Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas by John McConachie ( #1)

Buon natale, feliz navidad, joyeux noel to all of you. Until I discovered golf ten years ago my main hobby was gardening. Hold on you say what has gardening got to do with Christmas and I reply, sit back and be patient and all will be revealed in the fullness of time . Initially my relationship with mother earth and her flora was definitely not what it is today.

When I was a kid, my brother Jim and I had major yard duties including digging manure into the ground in the spring mowing the lawn and weeding a good sized garden once a week throughout the summer . This was not required just so we could earn an allowance. It was our contribution to the household operations as my father would say.

Time changes all things as they say and as I got a little older I began to appreciate the need for and the results of our labour. In 1953, a year after my dad had been killed by a drunk driver my brothers and myself were placed in boys homes—Jim and I in a place called Weredale House and the two younger ones, Keith and Ken, in the Orange Lodge Home in Ste Therese, for a couple of years until the lawsuit and insurance claim was settled and my mother could get all the pieces back together.

In December of that year my relationship with and appreciation of flowers and plants of all kinds took another positive step forward. I was 12 years old, had no money to speak of, and needed a part –time job of some sort to be able to buy some Christmas gifts for my mother and brothers, and if there was enough left over, for my grandparents.

The rules of Weredale House, “The Home” did not , with a few exceptions, allow us residents who were still attending school, to work outside on a regular basis . One of the exceptions, I learned, was being able to work for a few days at a time on special holidays and I was soon in the employ of Bertrands Florists on Drummond Street in downtown Montreal .

My initial task that first day, which was to use a penknife to prune the thorns off 10 dozen long-stemmed roses, did nothing to enhance my still embryonic appreciation of plants and flowers. When I had finished the roses I was assigned other duties including pruning other cut flowers, watering the potted plants and in general making things look as good as they could be, before they were wrapped and put on the delivery truck.

As I worked my way through the ever-present heady scent of the many blooms, I marveled at the variety of colour , and foliage,and shape and I worked hard to memorize their names (a) to improve my value as an employee but more importantly (b)because my interest and curiosity had finally been piqued .

On my second day on the job I quickly realized that I could almost double my salary of five dollars a day if I were prepared to put in some extra hours and brave the cold ,by working on the delivery trucks. The extra money coming from the tips from the upscale clientele that favoured Bertrands.

I quickly switched to the trucks but I also continued to do the other odd jobs around the shop while I waited for enough orders to be prepared to fill the truck and I continued to broaden my knowledge base and appreciation of the beauty of the wide variety of plants and flowers that passed through the shop each day.

(As an aside ,the driver of the first truck that I ever worked on was one Stan Henry, father of Millie Henry(McGowan) And that was not the end. Although I didn’t realize it immediately , my time on the trucks added another dimension to my expanding knowledge base and that was the joy that a delivery of a spray of arranged cut flowers , holiday pointsettias and other live growing plants could bring to just about everyone.

Seldom if ever was I greeted with anything but a smile and a cheery thank you at each and every household stop. I returned to work at Bertrands for Easter and Mothers Day in addition to Christmas for the next four years and now in hindsight, I am convinced that that first six-day work term at Christmas more than fifty years ago consolidated a process, begun by my father, along a path of pleasure and enjoyment that continues to grow to this day.

And so , each Christmas I remember with great fondness a father who cultivated and brought to bud in a young boy a hobby that would last a lifetime and a florist named Gilles Bertrand who gave me the opportunity and encouragement to bring that bud to full bloom. And so from our house to yours , Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas and make sure you take the time to smell the roses.

Thanks John McConachie

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