Robert and Rita Brehl

My most memorable Christmas gift

  • December 17, 2015

At a recent dinner party, talk turned to most memorable Christmas gifts received. There was a first bicycle, some jewelry and a couple “bucket-list” trips mentioned.

I talked about a pair of brand new CCM Tacks hockey skates. Being the youngest of five boys and two girls, hand-me-downs were the norm in our home. But I was the first to play organized hockey and I begged my parents for those skates one year. I still remember opening that blue-yellow-white box and seeing those brown leather Tacks. It was a joyous moment for an 11-year-old boy.

The skates, however, weren’t the most memorable Christmas gift. That gift came a few years later. For some reason, I withheld this information at the dinner party. Don’t really know why; maybe because it wasn’t a present wrapped in a box but something else. Perhaps I was afraid I might have sounded sappy telling the story that night.

Well, after pondering my reluctance to share the story, I decided to write about it here instead. And if it’s judged to be overly sentimental and corny, so be it. It’s a story about a relationship between a mother and her son. We tend to save such stories for Mother’s Day, but what better time of year to celebrate mothers than at Christmas?

Anyway, in this particular story a little boy was the youngest of seven children. All early memories revolve around his mother making him feel special. No doubt she made all her children feel special. But this child can only speak to his own relationship with her.

He remembers a special time, a very short period of time, when all the older kids were in school and he was the only one still at home, alone with his mother. He remembers jumping up on the kitchen counter, legs dangling and talking to her while she cleaned up the morning dishes. Who knows if he ever helped dry the dishes, but you’d like to think so.

When he was old enough to play hockey, his mother dropped out of her Friday night bowling league to be at every game to cheer him on. When he was in Grade 7 and won several public speaking competitions, she went to each contest at Royal Canadian Legion halls all over the east end of Toronto. On school nights, he loved to talk her into allowing him to stay up late and watch TV shows like Mannix and Columbo with her. She rarely denied him.

But eventually the boy turned into a teenager and decided it wasn’t so cool to hang out with his mom any more. He sure didn’t want his friends seeing him in public with her. That would be awfully embarrassing. For several years, he treated her badly.

In many ways, he was a typical teenager. He wasn’t a horrible kid, but he did things that weren’t very nice to her, too; like staying out late without telling her where he was or saying he was going to his part-time job when he was really going to a party. A typical male teenager, he thought he was a bit of a tough guy and loathed anyone thinking he was some sort of a “momma’s boy.”

He never stopped loving her, and she never stopped loving him, but he stopped liking her and being with her, and that must have hurt. After he did something silly one Christmas Eve, his father sat him down and said: “Some people think women are the weaker sex and those people are wrong. Women like your mother are stronger and tougher than us.”

He must have said more, but that’s all the son remembers. The advice made the teenager think. It made him question things. It made him change.

Over the next year, he made a point of hanging out more with his mom. They went to Blue Jays’ games together. They started watching TV shows together again, especially her favourite, Quincy. When his friends were around he’d invite them in and they’d all talk to his mom about this and that and what they were doing that night.

Their relationship was back to what it used to be. She welcomed the return, no strings attached, and he realized how much fun she was and that his friends even thought she was cool.

By the next Christmas, her cancer had arrived. And three more Christmases would be her last.

So, what could be the most memorable Christmas gift? The fatherly advice that resonated so deeply and made the son wise up; and just in time. The fact the son showed her the love and friendship she deserved before she got sick, and not after, has stuck with him his entire life. He chose the right thing to do and she knew he did this without feelings of guilt or other emotions that he would have had if he had waited until after she became sick.

We just don’t know what is around the corner and that son — someone who’s had far more Christmases without his mother than with her — remembers that Christmas gift at more times of the year than simply during the holidays.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and let’s hope and pray for peace in 2016.

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at bob@ or @bbrehl on Twitter.)

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