First Words

This issue rolls out in sync with the season – stores are bustling, homes are decked in holiday splendour and kids are off-the-wall excited. There is also an air of giving. It fills my heart to see people volunteering for the Salvation Army, the thrift stores, the food banks and church bazaars. As my grandmother would say, they are giving the most important gift of all: “of their time and their talent.” She would knit, smock and sew for the Christmas bazaar until she was well into her eighties.

When she was a little girl in England, part of Nannie’s formal education included needlework. Her teacher would tap her chin up with a ruler if her head drooped. But those stern lessons would hold her in good stead for the rest of her life. She became a nurse and worked in a field hospital during the First World War – just like Sybil in Downton Abbey – where she fell in love with my grandfather, a young Canadian soldier who was wounded in France. In 1920, she came to Canada as a war bride. All alone in a new country, she cared for her family, sewing their clothes, knitting, then mending their socks; her hands were never still, especially before Christmas. During the Second World War she knit socks and scarves and sewed bandages for the Red Cross for the overseas troops.

When I was a little girl, Christmas presents from Nannie were the best – dolls in frilly dresses and lace-edged bonnets, a Raggedy Ann one year and Andy the next. The very last Christmas present she made for me was a crib quilt for my newborn daughter Jessie. She made it two months before she passed away, her gnarled fingers stitching the scalloped edges around a pale yellow duckling. This Christmas Eve, I will remember Nannie as I tuck my granddaughter, her great-great-granddaughter into bed with that same quilt. And I will think about the people around us who have given “of their time and their talent.” They are the essence of our communities and capture the spirit of the season. Thanks to all of them.