Several years ago, just before Christmas, I was charged with forwarding the personal possessions of a pioneering Albertan doctor and his family to the Royal Alberta Museum. Although Dr. Andrew Walter Park and his wife Amelia resided in Cochrane, their adopted daughter Lorna had been born to the Wall family of Glenbow (located in today’s Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park).
Hidden within an unadorned cardboard box were the century-old remnants of a loving family. While the assortment of photographs may have been expected, their unique details brought this long-gone family to life — a radiant bride holding a single rose, a little girl with a bow tied in her cheerful curls, a brave soldier wearing his uniform with dignity.
Many of the articles in the carton were precious because of their quality and rarity. The gorgeous and delicate pieces made me gasp, while the weight and strength of the military artifacts was striking.
But the two most moving objects were quite familiar — Christmas cards. They were emotive because they were greetings from a period of intense crisis and uncertainty. The first was dated “Xmas 1915” and was dispatched from Bramshott Camp, the WWI Canadian training base in England. It was sent by the doctor’s nephew and read:
For the Past. Sweet Memories; For the Present: Hearty Greetings; For the Future. Bright Hopes.
The second card was made of modest khaki card-stock, embossed with a golden P, and was tied with a brown velvet ribbon. It opened to reveal a simple message. But it was the signature that ignited my imagination: Mrs. A. W. Park.
For Christmas 1916, Amelia was sending out cards in her own name, because her husband had volunteered for the Canadian Medical Corps. At that moment, he was in Europe, separated from his family by a vast distance. He was suffering sickness and distress and the horrors of war. I could just see Amelia seated at a table, with little three-year-old Lorna playing beside her. Amelia was writing encouraging messages to family and friends, yearning for better times, and trying to be brave.
Those Christmas cards, in that parcel from the past, highlight the true meaning of the holiday season. This year, especially, remember that Christmas isn’t about presents under a tree. Know that your family and friends love you and wish you all the best, even if you are unable to greet them with hugs and kisses, or shower them with gifts. Even though we are facing new challenges, by treating each other with kindness, respect, and love, we will endure.
Like Amelia, I send you this holiday message:
When you look into the times to come May you discover golden gleams of hope.