Christmas memories have a way of staying with you for life. When I wrote Mistletoe & Wine, set in 1986, I drew upon one particular holiday tradition from my childhood.
Every year, sometime in December, my dad would take my sister and me to Sparks Street, the pedestrian mall in downtown Ottawa, to shop for Christmas presents for our mom. Sparks Street was a more popular shopping destination back then, before the Rideau Centre (a huge mall) was built nearby in the early 1980s.
Our shopping trip started with lunch at a tiny burger joint on the corner of Sparks. There were no tables or chairs, just counters where you’d eat standing up. Our next destination was a shop that specialized in native handicrafts. I remember beautifully stitched leather moccasins, Cowichan sweaters, bizarre-looking Iroquois masks, porcupine quill boxes, soapstone carvings, and felt animal dolls dressed in Inuit coats. Many of Mom’s treasured items were bought there over the years.
Another essential stop was the bookstore. Every year we’d buy Mom a couple of the latest comic strip collections – Garfield, The Far Side, Giles, Calvin & Hobbes and Herman. Once we got cold and hungry, we’d stop in at the nut shop. Dad would treat us to bags of delicious warm nuts and a cup of hot chocolate. He’d buy chocolates for Mom there as well.
The record store changed over the years. Vinyl albums were replaced by CDs. The shop is probably gone now, with the growing popularity of digital downloads. As a teenager, I remember the excitement of leafing through the latest singles – back then they were 45s. One year, when I was about fifteen, I showed my dad the Cutting Crew single I really really wanted. As much as he hated popular music, he went all the way back downtown another day and bought it for me. I’ll never forget that.
Eventually this tradition petered out. Shopping at the local mall became more convenient. I rarely have occasion to go downtown anymore. Navigating the traffic is unpleasant and parking is expensive. Sparks Street isn’t what it used to be, but to me it will always be associated with my dad, sister and me on cold December days, dashing from shop to shop, covering our ears with our mittens to keep them warm. Those memories, knit deep into my mind and heart, are woven in with warm feelings that I will always associate with Christmastime.
About Susan R. Hughes