Too Much Christmas Stuff

I recently attended a memorial service for an old neighbour in the area where I grew up. At the luncheon afterwards, one of her daughters, a good friend, said to me “I saw the Barbie movie recently, and it reminded me of you!”

Well, of course, I blushed at the thought that Barbie brought me to her mind. Was it the blonde hair? My bubbly personality? Something I was wearing?

But then she said “When we were kids, I loved coming over to your house because you always had YOUR OWN Barbie!”

I had to think about that for a minute. And then I realized that what she meant was that, because I was an only child, I never had to share anything with anybody else in my house. I had my own Barbie. My own everything.

She came from a family of four kids, three of them girls. And when I started to think about it, everyone in my neighbourhood back then had a sibling, or several. I was the exception. They all decided that I was just a spoiled brat.

Most importantly to them, I always got ALL of the Christmas presents. As a kid, Christmas is all about the presents.

Even when my parents were struggling financially, I still got lots of presents. One Christmas, my Dad only got a bag of peanuts and my mother a cheap bottle of perfume. The rest of the gifts were for me.

Zip ahead sixty years or so, and I seriously couldn’t care if I ever got a Christmas present again. I mean it.

For years, my own little family have been making long Christmas lists of things we want, and every Christmas our tree is barely visible behind a sea of gifts. Not only that, but I’ve almost always been the one with the biggest pile. Maybe I’m easy to buy for. Or I’m cute, like Barbie.

It’s just that I don’t really need anything anymore.

In fact both my husband and I would be better off getting rid of things rather than accumulating more of them. We’ve got a huge house full of stuff. Stuff we don’t need, stuff we’ll never use, or have otherwise completely forgotten about.

I remember back a number of years when all of the complaints were that Christmas was becoming too commercialized. I guess my generation was the beginning of all of that.

Now it is SO crazy that the big box stores starting bringing out all of the Christmas stuff in the summertime. It’s commercial to the point of being absurd.

Are people really thinking about Christmas decorations in July? I don’t think so. It’s only when Costco starts with the Yuletide paraphernalia that Christmas comes to mind. And we all say under our breath “Christmas stuff ALREADY??”

I understand that some businesses, especially smaller, local ones, rely on Christmas to make most of their annual income. But Walmart doesn’t. I mean, come on!

I don’t want to get preachy about it. Who needs that? Buy all the stuff you want. And sure, there are plenty of homemade options or clever ideas for unique Christmas gifts. I’m all for that.

But me, I’m only really interested in get togethers and little traditions like making gingerbread, watching White Christmas, and finding a tree to decorate. And every year I make at least one trip downtown before Christmas just to take in the atmosphere and walk through all the stores.

One of my friends says that all she asks of her daughters is to have one whole day with each of them alone. All to herself. I like that.

And of course, I’ll buy my family whatever Christmas stuff they want. But this year, my list will only be three items long. One for each of them to buy me. Because I know they’ll want to buy me SOMETHING.

But just so you know — I already have my own Barbie.


40 Years In Victoria

I recently celebrated 40 years of living here in our lovely provincial capital. In those years, the city has changed considerably, but I have never once regretted that move.

The last place I lived before packing up my meagre belongings and my cat, Boots, was the West End in Vancouver. I had a one bedroom apartment on the 9th floor of a high rise on Haro, close to Robson, and I walked to work every day. Boots and I were used to noise, to lots of traffic and people, people everywhere.

It was a fun part of the city to live in as a single person. I was within walking distance of pretty much everything; shopping, entertainment, and all kinds of different restaurants. I saw a lot of great concerts and ate some spectacular meals.

But there were definitely the down sides.

I would pass by street people sleeping in the doorways of stores every day on my way to work at the library. When we opened the doors in the mornings, the same people would come inside it to sit so they could warm up. Sometimes they’d stay all day.

I was actually robbed at work once, and one night, I was mugged while walking home from a movie with a friend.

They grabbed my purse and ran off down the street. And what did I do? I was so mad, I started running after them! When they saw me raging towards them, they ran even faster. Cowards.

Fortunately for them, I never caught them.

On another evening there was a bang at my door. It was the police, showing me a picture of a deceased woman, asking me if I could identify her. Her body was found in our underground parking lot. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night.

So, yes, a big city like Vancouver had, and still has, its challenges.

On my first night in Victoria, in a little house on Cook Street near Maplewood, I tossed and turned because it was too quiet. Over time, though, I got used to it. And Boots got to be an outdoor cat. He liked that.

My cousin, who had worked as a letter carrier in Victoria for a couple of years before that, asked me why I wanted to live here. He said it was a boring city where they routinely rolled the sidewalks up by 9pm. Obviously, he had different priorities.

I moved here because of a guy, of course. We decided to try this “living together” thing out.

That first little house we bought on Cook Street cost us $66,000. You could maybe get a new car for that now. Maybe.

But don’t let me get started on the high cost of everything these days…it drives me crazy!

Take a breath, Irene.

Victoria was definitely a more laid back city in the 80’s. It was a nice place to raise a family, which we did. But things didn’t always happen very quickly back then either.

For instance, Blanshard Court on Blanshard Street between Bay and Kings, sat as a hole in the ground for what seemed like years. I mean, it was an actual hole in the ground. Development wasn’t quite as robust as it is now.

These days, I look out my upstairs window towards the city and all I see are new high rises, and cranes hovering over even more construction.

In the 80’s when I drove downtown, it was quick and easy. That was another Victoria-centric expression at the time; everything here was only 10 minutes away.

These days the same distance takes maybe twice that. A lot of it is because of road blockages which, of course, come along with construction and road work. But there are also a LOT more vehicles.

The street in our neighbourhood of Oaklands, where we moved to in 1988, was also pretty quiet back then. Just the occasional car here and there. At first.

In the last couple of years, even with traffic “calming” strategies by the city, there are more than 2000 cars whizzing past our house every day. I know that number because my neighbour actually went to the trouble of counting those cars recently. He wanted to complain to city council.

That’s why our present day felines, Lucy and Buster, are exclusively indoor cats. Too many cars. Along with the fact that I love birds.

There have been positive developments in the city too, of course. More, and bigger events. The Memorial Arena, which was known back then as the “Barn on Blanshard” became the beautiful, new Save On Foods Memorial Centre.

I got to see James Taylor there a few years back. You can’t beat that.

We have all the shopping we could dream of. Except IKEA.

Yes, there actually was an IKEA here back then. I miss it.

We have wonderful restaurants, and although many of them have struggled recently, especially during COVID, the diversity of cultures and flavours has grown by leaps and bounds.

Our inner harbour, the Leg, the Empress (I still call it just that), and everything else in the area is still the envy of guests visiting our city.

My family members love the new bike lanes and take full advantage of them often. But cycling up Fort, we also see the consequences of Victoria itself becoming a bigger city.

There are so many more people on the streets now, suffering from addictions, poverty and mental health issues. They sleep in makeshift tents and store fronts, just as I remember from my days in the West End.

Change is a complicated thing.

I follow social media posts and groups from Vancouver and Richmond where I grew up, and there’s always somebody wishing a return to the “good old days.”

But does that really exist? Because there are good and bad things about every generation, about every growing community, every time of life.

When I first moved here, Victoria was the place of the “newlyweds and nearly deads.” I became one of those newlyweds. Now, 40 years later, we’re retired, so I suppose that makes us “nearly deads”.

I prefer “nearly old”, even if it doesn’t rhyme. And I’m still happy to call Victoria home.