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Why I remember ‘Christmas of the Mumps’ with a smile

When recalling Christmases past, this week, I dusted off memories of seasonal mayhem through the years. Our holidays did not always go smoothly, and like Elvis our family celebrated the occasional “blue Christmas.” The most memorable one occurred in 1961, when my older sister Mary arrived home from Shiloh, Manitoba with a special gift for me – the mumps.

Mary and her husband, who was in the military, had been posted to Camp Shiloh about six months earlier. My sister had grown homesick and had been counting the days until Christmas, when they would come back to Prince Edward County for the holidays. However, the much-anticipated visit was thrown into doubt when their five-year-old daughter, Kathy was exposed to a playmate with the mumps.

My sister went into panic mode. She was certain that her child would become sick and unable to travel. She decided that it was imperative that she and her daughter fly home, immediately. Her husband would follow, later.

Mary had no concern about catching the mumps, herself. When we were young, our mother had come down with them, but neither my sister or I became ill. We appeared to have immunity to this disease. She boarded a plane with her daughter and arrived in Picton a week ahead of schedule. We were excited to see her and gave little thought to the reason for her early visit.

Unfortunately, two weeks before Christmas, Mary developed a sore throat and came down with the mumps. Luckily, she recovered in time to enjoy her Christmas dinner. I fell ill on Dec. 23rd and was unable to eat my Christmas meal. Unlike Mary, I did not recover rapidly. On New Year’s Day, I was so ill that my mother called for a doctor (physicians made house calls on weekends and holidays in early times).

My sister and I obviously had not been immune to the mumps after all. My niece, Kathy, was the only one who did not fall ill. By the time I had fully recovered, the turkey, stuffing and mince pies were gone and Christmas was only a memory.

The Christmas turkey was responsible for several tense situations in our household, through the years. One year, as it was cooking in the oven, the power went out during a snowstorm. Mother fretted and fumed for more than an hour, while struggling to plan a turkey-less festive meal with cold mashed potatoes and stuffing. Luckily, power was restored in time for us to enjoy a piping hot Christmas dinner.

My sister had a turkey fiasco of her own, approximately five years ago. She and her husband had been invited to her son’s home for Christmas dinner. Certain that her daughter-in-law would not have enough turkey to go around, at the last minute, Mary decided to take matters into her own hands. She would cook a spare bird and take it with her. She sent her husband off to the supermarket to buy a freezer-to-oven turkey and congratulated herself on hatching a sure-fire plan that would ensure a drumstick for all.

Early on Christmas morning, I called my sister. As we were talking, she paused several times to give instructions to her husband, who had taken the understudy turkey out of their freezer and was preparing to pop it into the oven. Suddenly, I heard a loud exclamation of dismay. When I asked Mary what was wrong she reported that her spouse had bought the wrong turkey at the grocery store. It was not a freezer-to-oven bird. The understudy was frozen solid and would not be making a Christmas appearance at anyone’s dinner table. My sister rang off after telling me that she had to call her daughter, right away, to ask if she might have a spare ham to bring to their holiday feast. Knowing that my niece was no Martha Stewart, I had visions of a spare Spam on a platter taking the place of the back-up turkey.

This year, when recalling Christmases past, I realized that the mini-disasters of our family holidays, while upsetting at the time, have become special memories in their own right. My sister, who once surprised me with the mumps for Christmas, today is a nursing home patient suffering from dementia, as a result of Parkinson’s Disease. Her husband, Art, passed away last spring, after a brave fight with cancer. I cherish the memories of the holidays we once spent together and remember the Christmas of the Mumps with a smile. I will think of Mary, as my turkey goes into the oven on Christmas morning, and say a small prayer that somehow her heart still remembers the wonderful days when we were a family.

Filed Under: Margaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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