would check off the exotic liquor names on the list, including the O.F.C. (Only for Catholics, my father would joke) rye, the Crown Royal whiskey which came in a little blue cloth bag which I'd save for marbles in the spring, and the clear Danish akavit (or "Scandinavian courage" as my grandfather called it). Then we'd head to Zack's.
The Zack brothers hailed from Nizna, and their meat store
was legendary in the city. The smells from their smoke shack were as much a smell of winter and Christmas to me as the scent of pine boughs. Once through the door, my father would shout hello, as the Zacks had poor
eyesight and identified everyone by voice primarily. While I'd head to the huge pop dispenser where the bottled pops poked out from amongst the ice, my father would work out the many orders of cheeses and meats which
were essential to Christmas meals. Then I'd watch fascinated as Peter Zack punched up the order on an ancient adding machine, his nose no less than two inches from the keys, and then pulled out the Meady order pad. This
was the only store I have ever seen where one bought groceries on account and paid it off bi-weekly. I miss the store and its ambiance now that they've retired, but often at Christmas time if the brothers have made some
garlic sausages, they'll still call my father up to see if he wants a ring or two.
Then it would be time for my father and his cousin Andrej Strbavy to go out in the woods and chop a tree down for our family. It was always a spruce and we'd have to let it
unthaw after they brought it into our home, as it would still be cased in frozen snow. Out came the saws, as they "fixed" the imperfections. Out came the drill as they added new holes for branches where the
tree was bald. Out came the vacuum as my mother tsked tsked about the melted snow and pine needles all over the rug. Then once it was erected, my mother would parcel out the ornaments to which we'd add our homemade
items. As the eldest it was my honour to place the first decoration, and I always chose the raspberry pink tin pine cone that was the only thing we had from my great-grandmother Teresa Mikita. She had apparently loved a
really elaborate Christmas tree but I gather only something tin could survive all those years and children. Andro usually stayed for tea and would be telling stories of the old days as we worked, the smell of his pipe
smoke infusing the room. I remember sitting under the tree gazing into its sparkle on one such day, and feeling a perfect contentment in my heart.