Submitted by: Reta Coutts
The Christmas I remember most was the year 1965, because it taught us all something: that there are people who care and will share, no matter how much or how little.
It was the year after leaving an abusive husband and times were tough. It wasn't easy to get any government help and my Metis pride wouldn't let me ask for it. And oh, Lord I was tired. I was tired of working two or three jobs, never having enough money to go round and no one to help. I was tired of watching my kids go without.
It was all I could do to pay the rent and keep food on the table for my kids, who ranged in age from four to 14. I was 35 years old and felt like 65. I love to read and always have, but I couldn't afford to buy books or magazines.
I used to bring newspapers home from the farm where I worked part-time. It was the Free Press and a couple of pages were devoted to 'Home Loving Hearts', where people would write in to the pages and there were recipes and patterns. It was my favorite.
As I read the letters I got angry. Men were writing in complaining how women were getting lazy, they didn't bake bread or garden anymore and so on.
I didn't know what women they were talking about but it sure wasn't me. So I sat down and took pen in hand and wrote back.
How as a single parent I had to do everything myself - bake bread, garden, work as many jobs as I could handle, repair and replace storm windows, fix the house up for winter and boy, Manitoba winters are cold. How I go out in the dark of night and pick up pieces of coal from the railroad tracks so I could keep my kids warm.
And how I walked a mile each way four times a day as I worked a split shift. I cleaned houses in the afternoon and in the fall, I drove a grain truck until dark. Anything to earn a few dollars so my kids would have some kind of Christmas.
After posting the letter, I was satisfied that I'd had my say and forgot about it. A few weeks later I started getting more mail than I'd ever had. Opening the letters I stared in amazement. Every letter wished us well. Most had money in them, anywhere from $2 to $30.
The first few days I was in shock. Then the happiness took over. Before Christmas rolled around, I went shopping and bought new boots and mittens, heavy socks and a few pretty things for my four girls - the first they'd had in a long time. I bought things for my son he'd only dreamed of.
Christmas Eve, I sat alone and looked at the gifts under the tree and I cried - this time tears of joy. My kids would have a great Christmas and good warm clothes for school. Then I got down on my knees and thanked God for all the people who cared enough to help, to wish us well, and to make it a Christmas we have never forgotten.
Reta Coutts Metis ancestry runs deep in Manitoba. She was born in Rocanville, SK in 1931 to Marie Louise Fleury of St. Lazare, MB and Aleric LaRose from Welby, SK. After raising her 5 children alone in Minnedosa, MB, the family moved to Black Diamond, AB in 1972 where Reta remarried in 1976 and had one child Bobby from this union 1977. Reta became widowed in 1986. Reta and Bobby are still residing in Black Diamond today, keeping close ties to her children.
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