“When people ask me why is Winter’s Tale a fantasy, I point out that it is not a fantasy.” Mark Helprin
And so it was when we all gathered from various parts of the North American continent for my sister’s and brother-in-law’s annual family Christmas Party. It was quite different from the others that we had celebrated. We had gathered unwittingly to celebrate not only our Christmas family reunion but the worse ice storm in the weather history of Toronto. The whole family pulled together, setting aside our little squabbles and occasional bad moods, to make the day special. And so we did.
We, Torontonians, are a hardy breed. The weather never stopped us…life goes on in sunshine, rain, blizzards and even ICE. On Sunday morning, the day of the party and sit-down dinner for twenty, we woke up to no heat, no electricity and worst of all no coffee, or tea. The three little ones, ranging from 18 months to seven years were lucky. They had milk.
The city was treacherous but a beautiful sight as if it had been built of crystal. Unfortunately along with the beauty came the broken branches and downed electric wires. In our neighbourhood several sections of the streets were blocked off because of the wires and dangerously large tree branches breaking and falling on streets, roof-tops, cars and people. On Yonge Street, one of the major arteries running north and south and three blocks from our house had power. The shops and restaurants were open, the high-rise condos were lit up and the sidewalks, heavily sanded and salted were filled people and the hustle and bustle of the holiday spirit.
My daughter dashed out to Starbucks’s to get coffee and my brother-in-law made scrambled eggs on the BBQ.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus
The house was beginning to get quite cool, so the guys went out with screwdrivers and ax and shovel to try to break up the two inch ice covering the wood pile. The ladies… meaning myself, my daughter, my niece, my two grand-children… we decided to warm up and what better place to do it than in a movie theatre. So, my brother-in-law drove us the four blocks to the theatre and guess what we picked?? FROZEN, of course. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
After the movie, my brother-in-law picked us up and the tension of having a branch fall on our heads or on the car, was over and done with. A branch had already fallen on my brother-in-laws head…well, on his car top. Luckily, it didn’t cause too much damage. We arrived home to a roaring fire and a warm downstairs.
At this point we were four hours till party time. The meat that my brother-in-law had ordered wasn’t available because the store was closed. So he and high went to the one in downtown Toronto which was so crowded we could hardly move and we stocked up on a full twenty people dinner. Next stop was the “Four Thieves,” four gourmet stores in a row…bakery, deli, fish market and butcher store. They are outrageously expensive. Since my sister couldn’t finish baking her traditional Linzer Tarts, we picked up four of those and warm fresh bread. We headed home as it began to drizzle again.
Meanwhile my nephew and son-in-law were out searching for candles and battery operated lights. After two hours and four stores they managed to scrounge together enough to light up the downstairs.
My other niece and daughter were watching the kids and helping my sister.
Now it was time to get ready for the party. Showers? Forget the showers…no hot water. I looked at my dress and decided to stay warm instead. Everyone else had the same idea.
The rest of the family arrived, bottles of wine were opened, nice and cool from the back porch, cheeses and fresh bread and crackers were served and all by romantic candle light and a roaring crackling fire. Amidst laughter, noise, everyone talking at the same time and the fire alarm going off once from a puff of fireplace smoke, we opened our presents hugging and kissing and oh-ing and ah-ing our thank you’s.
Just as we were ready to sit down at the festively set long table, the lights came on. For a second everyone stopped what they were doing, shocked by the brightness. The women all dashed off to put on our party dresses, we grabbed the kids and among great protests tugged and pulled on their lovely Christmas outfits and we had the best dinner ever. We went ahead with the BBQ. We heated the soup, vegetables and potatoes in the stove, my sister shoved in her Linzer Tarts and we felt truly like a family pulling together. It was quite a day.
After everyone had left, a few of us decided to play UNO. By one o’clock, we were ready to go to bed. Saying our good nights, we all crawled off to our respective bedrooms, grateful that we could slip into a warm bed.
How “little” it takes to make one happy and how hard it is when that “little” is missing. But we all had the right attitude to cope with what we had. It truly brought us together as a family when each of us knew what to do without the other telling us. We were like a symphony with the right chords blending to make beautiful music.