There are still 57 days until Christmas, but I’m already working on my list — my to-do list, that is.
Besides shopping for gifts, adding A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector to the playlist and decorating the house, there’s the one essential task on which we absolutely couldn’t procrastinate: booking our flight home.
Last week, my wife and I made our arrangements with WestJet, giving us the opportunity to share part of the holidays with loved ones in Ontario.
We’re told absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it’s so clearly true.
I usually get a couple of chances a year to visit home, and every time I return, it gets that much harder to board that plane back to Regina.
But while we might complain about being so far from our family and old friends, as always, putting things into perspective reminds us how blessed we really are.
My dad’s parents — my Opa and Oma van der Veen — were married in the Netherlands in December 1953 and immigrated to Canada the following spring.
With the Atlantic Ocean now separating them from most of their family, time spent with those loved ones became much rarer.
Opa’s father had died in early 1945. He had a heart condition, but the medicine needed to treat it was not readily available during the occupation. Opa’s mother visited her son and daughter-in-law in Canada only once before she died in 1966. Apart from that, they never saw her again.
My mom’s parents, who emigrated from Germany in the early ‘50s, met in Canada and married in 1956, faced a similar separation from their families.
I called my dad at work on Friday morning to check some facts before I wrote this column. During his childhood, he recalled, even phone calls to the old country were rare.
At the time, rates for transatlantic phone calls were prohibitively high. The deal back then was three minutes for $9 — enough money to buy a bag full of groceries.
“There was a lot more value in letters and photographs,” dad told me.
He shared the story of Mrs. Van Die, one of the charter members of our church congregation in Peterborough.
She was one of nine siblings, and she, too, left her family behind when she came to Canada.
To keep in touch, they circulated letters.
One sibling would start, writing an update with the latest news. Then they mailed the letter to the next child, who would add their news and send it on.
The chain continued over several months until all nine children had seen the letter. They would sometimes reverse the order, allowing the others to see the complete correspondence.
Mrs. Van Die and her siblings continued this method of communication into the 1970s. At the time of her death a few years ago, she had a box full of these “circular letters.”
Meanwhile, we feel sorry for ourselves because we only get to visit our families twice a year.
We get to talk on the phone frequently (and cheaply), and we also have email, text messages and Skype — all miracles of technology that were solely within the realm of Dick Tracy and The Jetsons two generations ago.
Moose Jaw is our home right now, and as long as we’re here — where we both have good jobs, many friends and plenty to keep us busy — we’ll bloom where we’re planted, and be thankful that we can stay in touch with friends and family out east.
But while it’s a little early to be hanging stockings or singing carols, it’s hard not to be excited with the prospect of a visit home on the horizon.
After all, Christmas comes but once a year.
Follow Joel van der Veen on Twitter @JVDV88.