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Truly Gifted

by Stephen Lautens

December 27, 1998

As my grandmother used to say, the nuts don't fall far from the tree.

There's a lot of truth to that, especially in my family. At last count there have been ten members of my family involved in the media.

I know what you're thinking: Just your luck to be stuck with me.

Something you learn very quickly is that when you do something public, like writing for a newspaper, you have to expect a lot of interesting people to contact you.

When I suggested a get tough policy towards the Quebec government a few weeks back, I was bombarded with venomous e-mail from Quebec. A separatist there apparently scours the Internet for alleged offences against the French people, and then sends it around as another reason why they should leave.

I am now apparently another reason why Quebec would be better off without us, even though I tried to write everyone back in French and pointed out I spent all my summers there as a kid.

That's the joy of having a column posted on the Internet. It's like ringing the dinner bell at a cannibals' picnic.

It also shows that a million monkeys on a million keyboards will not necessarily produce Shakespeare.

But most of the time the mail I get is thoughtful and polite, even when readers disagree, or think I've poked fun at someone unfairly. Sometimes they're right.

So when I got an e-mail from a reader who wanted to send a Christmas present to my home, I was a little leery.

Something made me break my rule for the first time ever, even though I joked that I hoped she wouldn't be sending me any body parts. My mail carrier was beginning to wonder.

A few days later an envelope arrived at my door. Inside was a card, a letter, and a small newspaper clipping.

The letter explained that the small yellow clipping was a newspaper column my father wrote for the Toronto Star twenty years ago. It was her Christmas present to me.

Dad died almost seven years ago. Too, too soon. He left behind about eight thousand columns about life, family and his love of Canada.

Even so I recognized this one column immediately. It was what being Canadian meant to him:

"I am Toronto's Caravan, Calgary's Stampede, Quebec's Winter Carnival. I am Stephen Leacock. I am a picnic at Niagara Falls and a morning jog in Vancouver's Stanley Park on a day only God could have created."

Dad had a way with words that made the rest of us look like typists.

The little scrap had been folded and refolded so many times all that was holding it together was about a foot of tape.

That's because - she wrote - she kept it folded in her wallet. She took it out in good times and bad for a laugh, a tear, and to help her keep going when things got tough. And things do get tough for all of us sometimes.

This column, she said, was my father's gift to her and now this yellow piece of paper was her gift to me this Christmas.

She wanted me to know how much it and he had meant to her, even though they had never met.

I hope I'm not breaking any confidences by telling this story, but I just wanted to say thank you for the best Christmas present anyone could ever ask for.


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