My Mother’s Family Didn’t Have a Lot of Money

My Mother’s Family Didn’t Have a Lot of Money


My Mother’s family didn’t have a lot of money, but I didn’t know that. When I was a kid I knew I had two grandfathers, both of whom worked at Carleton University in Ottawa. One was an associate professor and the other a painter (more like a college student than a Picasso, he painted the walls of the school). As a child I looked at them both with fondness thinking of them as equals, both were amazing to me, both had cool jobs, I had no idea the world could look at them and see a hierarchy at work. To me they both meant love, laughs, and kindness.

Looking back at it now I think I can see some of the differences in their financial positions, I can recall small everyday things that suggest the income of one over the other. My father’s parents are the grandparents I was closest to, they took care of me when various illnesses struck my family, my grandmother taught me to count by playing cards, and my grandfather taught me the value of a good walk. For a lot of my life they went to Florida during the winter and brought back seashells and whatnot for us grandkids. We always looked forward to them coming home.

So when I think of Christmas at a grandparents’ place I think of my mom’s parents. Their house had a single large room upstairs where all their kids slept when they were growing up, and where all the grandkids slept (or talked all night) when they visited. The house is long gone because it burnt down in a tragic fire killing my uncle Dean who was asleep at the time.

What I remember about their house is that it was full, complete, and whole. Those were the feelings of that house, the feeling that all was right in the world. I was a kid, I remember trying to spot Santa through the window upstairs with my gaggle of cousins full of sugar and all p.j.-ed up for the short night ahead.

Sure there was never enough money, and sure the adults drank mostly beer instead of wine and the Christmas tree was knocked over most years (and propped back up). Of course, some of the marriages at the table were rocky, and some would ultimately fail. Of course not all my cousins behaved perfectly, or even wanted to be there. The house was, without a doubt, far too small for so many people to stay for dinner, and sure many of us slept there anyways, with every possible piece of furniture holding someone up through the night.

Still, in that house I felt whole, satisfied, and certain.

In the morning we had a routine that dated back through the ages (hundreds of years as far as I could tell). An adult would go downstairs to see if Grandpa was up. Grandpa, being roused, would have to verify that Santa had come…it was all a great drama building up anticipation until the children flowed down the stairs like water over a waterfall, tumbling over each other to get to that tree. The gifts, I assume, were not all that special as far as gifts go today, but we loved them.

But we were all together.

But there were many laughs.

My children will have different memories. Their grandparents have to come to us because we cannot afford to go them (money is still a family conundrum), and being a minister Christmas is a particularly busy time of year. They have no cousins and so they may never get to be part of such an excited little group of kids searching the heavens for Santa’s sleigh with the sounds of laughter coming up from downstairs, brought together by bonds of blood.

It’s doesn’t matter, though, because that just means their room is different, it can still be full, they can still feel safe, secure, loved, and cared for.

They don’t know the room I remember, they don’t have those memories to live up to. Many of us at this time of year try to help our kids enjoy the very memories we so cherish, or avoid the ones we wish we could forget. Many of us feel pressured to create the perfect Christmas, thinking we know what that is. Most, if not all of us will fail. I think we need to remember that today is today and it will be its own memory.

Jesus said that in heaven there are many rooms, many places, and they are being prepared. I don’t know that they need to be the same in their externalities as long as they are the same in their principles. So feel free to enjoy the blessings of the season, accept the reality of the circumstances you are in this year. Look to God for love and comfort; and offer each other the same whether you are drinking champagne, beer, or not at all this year.

If nothing else, be sure to make the bed on the way out!

Merry Christmas to all,


  1. Jeannie Marsland

    Chris, thanks for bringing back great memories. I to spent many Christmas mornings waiting for Uncle Bernie to give the go ahead to head downstairs.
    Love to you and Mary and the kids on this blessed season
    Jeannie & Richard

    • Jared

      And although I’m not at St. Andrews this Christmas, I wish you a very merry one! Let us know how we can celebrate life with you and include you in things. I shouldn’t speak on behalf of everyone else in the church, but I think they would share my sentiments.

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