My most memorable Christmas

The O’Connor gang circa Christmas 1976 or so taken by my father. A happy group, I’d say.
A couple of days ago, a friend asked: ‘What’s the most memorable Christmas gift you have ever received or given?’
 
Instantly, I thought when I was about 14 and my father brought home a boxer puppy late on Christmas Eve, and entrusted me to keep it company and quiet overnight in the basement.
 
There was also the sweater that Sandy knit for me for our first Christmas. She gave it to me in three pieces. A day earlier, she discovered she had not made space to attach the arms. She was initially distraught, but we had a great laugh over it.
 
As for memorable gifts given, I thought about Sandy and I giving our son Sean a pair of super expensive Nike-Bauer skates—the same ones NHL players wore–that I got for a ridiculous price because I was a Nike Golf consultant. Sean was ecstatic.
 
But for memorable gifts given or received, that’s about it. I was surprised that I couldn’t remember more, especially gifts that I’ve given. Were my gifts that unimaginative? Well, a few years ago, I misjudged completely how the gift of a book called Get Your Sh*t Together might be received. That required some explaining.
 
But I’ve never committed the mortal sin of giving Sandy something like a vacuum, which would have likely resulted in a well-deserved detention in The Doghouse (Check this classic video about what happens to men who give their wives stupid gifts.)
 
After thinking about my friend’s question, I settled on a memory from when I was 21. It was 1978 and I was living at home in London, Ontario. I was working part-time at a grocery store during the day and playing bass in a rock trio in the evenings. (Second year was a disaster at university, so I took a break.)
 
The band had one of those self-aggrandizing-mystical-medieval-band names of the 70s—Wizard—even though we played straight ahead rock of the day, such as ZZ Top, Rush and Aerosmith. We were serious, practising four nights a week minimum, and thus, we were solid and tight. Wizard was my best shot at living out my rock dreams. We planned on going on the road in Northern Ontario in January.
 
But in late November, our drummer Alan disappeared. Scott, the guitar player, and I went to the police to inquire. Turns out, Alan was wanted for three counts of breaking and entering. In talking about his past, Alan had mentioned heroin. At the time, I had no idea that heroin had such an iron grip.
 
My rock dreams went poof. After being in a number of bands that also died, I decided that was it.
 
I was at loose ends for most of December. As someone who was always busy, I didn’t have much to do except for about two shifts a week at Miracle Mart, rounding up shopping carts in the slushy parking lot. I hated sliding and slipping around doing a menial job that I thought was below me.
 
To stay mildly entertained at work, I began to smoke a joint during my first break. I’d think about how funny it was to have a mild buzz on while working. I felt that somehow I was pulling one over on all the straight people, but I’m sure many knew.
 
Eventually, the high wore off and I’d settle back into a familiar funk, feeling fairly useless and headed nowhere fast. During the day, my siblings would be at school and my parents were at work, I’d hang around our house, feeling bummed, without a reason to get up every day. There was no need to practice my bass anymore. 
 
I was sliding into a deep, dark hole. Smoking weed provided some distraction, but I believe it just worsened my funk.
 
When the Christmas school break came, my four teenaged siblings were at home, and we would hang out. I was fortunate that my sibs, my parents and I all got along well. I realized that we didn’t suffer the tension and drama that many friends experienced at Christmas.
 
That Christmas was full of our usual rituals, such as going to midnight mass, doing the mambo to Feliz Navidad in the pew when mass ended, having a drink afterwards and telling stories. On Christmas morning, with everyone in housecoats and pyjamas, my father handed out each gift—my mom wrapped them all—one a time so everyone got their moment.
 
For bigger gifts, we’d gasp, and “ooh” and “ahh” with mock amazement, and tried to outdo each other with one-liners. We laughed a lot and were very silly. Christmas dinner climaxed with the ritual flaming plum pudding that elicited more “oohs” and “ahhs.” Christmas was fun.
 
It was during that Christmas that I realized how fortunate I was to be in my family. Just being among them was a gift. I didn’t have the words then, but today I would say I felt blessed. It was like, ‘Phew, I’m all right. I’m going to be ok.’
 
I determined that I would go back to university the next fall. Around the same time, I got a full-time job at a record store starting in January. I saved most of everything I earned which allowed me live on my own while going to school for the first time. Two years later, I was editor of Western’s student newspaper, which launched me on career in journalism.
 
I’m glad that my friend asked that question. It stayed with me for a few days, and got me thinking. So I started writing about it. It allowed me see that part of my life with greater clarity and to more appreciate the blessing of my family.
 
Perhaps this can be my gift to you: In understanding yourself better today, journal, draw or record yourself speaking about your past, and you might be amazed at how you start to connect dots or see things clearer.
 
And it’s my hope that you and your family have a Christmas season full of good health, peace and love.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the recipient of the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!

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