Cariboo Christmas artwork by Lilyanna Allenby, a Grade 6 student at Horse Lake Elementary

Cariboo Christmas artwork by Lilyanna Allenby, a Grade 6 student at Horse Lake Elementary

Memories of a Christmas tree-cutter

Christmas story by Pauline Pageau

My Christmas story goes back to the mid-60s when I was nine years old living in Northern Ontario. My French Canadian parents had nine children: five boys and four girls in that order and I was the first of the girls.

I felt a responsibility to help my baby sisters but I related so much more to my older brothers. My dad got sick in his early 30s with strokes, epilepsy and he was in and out of the hospital for long periods of time so my brothers had to take on big responsibilities too.

I remember my childhood filled with lots of laughter, lots of fun and wandering free and fearless in the forests surrounding us. My closest and youngest brother was Charlie, who was just a year and a half older than me. He took me everywhere he went and he was my best friend. He talked to me about his future a lot and he clearly wanted to be an oceanographer like Jacques Cousteau. He said he wanted to move out west, which was for me a million miles away.

One Christmas, many of my oldest brothers had already left home so Charlie decided to get our Christmas tree and dragged me out to go find one. He brought a small saw and off we went, just me and him. I remember how beautiful that day was, sunny with sparkly crispy snow. He picked out this super tall fir and up he climbed to cut the top of that tree. I remember feeling so amazed at how high he was, I could barely see him.

He was in the middle of cutting the treetop when we heard some man screaming at him….”Hey, you freakin’ kid, what are you doing to my tree?” although it was yelled in French. I watched this angry man as he sprinted towards us still yelling at my brother! I looked up and watched Charlie come down that tree so fast I thought he was going to fall! Charlie yelled for me to get back to the road now so I ran as fast as my little legs could go.

When we got away, he started to laugh so hard he couldn’t catch his breath. He made me laugh so hard, too, and soon we were back in the woods to cut a smaller tree which we brought home. I don’t remember him telling this event to my mom or dad so it became our Christmas secret. We talked about that situation often. This happy memory has vividly stayed with me.

Sadly, my Charlie was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was 19 while learning to ride his motorcycle he bought with his own money. I will never forget how sad I felt for a long time. He instilled a sense of adventure and fearlessness in me and it helped me navigate life.

This wonderful memory brought me to Vancouver. At 19, I hopped on the cross-country train by myself to seek my dreams of a great future. If Charlie was still with me, I think Jacques Cousteau would have loved my brother as part of his ocean team. I miss him and think of the kind of life he would have had. I know in my heart I would have followed him to B.C. I can still sense him like a guardian angel over my shoulder watching out for me. I’m now 66, retired, happily living in the Cariboo at 108 Mile Ranch. Charlie would be so proud of me.


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