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Christmas is a time to help those in need

Ken Alexander’s special Christmas column to the Free Press
Ken and Kris Alexander love celebrating Christmas with their granddaughters Emelia, Elyse and Ivy. (Photo submitted)

Christmas has always been a special time for me.

My mother, who was my best friend, loved Christmas, especially Christmas morning when she was the first one up and out of bed. Perhaps that was because she was the baby in her family home.

She always made a special breakfast whether it was waffles, pancakes or bacon and eggs. She would always take a break while preparing the morning meal to wake us up and then help my brother and sister get dressed.

Once that was finished, Mom would head back into the kitchen and she would order me to lead the young ones into the living room to check out the socks we hung on the fireplace mantle. We didn’t dare open them to see what treasures were hidden in our dad’s freshly washed work socks because Mom wouldn’t put up with that nonsense.

I remember Mom smiling as she watched us look at the socks and then glance at the presents under the Christmas tree.

There was always the family tradition of having mandarin oranges on our plates at the table, and we would peel the oranges and eat them one segment at a time.

Dad was always the last one up for breakfast because he had to shave before he came to the Christmas table.

When I was older, he told me he was always slow getting out of bed on Christmas morning so Mom would go into their bedroom and he could give her another good morning kiss and a tickle.

We kids would away smile when Mom would squeal with delight when Dad tickled her.

When I got older and a little cheekier, I would tease Mom about our parents’ Christmas morning tradition – much to the delight of my younger siblings who would roar with laughter but would not get involved with my teasing.

I had to stand up to the wrath of my Dad alone! He would verbally scold me but then smile and tell me I was a bright boy – cheeky but bright he would whisper.

Mornings around the Christmas tree were always special.

I really enjoyed watching everyone open their presents, especially my brother, sister and parents in the mornings and my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbours who arrived in the afternoon and stayed for dinner. Other people would be invited. Some had lost their life partner; others were people who would have had to spend Christmas alone.

I remember being so proud of my parents for bringing strangers into our home so they wouldn’t have to be alone on Christmas.

One Boxing Day when I was 13 years old, I asked my mom why they did that. She told me Dad started doing that when men he went to war with and he had connected with at the Legion didn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas, so he asked them to come to our place to experience the magic of Christmas.

I remember crying, hugging my Dad and telling him he was a great man and a good friend to these strangers who shared Christmas with our family.

It was then that I decided I would do that when I grew up, although I didn’t know how I would manage it at that time.

I decided I wanted to make people happy, so I figured giving them gifts on their special days like Christmas and birthdays would be a good start.

So I decided I needed to get a job. I decided mowing lawns would be a good gig. Back then push lawn mowers were the tool to use to mow lawns – not like the ride-on mowers we have today.

My Mom liked that idea and decided it would be good for me to mow our lawns so I could get good at it – clever girl.

Then she noticed the rich neighbour had an electric mower and he made great straight lines on his lawns and she took me over to watch him make those lines in the grass.

Once I figured out how to make the straight lines, Mom told the neighbours that I was looking at mowing lawns so I could make money to buy birthday and Christmas presents.

One lady up the lane asked me to mow her lawn because her husband was a long-haul truck driver and he didn’t have time to take care of the grass.

I jumped at the opportunity, and she was my first customer.

The timing was perfect as it was close to my Mom’s birthday and I wanted to get her a nice piece of jewellery as a present.

After I finished mowing her lawn, the neighbour wanted me to do some extra things – clipping around the flowers and trees and the walkways because she was having a garden party.

After all of the clipping was done, the neighbour asked me to mow the boulevard so her guests could park there and could walk across nice grass.

When I finished the boulevard, and she checked it out, she asked me how much she owed me.

I told her I didn’t know because she was my first customer.

She smiled and then reached into her purse and pulled out a wad of bills. Then she asked me what I would do with all of the money and I told her I wanted to get my mom some jewellery for her birthday.

She smiled and reached into her purse and pulled out some more bills and handed them to me.

I asked her what that was for and she said it was a “bonus.”

It was the first bonus I received, and I liked it because it would let me buy my mom a nicer piece of jewellery.

The joy on Mom’s face when she opened that gift made me feel very good.

When I started working for a living, I kept looking for a company that would provide a monetary bonus for workers who went above and beyond.

I finally found one when I was hired by the Williams Lake Tribune some 45 years ago, and through the years, Black Press was always good about sharing the wealth with its employees.

Eventually, I was in a financial position to share Christmas and bonuses with employees, who weren’t able to go home for Christmas to be with their families.

Actually, it started with my youngest daughter’s boyfriend. His family home was destroyed in a wildfire. His family moved away but he stayed behind because he was working on an apprenticeship.

Because he didn’t he didn’t have money to rent or visit his family, he was staying at our home.

It was interesting because he was brought up in a Jehovah’s Witness family. He didn’t know what to expect on Christmas Day at our house. He had never experienced one.

He had never had a Christmas present before. However, he was happy to receive a couple of presents, watch a Christmas movie and have a Christmas dinner, and play games after dinner dishes were put away.

However, I think he thought having his name pulled up to clean the dishes was rigged, he laughed when all of our family left the kitchen.

When I became an editor, I wanted to make sure my editorial staff had the opportunity to get home for Christmas. Sometimes it was a matter of giving up my Christmas holiday, or finding some money for the ticket home (thanks to bonus money) or an invitation to come to the Alexander family’s home for a Christmas party.

One of the more interesting bonus cheque spends was a response to a story I wrote about a young family that was in financial difficulties.

When the story was published in Kamloops This Week, an aggravated reader called and berated me for writing a sappy story about a family with a husband/father who was “really just too lazy to get a job.”

The caller was peeved that I didn’t back down and agree with him. Eventually, he hung up and came down to the office the next day.

We worked out our differences. He had talked to his son in Alberta who would give the young unemployed man a job if he passed an interview. The interview would have to be done in Alberta, but the young father didn’t have the money to go to Alberta.

I dug into my bonus money so he could take a bus to go to the interview.

The young couple and their baby came to the office to pick up the money for the interview. They were so happy and so thankful – even the baby let me hold her.

He passed the interview and started work immediately.

The wife came to the office a week before Christmas and tearfully asked if her husband’s boss bought a bus ticket to get her husband to Kamloops so they could have their first Christmas together with their daughter, would I be able to buy the ticket for him to go back to work.

I dug into my pocket and pulled out the remainder of my bonus money.

Well, dear readers. I hope you will look around this Yuletide season and see if there is a way you can make Christmas better for a stranger in need.