I hated it at first. Thought it was the stupidest gift I had ever received. Threatened to give it back, throw it out, anything but take it home.
It was a Christmas present, and what kid doesn’t like Christmas presents? Christmas is the best time of year for any kid. The anticipation of Santa Claus with his bag of goodies, the tree, decorations, food, cookies, candies, turkey and stuffing. But most of all, presents. Piled up under the tree. Piled so high you can’t see over them. And stockings, hung perhaps not by the chimney but certainly with care, awaiting gifts from Santa. Christmas morning can’t come soon enough.
But first you have to endure the school Christmas concert, the Sunday School pageant re-enacting the birth of Baby Jesus, singing carols, and trying to figure out which cup and saucer to buy for your mother and which tie (or socks) for your father, just to get to the best part – opening your own presents. You wonder if Christmas morning will ever arrive.
But finally, it does. It’s early in the morning. It’s dark. Mom and Dad are still in bed. Never mind. You tear downstairs and run straight to your stocking. There it is, full to overflowing. You ignore the mandarin orange and hard candies, and go straight to the good stuff – the gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins, the little toys. That will keep you happy until you get to open the mother lode, the pile of parcels under the tree. Now all you have to do is wake up Mom and Dad and wait while they have their coffee and make breakfast.
Sometimes you have to wait even longer because your family is going to spend Christmas day with your relatives. You bundle up in winter clothes, put all the parcels into the trunk, and away you go. When you arrive, the grown-ups have to have coffee, talk, eat cookies and Christmas cake, check the progress of the Christmas feast, and talk about the weather. Don’t they know that Christmas is about opening presents?
But finally the big moment arrives. Paper flies, boxes are strewn about, and in five minutes it is all over. Reality settles in. That’s it, folks! Now we have to wait till next year.
I was 10 that particular Christmas. We drove to Assiniboia, 40 miles away, to spend the day with my Aunt Kay and Uncle Bob (my mother’s oldest brother). Grandpa Higham and Uncle George (my mother’s younger brother) were also there.
It was the gift from Uncle George that intrigued me. It was a rather large squarish box, decorated with a plush cow’s head. That’s a weird decoration to put on a Christmas gift, I thought, but then Uncle George had a reputation for being a joker. It was the last one I opened. I tried to pull the head off before ripping off the paper, but it wouldn’t budge. Finally, I tore off the paper, opened up the box and pulled out – a cow!
She (and it was most definitely a “she”) was white with red blotches. She had horns, an udder and a silly grin on her face. She wore button-up boots and a bell. What a stupid gift to give to a niece! How could my favourite uncle do this to me?
Of course, my parents made me thank Uncle George and they made me take her home and put her in my bedroom with my other plush toys. But they couldn’t make me like her.
They explained to me that she was Elsie, the Borden Cow, the cow in the advertisements for Borden’s condensed milk. But that didn’t make her any less ugly.
What they didn’t tell me was that she had magic powers. She had to, because otherwise how could a despised ugly plush cow turn into a prized possession?
When I packed to go to university, Elsie came with me. She was a connection with home and family. That was important for me, being only 17 and 2000 miles away from home.
Elsie was also a conversation piece at residence. Students would come in to visit, see her, and ask “What’s with the cow?” I would tell them the story, and they’d look at me like I was crazy. She was unique, and somehow by association that made me unique. That was important because I was at that point in life when I was trying to find out who I was and what made me tick.
Elsie is still with me. Like me, she’s a bit worse for the wear sixty-some years later. Her hind legs are bowed under her, her boots are dirty, her coat not as plushy. She still has her bell and her silly grin, and she sports a 1968 McGill Winter Carnival pin. I’ve grown to love her for who she is, slightly quirky, definitely herself.
The house was in chaos. The remains of breakfast still on the table. Unwashed dishes stacked in the sink. The living room in shambles. Mom standing in the midst of it all, dazed, confused, worried. She looked at me. “I need help!”
A medical emergency? Break-and-enter? Home invasion?
Nope. Something far more serious.
“B______ wants a quilt with animals on it, and I can’t decide what to make.”
That explained the shambles. The floor, the sofa, the coffee table covered with fabric – fat quarters, cut lengths, remnants – of all colours and designs; quilting magazines opened to different patterns.
Two hours later, we had decided on a pattern (frogs). We’d picked out the fabrics from her stash (varying shades of green and green prints).
I knew this was far from over. I’d been here before.
Mom stood up, hands on her hips, her lips pursed. “We need contrast fabric. And something for the sashing. And for the backing. I just don’t have enough flannel for the backing and what I do have just doesn’t go.”
She gathered up the chosen fabric and her purse. “We’ll just have to go in to Peachtree.” She handed me the keys to her beloved Buick Century. “Here, you drive. You know I hate driving in Regina.”
Yep, I’d been here before.
Peachtree was Mom’s favourite quilting store. Two rooms filled with more quilting fabric than you ever imagined existed. Plus quilting supplies. And sewing machines. And quilting books and magazines, just in case you didn’t already have enough. The staff knew her by name. That was no surprise – I think she was there at least once a week. Mom was an avid quilter. We joked that if something stood still long enough, she’d work it into a quilt.
An hour later, Mom left behind a bundle of money and I carried out a bundle of fabric. But the afternoon wasn’t over.
Mom grinned. “I think we need coffee. And something to eat.”
I knew where this was going. I’d been here before.
Off to our favourite coffee shop. Two lattes and a couple of those really decadent chocolate whatever-they-ares. Then it was time to pay.
“Gee, I forgot my wallet, Margaret.”
“No, you didn’t. You paid Peachtree, remember?”
“Yes, but you’re driving my car and burning my gas.”
“Yes, but you asked me to drive. You need to pay your chauffeur.”
“I paid last time.”
“No, I did.”
Meanwhile, the poor clerk looked more and more concerned, wondering if World War III was about to break out. Little did she know this “discussion” was all in fun. It was part of our routine. Mom knew I would pay. Eventually.
Like I said, I’d been here before. And I loved every minute of it.