bulb wasn’t working. You can fill in the blankity blanks.

Somehow we always managed to get the tree decorated to some semblance of approval by mom.

It amazes me after all these years how my parents managed to make every Christmas special for six kids, no matter what life threw their way. We always got what we wanted and more than we expected, despite the constraints of one income.

One Christmas past, however, could have been unspeakably bleak. My sister Susan and I were in elementary school and came down with the whooping cough. Within days it ravaged the little ones, Rod barely three, and Tom, still in his infancy. It was a time when young children died from that disease at an alarming rate, long before there was a universal medical plan.

Oldest brother Max was in his late teens, brother Gerry four years his junior. They became the Everest and Gibraltar for Sue and me, shielding us from the gloom that hung over our household throughout those dark December days.

I still can’t fathom how my parents managed, how Max and Gerry kept the holiday spirit alive while mom and dad dealt with the trauma of daily doctor visits, their two youngest near death’s door. Imagine shopping for presents for kids who might not make it to Christmas morning and you have a sense of what my parents were going through.

Mom and dad kept it together somehow, and we pulled through what could have been the Christmas we would never forget for reasons too painful to consider. The years have piled up since then like snow on the roof after the worst winter storm. Mom, dad and Max are no longer here to share the stories we still cherish, but we all carry our favourite memories of them in our hearts, even more so at this time of the year.

•••

Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi-retired journalist.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is warning customers of a confirmed case of COVID-19 on WestJet flight 195 from Calgary into Victoria on Oct. 11. Passengers seated between rows one and seven should self-minotor for symptoms for the next 14 days. (Black Press Media file photo)
Confirmed COVID case on WestJet flight day after previous exposure on same route

BCCDC warning passengers seated in rows one to seven on WestJet flight 195 on Oct. 11 into Victoria

Steven Puhallo, Jordan Carr, and Taylor Verrall, members of Rishi Sharma’s campaign team, show their solidarity with Sharma (second from right) after an unidentified man hurled racial slurs at him Saturday. Puhallo and Verrall were also present during the incident Saturday night at the corner of Marigold Road and Interurban Road. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
BC Liberal candidate in Saanich South attacked with racial slurs

Rishi Sharma was putting up election signs when incident happened Saturday night

Michael Friesen, 38, is a Caucasian man standing 6’1” and weighing approximately 220 pounds. (VicPD handout)
VicPD seeking man believed to be ‘actively evading police detection’

Michael Friesen wanted on an unendorsed warrant for various offences

Saanich police are warning residents to be aware of a non-aggressive bear sighting in the 400-block of Haliburton Terrace. (Black Press Media file photo)
Non-aggressive bear spotted in Saanich neighbourhood

Saanich police advise residents to be aware of sighting in the 400-block of Haliburton Terrace

Downtown Sidney has been a hot bed of residential construction, with new housing starts through the first nine months of 2020 reaching 211. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Langford, Colwood, Sidney lead region in housing starts

Sidney ahead of Saanich and Victoria with Langford leading all municipalities with 885 units

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)
‘First guys out:’ western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

CEO believes wildfires have become more dangerous in recent years as people live closer to where they start

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
The BC Ferries vessel the Queen of Oak Bay. (News Bulletin file photo)
‘Buy a boat,’ Horgan advises anti-maskers on BC Ferries

NDP leader John Horgan talks COVID-19 misinformation

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States are being extended until at least Nov. 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Non-essential travel restrictions at Canada-U.S. border extended to at least Nov. 21

The restrictions do not apply to those providing essential services in either country

The BC Ferries vessel the Queen of Alberni. (News Bulletin file photo)
UPDATE: More sailings cancelled after ferry breaks down

Queen of Alberni out of commission, BC Ferries revises schedules

Jordan Naterer, 25, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. He planned a hike in the Manning Park area, and has not been seen since. Photo Facebook.
Family devastated as search for missing Manning Park hiker suspended

‘It was an extremely difficult meeting with the parents when we had to tell them.’

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, Cullen apologize for NDP candidate’s comments about Haida candidate

Nathan Cullen had made insensitive comments about Roy Jones Jr. Cheexial

Six Mile Beach outside Nelson is known for its perfect sand, clear water and unique sand spit. But the drowning death of a man in July has residents asking if the dangerous spot has become too popular. Photo: David Grantham/Kootenay Drone Services
Dangerous oasis: The fatal history of a popular Kootenay Lake beach

Six Mile Beach near Nelson is known for its unique sand spit. But locals have feared it for decades

In this photo illustration, a provincial election mail-in ballot sealed in an Elections B.C. return envelope is seen before being deposited in a Canada Post mailbox, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. The final result of British Columbia’s provincial election won’t be known for at least two weeks because more than 700-thousand mail-in ballots have to be counted by hand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s snap election means 700k ballots will be counted manually, delaying results

Elections BC spokesman said employees in 87 electoral districts will count mail-in ballots one by one

Most Read