“…would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give?” The Ghost of Christmas Past to Ebenezer Scrooge, ‘A Christmas Carol’. Charles Dickens (1843)
I have always believed that memories – or at least the good ones – are some of the most powerful restoratives at our disposal, and the strongest seem to be those from our youth or childhood. If you don’t believe me – try closing your eyes and thinking about the best gift you ever found underneath the Christmas tree. Chances are, you were a kid when you received it and, if you’re like me, the memory of that special gift is as vivid as the day you first laid eyes upon it. Mine happened to come to me twice – with the first time being in 1969. I was eight years old and we had all watched Neil Armstrong step out onto the moon that past summer, and anything seemed possible. BB guns and raccoon-skin hats were being left behind with reckless abandon and once a week we huddled outside the living room window of the only kid in the neighborhood with colour television, so we could catch a glimpse of those glowing aliens on Star Trek. Needless to say, space toys were popular and among these none was more coveted than Major Matt Mason and his lunar-crunching space crawler – with the latter being an impressive eight-legged contraption powered by those massive D batteries. When Christmas came around, I asked for said toy (I mean action figure), knowing full well that the chances of actually receiving it were slim, given the fact that I came from a rather large family. Against all odds, it was there under the tree and Christmas 1969 became one of those perfect memories, the ones you remember and talk about for years to come. Which is probably why my daughters went on Ebay a few years back and bought me another vintage Matt Mason figure with space crawler for Christmas – it was probably the only way they could get me to stop talking about it. The point of all this reminiscing is to prove that good memories can last us a lifetime and they are always there to draw upon should the need ever arise. I witnessed a powerful example of this one late afternoon in December, several years ago. An elderly couple came strolling arm in arm into the garden centre where I was selling Christmas trees. When I approached them to ask if I could help, the man answered rather apologetically that he and his wife were only there to look, savour the fresh scents and reminisce a little – as they no longer put up a tree of their own. His wife on the other hand seemed quite disoriented and a little startled to see me, symptoms of what I assumed to be Alzheimer’s or dementia. The husband, sensing her discomfort, simply patted her on the arm and said very assuredly, “Everything is alright”. I went back to the work at my potting bench, but I couldn’t help but overhear as this man walked his wife from tree to tree, lovingly recalling their past experiences together. Each tree was a different Christmas story, all retold in great detail – from the ornaments to the gifts below, and the family members who shared those holidays with them. They stayed for about thirty minutes and before they left, he walked up to my workstation with his wife to thank me. Although she did not speak, there was a faint smile on the woman’s face and that look of fear was completely gone. It was only then that I realized that this man’s patient efforts had been rewarded with a few precious moments of lucidity. He had reunited with his wife, if only for a few moments, thanks to a handful of loving memories and the Ghost of Christmas Past.