Northern Christmas Spirit
Updated: Jan 6
Why I'm Thankful To Have Been Taught That Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should
By: Delaine Lambert-English
December 15, 2019
First and foremost, you should know I was raised by extremely resourceful parents. Some would say this was an effect of poverty. It may have been, but as I see it, many did and it is not an entirely terrible way to be raised. In many ways my husband and I have adopted that resourcefulness in the way we raise our children.
A teaching that we keep at the center of our parenting derives from the saying, "just because you can, doesn't mean you should". These words were passed on to me from my friend, Kelly Benning, who taught me that there are lessons to be found when we keep things simple. Lessons that can't be bought. We have learned to lead in our own way with our little ones, not phased by “keeping up with the Jones's” or looking over our neighbor's fences. We do not see parenting as a competition. Rather, we do things the way that works for us. What we do does not work for everyone, but the best part is it is not supposed to.
In our home we strive to give our children memories, and the best part of memories is they can come free. My childhood was full of these. Some involved the good ol’ dollar, but most of them did not. We had mud fights together at the cabin, and I have vivid memories of my dad at the wheel cruising down the gravel road. During the cold winter months he would slow down on the drives so we could see the snow glisten. Simple pleasures that last a lifetime.
"In our home we strive to give our children memories, and the best part of memories is they can come free. My childhood was full of these."
We grew up on an acreage, so there were many memories of this simple life. Our house was built in 1981 north of the beautiful Peace River, near Fort Vermillion and I was born just two years later in 1983. This place is known as North Vermilion, Buttertown to the locals.
My childhood is filled with moments and memories like this. The Christmas season brings me back to this each year. Mom always having something on the stove or baking her treats. To this day, my Dad makes an ice rink and throughout the holidays young and old can be seen and heard playing hockey. That rink is where I learned to skate, where my kids learned to skate, and where many of my other family members learned to skate. I can still clearly recall, as a child, cousins coming over to play hockey on that rink. When it got too cold, we would sip hot chocolate on the steps in my house, skate’s still on, enjoying one of my mom’s homemade treats. When our parents weren’t home we would pile up the snow at my cousin’s house, climb onto the roof and jump. So exhilarating! We went ski-doing, sledding, skating. We would meet at the pond in the middle of our properties, walking about a mile each. Our older brothers would carry the shovels to clear the ice and we would skate all afternoon. It was not so much about what we were doing, but that we were doing it together.
"It was not so much about what we were doing, but that we were doing it together."
We may not have had money, but we had memories. The grader man would mount huge piles of snow along the horses fence line in our yard and I would dig tunnels and make forts in there only coming in when it got dark or on Sundays when we would watch “the wonderful world of Disney” or Thursday nights when it was “North of 60”. The modest barbies I received from Santa didn’t have fancy houses or vans but I had dish clothes and tea towels for blankets. Card games though, that is where the magic was. Sitting on my parents laps while they played, and gatherings with my grandparents were unforgettable. All we needed was a fiddle, a guitar, and the spoons to get some jigging going. I used to help my Dad chop wood and deliver it to Helair’s house and my Dad would take me there to learn how to play fiddle from the best.
I spent a lot of time with my Dad. He couldn’t work due to a back injury where a horse fell on him, and I am a better woman for it. I got to be home with him. We would go out together, me and my dad, to the cabin to check traps and set up snares. It was the home of my first land based teachings, my connection to the land. I loved watching him skin and stretch furs, I can even recall the scent of it as I write this. I was right there in his business as he would skin beaver.
"We would go out together, me and my dad, to the cabin to check traps and set up snares. It was the home of my first land based teachings, my connection to the land."
One time we went to the cabin on top the mountain. It was spring but there was still snow up there and we rode up on the ski-do. We had a little lunch and decided to take a nap. I was worried about bears so I went to the ski-do, grabbed the shot gun and stood it up at the cabin door. I laid down but was still restless so I jumped up and moved the gun and placed it beside the bed on the dresser. That still wouldn’t do though, so I laid the shotgun across our bellies on the bed and finally fell asleep. My Dad said nothing, he just let me be. The gun wasn’t loaded, but that didn’t matter. Another winter I took a day trip up to the cabin with him. We were riding across the creek on an old wooden sled when it suddenly came unhooked. I took off screaming and running after him, but he couldn’t hear me. Thankfully, my dad had a habit of looking back to make sure I was okay. I can still remember the feeling of tears freezing on my face.
The cabin is the focus of so many of my memories. I was in my element outdoors, exploring the bush in my dad’s big snowshoes. My parents saw that and nurtured it. Never one to want to stay indoors my Mom let me follow my Dad around outside. On the days I did stay indoors I learned how to take the windows off the house and clean them with water and vinegar. Sunday’s were for cleaning the entire house, which meant loud country classics blaring on the radio while I dusted the trophy stand. It wasn’t all about cleaning though, I remember my mom moving the living room furniture one night and teaching me how to dance the polka. We tripped, fell over the coffee table and busted out laughing.
As the youngest of 7 kids ranging from 7-13 years older then me, I am sometimes referred to as spoiled. It’s not that I was spoiled but by the time I came along times were different. There weren’t as many little mouths to feed in the house so my parents sometimes gave me more than what they could give the older kids. And more than anything what they were able to give me was time. Time and memories. Those memories they’ve given me did not cost them money. It didn’t cost them anything to take me to rodeos in the summer or my brothers hockey games in the winter unless I was lucky enough to score some cotton candy or fries.
"And more than anything what they were able to give me was time. Time and memories. Those memories they’ve given me did not cost them money."
Rodeo’s were something that I will never forget. My older cousin frequently travelled with us and he would take me to the midway and watch out for me. I’d run and play with the other rodeo kids, the Juneau’s, Houle’s, Randle’s and more. Fort and Rocky Lane rodeo’s were my favorite. We hosted campfire nights with my cousins while my parents danced. We spent many days cheering on my brother’s at the hockey arena. It was a family affair.
We ran around the arena, jacket unzipped, free as a bird. Free, but safe. My parents built a community for me. A community of people who are likely reading this right now. The people who are a part of so many of the memories I hold dear. There were tough times, but the people, the happy memories, those outweigh the bad. I am grateful for the upbringing I was given. It was rooted in simplicity. It was rooted in land-based teachings and culture. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how blessed I was and am. We never went without, there was always food, clothing and shelter. Once again, a blessing which I am able to pass down.
When our children visit Buttertown they still experience all the joys I experienced as a child. I can’t imagine my childhood without our land, or my grandparents land. Though family’s change and grow, that connection to the land remains sacred. Our family gained our land through Métis Scrip. The land, along with our family trapline, has been passed down from generation to generation. Our roots run deep in the community of Fort Vermillion, Alberta. From the Métis community to the Beaver First Nation, that is my home and those are my people. This is my life, and these are my memories.
"I am grateful for the upbringing I was given. It was rooted in simplicity. It was rooted in land-based teachings and culture. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how blessed I was and am."
All this is to say that memories are what remain long after the shiny packaging has disappeared. I do not remember every toy I received as a child. My upbringing was not predicated on ‘things’ but rather ‘people’. It is these memories, snapshots of a life well lived, that I remember this Christmas. It is what we can share with others this season. It is the gift we can give our children.
By that I mean, let’s give each other memories. Whether it be a compliment, an assuring smile, a favor. Less gifts from a factory, and more gifts from the heart. Let’s give our children the experience of a holiday rooted in love, not stuff. For us, our children experience a modest holiday season. There are gifts under the tree, but there is far more memory making. My hope is that one day our children will understand the value of “giving” comes from spirit, not price. My hope is that they will appreciate the little things in life while sharing the same gratitude for the big things.
(Big thank you to my good friend Casey Caines for helping to edit this post)