Growing up in rural Nova Scotia was never without surprises. I have mentioned various gifts that made a difference in my life as a small child and how they impacted on my life with active memories. These days, as an aging and retired adult, I see things a bit differently than I did, say 50 years ago. Christmas is not so much about what I receive, as it is about the family time together and the joys of sharing, caring and fellowship. Our family now gathers in a group on Christmas day and as much as is possible takes time to share the exchange of gifts, the laughs of interacting with all the grandchildren, along with some catching up on the news.
This year has been much of the same, but for one slight difference. In my time spent puttering after a hard winter, I was able to finish the exterior of that workshop that my wife and I wanted built to house all the machinery that I had collected down through the years. Most of it is not new equipment, yet is workable and there are some newer acquisitions. I did quite a bit of research over the past winter and found a lot of interesting items. I also carried the reminder of those special items that I had to produce, to even the score of who got what, with those newest grandsons, who as yet had not been gifted anything that Grandpa had made by hand. So without too much persuasion, I began in early fall to make plans, collect wood and start models and full sized mock-ups of some of the pieces that were on my mind.
I have discovered that not every plan has the same outcome. I found that after a rather long hiatus away from my woodworking, I had begun to lose confidence in my skill; well maybe more my ability to undertake too large a project, that may have some complexities to overcome. So I started small. I had been thinking about things for gifts for our daughters, along with the requirements noted for those new grandsons awaiting Grandpas handiwork. It seemed to me that cottage life, combined with wood stoves and the rustic atmosphere of off the grid summers, afforded me quite a few avenues of creativity. The questions always arises though, “What would they like and would what I make for them find a viable use at the camp or cottage. It is much easier to have subtle suggestion, than to sit and ponder the likelihood of misjudging the value of my taste, or a whim of curious design, for a planned object. But, then the surprise of an interesting object or two that may carry with them memories of a Dad or Grandpa though the years that follow, can’t be all that bad. So this year that is what I did, I forged ahead. After I did a few practice runs at some easy projects, and tried some of the old skill sets on some scrap wood, I offered my projects up to my wife’s scrutiny…. And they passed.
But the quiet reminder of those specialty requirements and requests began to haunt me. Not having the confidence that I had 20 years ago, to undertake a new project just on a hunch or hand-drawn sketch, I felt that I needed more of a well-planned blueprint to keep me focused. The further I went in my crafting, the more confidence I found, the less I felt that shop drawings were necessary. In my earlier years I had watched a program on one of the TV educational channels, where a skilled carpenter used a story-board for keeping track of projects. It was merely a stick (narrow board) with lines and measurements, denoting the various transitions and placement of the elements being combined in the piece or project. I went with that method and then by trial and error, I soon accomplished what I needed to move from the story-board to the working pieces.
So by this time, you are likely asking if I got all the projects done. Well, surprisingly yes I did, along with some other orders from individuals for specialty projects for Christmas gifts and decorations for their homes. My wife seemed pleased with everything, and after some struggles near the end with fine tuning a couple of the projects at the last minute, we were ready for delivery and the joy of watching the faces of the recipients. Those youngest grandsons loved the box that one of their gifts, that happened to be a purchased piece, came wrapped in. That has been the standard reaction of most children down through the ages… a cardboard box and children… there is the fascination of imagery that suddenly transforms a box into a fortress or hideout. But boxes come and go. The value of a piece of furniture, or an item with its own worth and versatility, soon out shadows a mere box. Or… perhaps the box is soon discarded by eager parents wanting their child to focus more on what was in the box, rather than the box itself.
The wrappings all finally came off and sum of the work was viewed. Some comments were made and the surprise of having Dad or Grandpa think of such an interesting gift soon changed into chats, laughter and the sharing of common meals together, as we gathered Christmas morning. I had one more surprise left for my boys (my son and two son-in-laws). I had wanted to make this Christmas an especially happy one for the immediate family. After long thought and planning I made 4 rather strange gifts that I felt may have somewhat of a different impact on the atmosphere Christmas day. It gave me concern, but not enough to change my plan. As the family finally all gathered, I told the boys I had something special that I had been working on. So I brought out some small spongy packages and allowed them to open them. Well, there were some odd looks, and a few smiles as speculation took over from curiosity. I had to complete their gifs, I told them, so off I went off to retrieved the second part of the surprise. I then asked them to open the gifts so that the others couldn’t see, but the grandchildren's peeking soon saw what was being opened, and a food fight soon broke out.
Now I know that there may be some who by this time may feel that this was over the edge…. Well, this blog is about living near the edge after all. Here’s the deal. The second part of the gift that each received was a marshmallow crossbow. Yes… you read correctly…. They were marshmallow crossbows. They were made of birch and teak… too exotic you say?… no… they were worth the work and sacrifice for my boys and their wives. So began a food fight that lasted through the day and had adults chasing each other around the house pinging one another and their children with marshmallows, while the feast of eaten ammunition soon made the availability of the miniature marshmallows, that we had supplied as part of their gift, a scarcity. So out came a new supply and after a couple of hours in the second round, a cheer went up from my son and youngest daughter, “This is the best Christmas ever!” I could feel the tears edging to the surface, but I forced them back to protect the joy of the moment.
Can Christmas have an element of anticlimax? Yes it sure can… but not this year… not for me anyway. More than anything I wanted smiles, laughter and fun to be the most important element beyond the true meaning and importance of Christmas, found in our Bible reading and stories. My joy now finds those moments of making and remaking, testing, fine-tuning all worthwhile, even though there were moments of frustration and fear that I may not get the crossbows completed before Christmas. The anxiety over what the parents might think of marshmallows being catapulted around their home melted away with the ring of laughter and sibling playtime, once again being the most important thing for the moment, beyond those gnawing concerns that have haunted us this year.
Ben wants to take his on the fishing boat with him… April wants to take her husband’s to school with her and surprise her boss, the principal, with a marshmallow attack. Of course this means the certainty of one thing. Dad now has to make more marshmallow crossbows for the spouses and the tradition of the great marshmallow fight will be on each year as we gather. Of course that can never be guarenteed to happen yearly. But it was such a joy to hear them say how much fun it generated for them, and how excited they were to think about being able to do it more often. More ammunition has been acquired, but it stilll remains to be seen if there is another “major” outbreak like that of Christmas day, until all the siblings have opportunity to gather together again. Will it matter?… not at all. The important part was the spontaneity that erupted from that first marshmallow fired and the ensuing fun it created .
What brought joy to the moments on your Christmas day? The answers may be as varied as they are many. It might be as simple as silent reflection and peace, or the boisterous jostling of grandchildren’s excitement with each new gift opened, along with the looks of pure joy and pleasure they gave as they hugged you showing their personal gratitude. Christmas has its own journey to the edge. We go there with both expectation and wonder. We go there to seek both solace and assurance. We want only the satisfaction that the work to get us there was worth it. But most of all is the calm personal awareness of a resolve to celebrate anew each year what God gave us as a celebration event; a reminder of what the greatest gift of all was, and should remain to be, for all mankind.
This morning my daughter snuck down the hall with her husband’s crossbow in hand, to start the day with a burst of laughter and my heart sings with the joy of accomplishing what I set out to do. Ben is shooting his boat buddies and a grandson is likely in stealth mode awaiting the opportunity to turn his Dad’s weapon against him in a sneak attack. The edge for me this Christmas has not been so daunting. It has been a hill of preparation worth climbing, and you may ask if I will go back home with an anticlimactic attitude. No… not this year. For me, it is found in the near parallel sentiment echoed from my son and daughter; “This may have been just about the best Christmas ever!”