Hamilton, Ontario


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Playing Santa

By Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Emily Jane Hills Orford ghost stories “Do you want to take care of the shopping this year?” my sister asked. She knew better than to ask our brothers. Who knows what they would buy! “I just don’t have time and you have a lot of good ideas.”

“Okay.” I have to admit I was pleased to be asked. At fourteen and the youngest, I wasn’t often given full responsibility to do any kind of shopping unless it was just down the street at the local grocery store. But this was a big deal. Now that we were older, we got our heads together (and our money) and came up with ideas on what little things we could purchase to stuff stockings Christmas Eve. Not for each other. For Mom, Dad and Gran, the three grown-ups who were always there for us. We called it playing Santa. And it was so much fun. At least, I thought so. Especially Christmas morning when we would tiptoe downstairs early and fill stockings for Mom, Dad and Gran, trying to keep our giggles in check so we didn’t wake up the recipients.

I had already completed my shopping. Long ago. Gran and I had a routine. Every September we did our Christmas shopping. Early. Getting the sales before the crowds appeared. With my gifts wrapped and hidden, I enjoyed the fun of preparing stockings for ‘the grown-ups’.

Previous years, I’d accompany my sister and we’d do the stocking shopping together. But she was busy with her university courses and music rehearsals and performances. Me, on the other hand, I had lots of time. And energy. I agreed and chose a bright Saturday morning in early December to walk downtown. Mom wasn’t concerned. It was safe enough to walk down Waterloo Street, zigzag over to Victoria Park and meander through the creatively decorated park and into the downtown core. In the early 1970s, that’s where everyone shopped in London – downtown. There was Eaton’s and Sears and Laura Secord – all the classic stores with all the treats and treasures we knew the grown-ups loved. Like the hard toffee candies at Laura Secord, sold in their trademark glass jars. Gran loved those and it was a perfect treat to add to her Christmas stocking.

I spent the morning wandering through the stores, picking up special gifts here and there. My supply of $40.00, a collected amount shared with my siblings, quickly dwindled. When I was down to my last quarter, I realized I had enough to fill three stockings, one for Mom, Dad and Gran. Laden with purchases, I made the long trek home. My pace wasn’t as lively as it had been earlier, now that I’d been shopping all morning and I had parcels to carry. I had debated whether or not to catch the Waterloo Street bus that stopped at our corner, but when I exited Eaton’s, I watched, disappointed, as the bus left its stop and made its trek northward. Missing my bus, I knew it would be at least another half-hour before the next one. So, I walked.

“What did you get?” my sister greeted me with a conspiratorial whisper when I walked in the back door. Not wanting to share my secrets where they might be overheard, I answered with a question. “Where’s Mom, Dad and Gran?” “Off doing their own shopping,” was the response. We dashed up to my room and I spread everything across the bed. My sister appeared satisfied. “I’ll help wrap.” She dashed out of the room, returning moments later with the paper, scissors and scotch tape. And, of course, three stockings, all appropriately identified.

keep reading When lunch was called an hour later, our wrapping was complete, the stockings stuffed and hidden at the back of my closet. Now, all we had to do was wait for Christmas Eve and hope that neither one of us let our secret be known. That was the hardest part. Waiting and keeping our secrets close.

I relished the Christmas tradition that my sister started all those years ago. It was only fitting that we honor our parents with a fun surprise on Christmas morning. After all they did for us, they deserved to be remembered by Santa himself. And they were – through us.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford has published several books, creative nonfiction stories mostly about her family. Growing up in Toronto, then Hamilton and finally London, Emily-Jane has lots of family stories to warm the heart. In her most recent novels, “Mrs. Murray’s Ghost” and “Mrs. Murray’s Hidden Treasure”, the author returns to her roots and the fond memories and dreams, growing up in a haunted old Victorian mansion in London. For more information about the author, check out her webpage at: http://emilyjanebooks.ca