Discover more from Marian Bantjes is Writing Again
When I was a kid, instead of the “stockings hung by the chimney with care,” red and iconically giant sock-shaped, trimmed with fur and bedecked, perhaps, with initials or names, we had Mountie’s socks. Apparently, my mother knew a Mountie and somehow got ahold of his socks. It has only recently occurred to me that my mother may have been in a relationship with the Mountie, but … however it came to pass, my two brothers and I each had a large, long, and very itchy, black, woollen sock, which was draped across the end of our beds on the night of Christmas eve.
Evidently, Mounties had a torturous winter kit because, not only did they have to wear thick, itchy, knee-high socks, they also once wore huge, buffalo winter coats. Bison fur is undoubtedly warm, but very heavy, inflexible, and weirdly scruffy-looking. Probably due to them rendering police officers essentially immobile, they were apparently abandoned by the RCMP in 1961, and yet I swear I saw a cop or two wearing one sometime in the late 70s. We also used to come across them in thrift stores from time to time.
And this is my favourite memory of Christmas. Waking up early on Christmas day (we weren’t allowed to open anything until 7am but at least once, I set the hands of my clock ahead from 6am to 7, under the pretense that it could plausibly have happened on its own), and stretching my foot down to feel the weight and hear the delicious crackle of tissue paper. The weight. It was a lumpen thing the size and possible weight of a small Mountie’s leg at the end of the bed. That exact moment holds all of Christmas in it for me. It is the one thing about Christmas that I truly miss and that I can’t imagine I will ever have again.
Once the light was on, the thing itself was revealed. The sock was stretched around various shapes and often, sticking out of the top was the widest: a book-shape. My mother wrapped everything in tissue paper, so there was a ceremonial unwrapping, each thing revealed and another reached for, further inside the sock, the wool scratching my arm, further and further up toward my shoulder as the shapes were removed and unwrapped. In the toe, always, a mandarine orange—sometimes, in those days, the first of the year.
Sometimes my mother attended this woollen spelunking, other times not. I suspect she was there when I was younger, and not so much as I got older. I don’t remember the last time I got a stocking, but I do know I was too old for stockings in general, and I may even have been visiting home as an adult. But Mum was a very good gift-giver, keeping an eye on things all year, and choosing things specifically and adeptly for each of us. She put a lot of thought into the stockings, and I don’t remember ever being disappointed by the contents.
I was late to find out The Truth about Santa Claus. The beginning happened on the school playground, where a number of kids were announcing his non-existence. In disbelief, I went home and asked my Mum, and when she confessed, I said, “OK, but don’t tell me about the Easter Bunny, because I don’t want to know!” and stormed out of the room. But I knew. And in one fell swoop, then and forever, I lost my belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and God.