Through the looking glass: One horse open sleigh

Finally Christmas day has arrived. Despite threats of apocalypse and bankruptcy. Gifts are opened, children are playing quietly by the fire with their latest fad choice of toy. The dog is happily gnawing on a meaty new bone. The smell of turkey and all the fixings waft through the house. Parents are curled up lovingly together on the couch, sipping eggnog or apple cider. A medley of Christmas carols plays softly in the background.Yup. Just like my house. Except, my children are either roaring through the house trying to kill each other with whatever toy they’ve received or moaning about how bored they are. The dogs (all three Newfoundlands) are much more likely to be trying to eat the turkey off the counter which had been yanked out of the oven in a panic after setting off the fire alarm which is also our lovely ambient music. My husband is either napping, shovelling snow, or plotting the death of our dogs. And I am drinking apple cider alright, but with a very solid shot of rum. It’s the same, just different. And it’s home.

Have you ever had a Christmas that you had decided this was the year that you were going to make it count? This was the year that you were going to make new traditions and give that warm fuzzy feeling to all you know and love? Every gift, gesture and embrace was going to reduce even Scrooge to tears? Yeah, me neither. But I did decide one year to make it memorable. And it was. For all the wrong reasons. Aren’t the best weddings the ones with all the screw ups? Or do I just tell myself that for solace? Well leave me to it then, it’s working!

So, a couple of years ago I decided to make Christmas beautiful for my family. My parents were here from Newfoundland. I was working full time so we had some extra money to spend. All five of our dogs were healthy (that’s another article) and we were needing a little Christmas cheer. Living in a small farm town offered limited options for activities so I began scouring Edmonton for some awe inspiring Christmas activities. After several google searches I found what I was looking for. A sleigh ride through Candy Cane Lane. I beamed with excitement. This year was going to be epic! What could be better than all of us bundled up together, drinking hot chocolate and singing Christmas carols on a nostalgic ride through the beauty of Candy Cane Lane? It was Norman Rockwell worthy. We were set. I contacted the company, which I won’t name for reasons that will soon become apparent, and anxiously awaited the response.

After a few emails back and forth I settled on a particular evening to bring my family, all eight of us, to the heart of Edmonton to take part in what I had intended to be a lifelong tradition. Unity would be brought to my family through my painstaking efforts. I would be remembered long after my death for the love and cherished memories I had brought to my family.

The night finally came. Jack Frost, clearly aware of my plan, had belssed us with temperatures right around -27 C. Perfect. I raced home from work and piled everyone in our two vehicles. The children lovingly fought over hats and mitts. My father sweetly pretended to be grumpy about having to be out on the coldest night of the year. My mother teased about how hard the cold was on her knee. A Frank Sinatra melody softly played in my head. It was the stuff Christmas dreams were made of. We arrived in the city, stopping only to fill our mugs with Starbucks hot chocolates, lattes and such. What happened next took all my hopes and dreams and mowed them down with a Zamboni. We turned a corner and hit wall to wall traffic. I mean this was gridlocked traffic, and we were still ten blocks away! The Frank Sinatra record came to a screeching halt and was replaced by Clint Mansell’s Requiem For a Dream. Panic slowly threatened to take over. I phoned my husband in the other vehicle to see if he knew a shortcut that might gain us a faster path. He did not. Smiling at my passengers I assured them this wasn’t a problem. Watching my color fade and sweat bead across my forehead, they were not convinced. Desperate to salvage my dream I phoned the company to relay my dilemma. The lady who answered was completely understanding and said they’d hold the sleigh for us. Relieved we plodded on. Well, we inched on. Inch by painful, nailbiting inch. The Requiem music rising and falling with my optimism.

My father, as if announcing a race at Northlands, gave a running commentary on how fast each vehicle was moving and whether we’d make the next light. My mother adorably tried to anticipate whether we would even make it there alive. My youngest, having now finished their hot drinks, were sweetly trying to ascertain how close we were by asking “are we there yet?” Every five feet.

I kept repeating “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” despite how clenched my jaw was. My phone rang again. It was the lady from the stables. I relayed that we were still probably half an hour away so they should probably let the sleigh carry on. Now this is the important part. I told her to just go on without us. She replied “Oh no, it’s ok. They’ll wait!” You got that? I told her to carry on. She said no. Just making sure you didn’t miss that part. A few feet further I received a call from a man I will call Cedric. I will call him this because he had all the class, grace and intellect of Cedric from The Raccoons. Cedric was at the site where the sleigh was. Cedric was not as accommodating. Cedric seemed grumpy. Cedric was an ass. However, he still maintained that they would wait. Again I encouraged them not to wait for us, that I had no idea how long we would take. He declined my offer and assured me they would be waiting.

Finally we arrived. Drink cups empty of all things warm. Patience worn out about seven blocks ago. Throwing some cash at my husband I proceeded to load everyone into the sleigh. Then it happened. Without warning or any obvious provocation. Cedric flipped. I’m pretty sure he experienced a psychotic break. He ranted on and on talking about our ‘nerve’ and ‘gall’ and other similar body systems. How first we had them wait for us and now we cheat him. He called us cheap, dishonest, and some other things I couldn’t hear for the pounding in my head. Apparently my husband had shortchanged him. Cedric had apparently decided this was intentional and was determined to share how upsetting this was. My husband, trained to handle such an attack without so much as flinching, finally calmed him enough to find out how much he was supposed to pay and paid the difference.

Now, when confronted with conflict of epic proportions, I respond in one of two ways. I either conjure enough clarity in my head to attack with the eloquence and skill of an intellectual assault of grammar or, I cry. Sometimes one leads to the other. There’s just no way to anticipate the outcome. In this case my sheer determination to damn well make this an awesome freaking Christmas outweighed any verbal assault. So, resisting the urge to punch Cedric in the nads as I walked by, I quietly climbed in the sleigh… and silently sobbed. There was little discussion about Cedric’s behaviour. There was little discussion about anything.

It was the sleigh operator who finally broke the silence. He turned out to be just about the jolliest person I had ever encountered. He didn’t dismiss Cedric’s behaviour but rather acknowledged it and offered to try and make our night better. The kids sang Christmas Carols while I refused to sing along. They sang Bon Jovi. I still refused to join. They marvelled at the displays of lights and decorations. I glared.

Having had enough of my pouting my mother leaned over and said “Nevermind my dear. There’s more than one asshole in the world. You can’t get bent out of shape every time you encounter one.” As I pondered this she continued, “someone that bloody miserable probably has a miserable life.” Grabbing my hand she started singing. The sleigh operator joined in and before long, everyone in the sleigh was singing. I hummed. But not too loud.

I was about half way home before I regained any sensation in my feet. My father sat in the backseat with my two youngest on either side cuddled into him and sleeping soundly. My mother was humming along with the radio. The night was clear and the prairie sky was laden with stars. It wasn’t as much a life altering moment as an affirmation. So it wasn’t perfect. My family doesn’t care if I give them perfect memories or flawed ones. They just want to be there. Good times and bad. Burnt turkeys and fighting children. They’ll take it all.

Jeanne C. Stein wrote: ‘Life may not be the party we’d hoped for, but while we’re here we may as well dance.’

Care to dance?


Jennifer Barry is a writer for the Spectator Tribune.

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