Home for Christmas
This is another wonderful Christmas story. It’s about family and a long trip home through the Rocky Mountains. My father wrote very few stories about himself. Most of his stories were about oldtimers around the Valley. I asked him why he didn’t write this story in the ‘first person’. He said he couldn’t write that way, he didn’t like the word ‘I’.
The First and Second War is a big part of this story. Yet, it was something that Ron and his father, Ernest (Dapper), were reluctant to talk about, and if they did, it was usually about ‘good times.’ I can only imagine the experiences left unsaid.
Ron enlisted in the army when he was seventeen years old. I asking him, “What did your father say when you told him?”
Ron remembered back, and said, “He cried.”
Here is the story “Home for Christmas”.
Home For Christmas
Christmas, 1943, wasn’t shaping up to be a particularly memorable one for Ron. It would have been nice to get home to Windermere to share with his folks, especially since he had not spent the Christmas Season with them since 1940. But right now, at the beginning of December, that seemed to be only a distant dream.
Ron had joined the army in 1942 and, following postings at Vancouver, Vernon, Nanaimo, Hamilton and Helena, Montana he had volunteered to be a ski, mountaineering and Winter survival instructor. The British Army was sending their toughest Commando regiment, the Lord Lovat Scouts, to Canada for training in preparation for a proposed Winter invasion of Germany through the Scandinavian countries. So, early in October, Ron had found himself along with a handful of other instructors fist at Jasper Park Lodge and then at the Columbia Icefields Chalet for orientation exercises prior to the arrival of the Scouts.
After their arrival in early November and, following basic cross-country ski instruction on Jasper Park Golf Course and nearby Whistler Mountain, Ron was put in charge of 16 Scouts and posted to a tent camp at the base of Mt. Edith Cavell. Daily ski instruction took place above timberline on the slopes facing Angel Glacier and mountain climbing took place with assaults on nearby mountains.
World War II Canadian Ski Instructors.
Young Ron is first row standing from front, sixth from right.
And now, at the beginning of December, Ron had been informed that he and his charges would continue operations throughout the Holiday Season. Christmas dinner promised to be bleak – a meal of Pemmican, hard biscuits and tea consumed around a bonfire outside the tent and, later, the meager warmth of a sleeping bag in the sub-zero temperature inside the tent.
However, near the middle of December the upper echelon decided that training had progressed further than anticipated and all instructors would be given a week’s leave; while the Lovat Scouts would be treated to Christmas fare at the Jasper Park Lodge.
This news put a more cheerful light on the situation but, because of the remoteness of the camp location, there was insufficient time for Ron to inform his parents that he might be home.
And how to get home was the question? He could take the C.N.R. passenger train as far as Kamloops where he would transfer to the C.P.R. to get to Golden. But he had been informed that the two railway stations where at opposite sides of the city, there was a problem of getting from one to the other, and the schedules of the two lines didn’t always jibe and there was a possibility of an extended layover.
Then his best friend and fellow instructor, Big Mac, said he was going home to Canmore and “why didn’t we travel that far together? We could catch a train to Edmonton, transfer to another to Calgary, and then take the C.P.R. on the mainline from Calgary to Vancouver.” Mac would get off at Canmore and Ron would continue on to Golden, where he could solve the transportation for the final 78 miles south to Windermere when he arrived.
It was a pleasant and companionable trip as far as Canmore and continued comfort on the C.P.R. Dayliner as far as Golden.
But when he arrived at Golden he was confronted with a much greater transportation problem for the final leg than he had anticipated. The Golden-Cranbrook stage, a mini-bus, made the trip only three times weekly and apparently, had just left. The C.P.R. Kootenay Central passenger train made the trip twice weekly and its next trip was two days away. There were very few private vehicles operating during the War years so hitch-hiking was a hit and miss proposition – mostly “miss” during the Winter months.
It was cold, very cold, but during training Ron had been acclimatized to that, so, nothing daunted, he set out to walk the long distance to Windermere. He walked, very much alone with his thoughts of Christmas at home, for a number of miles and a number of hours. Finally, a car came along and stopped, and he had a ride as far as Brisco, still 30 miles from home. But he started walking again, and after a few more miles, another car came along, and he had a ride as far as the Crossroads, about four miles short of his destination.
By now, the short Winter days had long since turned to night, the air was colder, but Ron was on familiar roads and his spirit was high. Many times he had walked, biked, rode his horse, and driven this stretch of road prior to his enlistment, and he knew that now, at last, he would soon be home.
The miles were long but they went by quickly, but time seemed slow as Ron eagerly anticipated the welcome he would receive and the sumptuous feast that was a tradition on Christmas Day. By gosh, this was Christmas Eve, Santa Claus’s night to visit – wouldn’t the folks be surprised when he showed up at the door!
Finally the lamplights of the little farmhouse twinkled in the distance, and Ron knew that one more mile would put him on the doorstep.
And then that last mile had slipped away under his footsteps and he was at the door. He knocked, and he heard his Mom say, “Ern, there’s someone at the door.” And then she cautiously opened the door and Ron said, “Could you spare a bite to eat for a hungry, cold and tired traveler?” And his Mom, who never turned away a hungry person, said, “Sure. Come on in – we’ll find you something.”
And then as her eyes adjusted to the change in light, recognition flooded her face and she half-staggered back and exclaimed, “It’s Ron! Ern, it’s Ron!”
For a brief second time seemed to stand still, and then he was being hugged and kissed – and everyone was talking at once – and there was the warmth of the old stove and the smell of fresh home baking… he had made it home for Christmas – and at that moment, at least, all was right with the world!