Every winter, for as long as he could remember, Lawrence’s dad, George, took him out to their trapline and cabin for ice fishing and to check the snares for rabbits. They went for four days, every few weeks, returning home with the harvest to feed them for the long winter months. Lawrence loved spending time with his dad, learning and listening to the stories passed down to him from his ancestors. His dad considered him his ‘little shadow’ because Lawrence trailed along behind him everywhere he went. George, a proud Métis man, loved nothing more than teaching his son how Mother Earth speaks a language with no words while showing them how magical she can be.
But, this time was different.
It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and at the age of 6, Lawrence was upset Santa Claus wouldn’t know where to find him. For the first time, he wanted to stay home. George, being an avid hunter, was a very intuitive man. He recognized the change in Lawrence’s usual happy mood and immediately understood. With a twinkle in his eye and help from his wife, Nancy, they gathered up the provisions they needed and loaded up the sleigh.
When it was time to go, Lawrence hugged his mom, waved goodbye to his sisters, and jumped up onto the sleigh, sitting down beside his dad, snuggling into the feather blankets his mom had made. His thoughts turned to all the ducks his dad hunted that summer and how his family sat around the fire pit, plucking the feathers off the ducks for his mom to use to make them blankets and pillows. They lived off the land, and to be honest; life was a struggle having to survive without a lot of money. Nevertheless, his parents always made sure they had love, a warm home, and food on the table. Lawrence, wrapping himself in the blanket, remembered not wanting to help his mom out that day, but he sure did appreciate the warmth now.
George made a ‘click-click’ sound out of the side of his mouth, letting the horses know they were ready, and off they went, jostling side to side. He handed the reins over to Lawrence, who then guided the horses with an ease of confidence as they trotted along the well-worn path they knew so well.
A few hours into their journey, Lawrence felt the biting cold seep through his layers of clothing and into his bones. He pulled the reins towards him to stop the horses and jumped down while his dad grabbed some dry meat for an afternoon snack. After they ate, his dad looked back at Lawrence with a mischievous grin and made a whipping motion for the horses to walk on. Lawrence wasn’t paying attention. He was busy spinning round and round, collecting snowflakes with his tongue. When he heard the horses, Lawrence realized his dad was leaving him behind. “Hey, Dad! Wait for me!” he shouted, only to see he wasn’t slowing down. He was actually going faster! Lawrence had to run to catch up as George looked back at him through his laughter and shouted, “I bet you’re warm now, my nikosis!”
A few hours later, they arrived at the cabin. Lawrence jumped off the sleigh, running around, stopping to identify all the different tracks the visiting animals had made while they were gone. Lawrence knew he was going to be a good hunter like his dad one day. He loved nothing more than trailing along behind him; there were no better days than those spent outdoors. His dad taught him how to fish, hunt, and set snares for rabbits, to track animals by watching for the signs they left in nature. Most importantly, he taught Lawerance never to take more than they needed and always say prayers of gratitude for everything they received. “Hey dad, Lawrence yelled, pointing, look at all the deer tracks” as he followed along behind him, walking in his dad’s big footprints he made in the snow.
They entered the cabin to unpack the supplies of blue ribbon loose tea, nabob coffee, condensed milk, potatoes, a few eggs, lard, jam, flour, and Lawrence’s favorite, canned blueberries for his sweet tooth. After he was finished, he looked around for any traces of squirrels who may have found their way in looking for a home. “Squirrels are the worst,” he thought to himself. “They make the biggest mess.”
They spent the rest of the day checking some traps and fishing and ended the day eating a hearty meal of whitefish soup and fresh bannock. The repeated days of hard work and the consistency of new experiences made him feel like he was living his best life. That night was Christmas Eve, and the cabin was warm and cozy. Lawrence looked over at his dad, silently thanking him for the fire that warmed him from his nose to his toes. After cleaning up from dinner, Lawrence put his pajamas on and walked over to the frosted window. He stood on his tippy toes and scraped a corner of the glass clean staring out into the night. The North Star shone brightly, lighting up the dark as he searched for a sign, and again wondered if Santa Claus would find his way to him. He squeezed his eyes shut and made a wish, never knowing, at that very same moment, a shooting star sent a streak of light across the night sky.
George got up from stoking the fire for the night and placed his hand on his son’s head, rustling his hair affectionately, motioning him to bed. Lawrence yawned and looked around one last time before settling in to say his prayers.
Morning made its entrance through the window as the sun and its glorious red and orange hues danced into the cabin right across Lawrence’s face, waking him from his sugarplum dreams. He woke and stretched his arms above his head and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He looked around adjusting to the light and saw it – hanging from the stove beside the coal oil lantern was a wool sock! He couldn’t believe it! He stumbled out of bed laughing as his dad watched him with a smile. “Dad! Dad! Wake up! He came, Dad! Santa came! He found me! He didn’t forget about me, Dad!”
Lawrence grabbed the sock and sat down on the cold wooden floor, crisscrossing his legs while he peeked inside. At the top was a colorful type of hard candy formed in the shape of a red and green ribbon. He pulled it out and took a bite, savoring the sweetest taste he had ever experienced before. Next, he pulled out a handful of peanuts and set them aside, knowing he would have to share those with his dad later. He put his hand in the sock once more and pulled out two mandarin oranges that had nestled themselves in the toe of the sock. He looked at his gifts with such joy when suddenly he noticed the sunlight beamed down and shined on something that was slightly hidden by the woodpile. He reached for it with a shaky hand, pulling out a shiny new red toy truck. He couldn’t believe it! He looked up at his dad with tears in his eyes and held the toy truck to his chest. “Dad! Look at what Santa brought for me! A real toy truck!” Lawrence sprung up, frantically looking around the cabin for any possible signs, but he couldn’t see anything. He looked at the stove and how small the stack was, “It isn’t possible,” he thought to himself. Next, he went to the window, peering out. “How did Santa get in here, Dad? Where are his tracks?”
Lawrence put on his moccasins and opened the door to a glorious winter wonderland of freshly fallen snow. He ran around outside with his new truck to see if he could find the tracks of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer. But again, there was nothing. There wasn’t a trace of him, except for the gift he was holding in his little hands. Lawerance looked up at his dad, beaming with such joy. “Dad, how did Santa know I was here? How did he get in the cabin?”
With his heart full, George bent down and hugged Lawrence. He looked at him and said, “Santa Claus is magic, my son. And sometimes, wishes do come true…”
‘A Christmas To Remember’ is based on a memory of Lawrence Berland when he was 6 years old. He is now 73 and lives in Big Bay, Alberta, with his wife, Irene. They have 4 boys, 10 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. Like his dad, Lawrence taught his boys how to hunt and trap, and to this day, they still go to the trapline and cabin built by his dad so long ago.
Lorna Dancey is a Canadian photojournalist working on a storytelling and photography project called the Knowledge keepers Diary. She travels to remote areas documenting Metis Elders and Knowledge holders, capturing their memories of history and culture.