I’m a bit of a freak in my family and I admit it. I’m tall, much more so than anyone in my family. Blonde and blue-eyed, which also isn’t very common in my crowd. I like to roam and adventure, when most of those I know stay put and don’t do much beyond their town.
And I write.
I’m not saying there are no writers in my blood. There very well could be more than what I know, but I can say with a reasonable amount of confidence that I’m the most successful one I can find. I took to arts and creativity and personal expression from a young age, though I’ve told those stories a million times so I won’t bore you with them now. However, I know of at least one other writer in the family, and I have the story to prove it.
Jack Fries was my maternal grandfather. A lanky man with a booming voice and a shock of black hair that stayed true well into his later years. A wise and respected man, by all accounts I can find. A Mason, a marvel, and a master of ceremonies. An accountant his entire life, living surrounded by numbers in the heyday of the Southern Ontario manufacturing boom of the mid-20th century. He was a man on the front lines of Avro during the rise and fall of the Arrow program. He saw the money and knew what was happening better than anyone, and if you got him going on it you better believe you were going to hear the tale. His ability to weave a yarn was the kind of thing you see in Westerns from the ol’timer in the corner.
One night in 1995, years after he’d retired and had been living with my grandmother happily for years on their little acreage with the house my mother and aunt had grown up in, he couldn’t sleep. A story was in his head and he couldn’t ignore it anymore. So he sat and wrote it.
‘The Christmas Story’ is the result. It’s a telling of a heart-warming and classically fanciful seasonal story of four young siblings and Santa’s crashed sleigh. It’s not a long story. In an addendum at the back of it is a personal recounting of my grandfather’s own childhood, when he and his family would truck up to his grandmother’s house from their place in East York up to Fordwich (a place only a stone’s throw from Listowel, the basis for the TV show ‘Letterkenny’, if that gives you an idea of the people and places he grew up around). In those days it was a heck of a trek to make in a day.
He started thinking what it would be like if his four grandkids (myself, my sister, and my two cousins) lived in that time, where horse and sleigh were still common ways to get around the countryside. This was the nucleus of the story, and at its center was the main character.
He didn’t change any names or ages really. Only the relationships, making the four of us one big family instead of cousins. This was as far as his creative licence went and it’s just fine with me. I love my family and I’m happy to be seen like this with them through his eyes.
The Marc of the story is the one who looks after Santa and tends the reindeer and all that trope-y jazz. This isn’t high art. It’s just a cute little Christmas short story.
I was 15 when he wrote this. A very short time later I would begin writing my own works, the hand-written snooze-fest of my initial attempts to write in my ‘Ryuujin’ world, where spelling and grammar doesn’t matter and paragraphs are for suckers. I was also far from the idealistic sprite my namesake seems to be in this tale. I like to think that this was how he saw me though. How he imagined I would actually deal with a similar situation. That idea makes me smile every time. I could do a lot worse than being like this Santa-helping Marc, that’s for sure.
The thing is, I never knew he wrote it. It didn’t see the light of day for everyone until years later, after I had already moved thousands of miles away and started off on my own life’s adventures which still continue to this day.
My grandfather dictated the addendum a few years after the story itself was written and it was added to the story itself as the extra little bit of icing on a wonderful cake. It may not mean much to other readers, but those of us that knew him can’t help but feel his presence when we read the words, hearing his voice as he recalls the stories of his childhood. I hear it as clear as I hear Morgan Freeman when God is being quoted, and I’ll argue his words hold even more authority.
Is it right to be critical of a passion project like this? I think so, as long as it’s respectful. I would like to think that now, with my own little brag shelf ever-growing in my home library, that I can cock that editor’s eye at it a bit and point out some inconsistencies and flow issues, and I only mention this because I plan on fixing them so it makes sense to cast that gaze upon them.
This is the story of family and fondness written by a man I had no idea had this kind of writing talent. The world has moved on since his passing more years ago than I care to remember. Stories like this however are timeless. Stories like this deserve to be told.
My grandfather, my ‘Poppy’s words will always ring true, and now at this point in my life I’m actually in a position to make that happen, even if it’s just on a small scale. One day soon I’ll take a respectful red pen to this thing and then send it out into the world. I promise you this though: my name will never grace this piece of our family’s heart.
John “Jack” Roger Fries wrote ‘The Christmas Story’. It came from his personal place, and shows an astonishing amount of skill with words, at a level I had assumed he only had with numbers and finances. I’m just happy to be able to play my part in its history when that day comes.
And, more importantly, I’m just happy to know I’m not alone.
Marc Watson is an author of genre fiction of all lengths and styles. He began writing at the age of 15 and continues to be a part-time writing student at Athabasca University. His debut novel Death Dresses Poorly was released in 2017, followed closely by duology Catching Hell: Journey & Destination. His new book, the 5-star rated story anthology Between Conversations: Tales From the World of Ryuujin is available as of September 25th, 2020. Marc lives in Calgary, Alberta. He is a husband and proud father of two. He is an avid outdoors-man, martial artist, baseball player, poutine aficionado, and lover of all Mexican foods.
Listen to Marc Watson's podcast episode here.