We used to make a big deal out of Christmas. Ours was always the largest tree on the block and on Christmas Eve we’d invite the whole neighbourhood over. The outside of the house would be covered in lights and the inside with tinsel and fresh cut cedar boughs.
We live near a golf course and Mom would go there at night with Billy, me, a toboggan and a pair of clippers. She’d cut branches off the cedars that line the course and I’d pile them on and around Billy, who stayed on the toboggan. He’d do his best to hold onto them. Mom loved the smell; she’d sniff the end of each one after she cut it. Dad used to play the course, so he pretended that he didn’t approve, but he’d always tell Mom which trees needed trimming if she insisted on cutting them.
Everyone was at our Christmas parties. Not just people from the neighbourhood but people from my parents’ work and my school friends, too—back when I had friends. Mom would play the piano and sing Gordon Lightfoot’s, Song for a Winter’s Night. I’d tell her she was awful and that it was embarrassing. She’d tell me not to take things so seriously and to stop worrying about what other people thought.
Then she’d convince Dad to sing a duet of, Baby It’s Cold Outside. I’d always make it clear to my friends just how mortifying I found it.
Mom loved to laugh and have a good time. Entertaining was her thing. She and my dad would do a dramatic reading of Twas the night before Christmas, acting out the different parts—complete with wardrobe and props—grabbing some unsuspecting person out of the crowd to spin around with at the “turned with a jerk” part.
It was the very definition of corny, but all the younger kids and the adults—with the help of a little rum and eggnog—loved it. My friends and I would watch from the sidelines, making sure always to be laughing at, and never with, them.
On Christmas morning, Mom would be up before any of us, even Billy. Dean Martin’s Silver Bells blasting from the stereo would awaken the rest of us. She’d spray fake snow everywhere as we came down the stairs and then we’d rip open the mound of presents. At least, I think that was us. I remember it all right, but not to touch, not to feel, just to watch like an old film. Last Christmas—now that I can still feel with painful clarity.
There was no party, there were no lights outside or cedar inside—only a touch of tinsel and a sad little tree for a sorry little Christmas. We all had to wait for Mom to wake up and for Dad to help her down the stairs to the chair by the fire. He wrapped her in a blanket, put a scarf around her neck and turned up the gas fireplace. He then straightened the knitted, pale yellow toque she’d been wearing since she lost her hair. After that he went into the kitchen, made her a cup of tea and handed it to her gingerly.
“Are you comfortable?” he asked her for the thousandth time.
“Yes, I’m fine. Just open your presents.”
“You’re sure?” he asked again.
“She’s fine! Now can we get on with it?” I answered for her. Dad gave me a dirty look but he didn’t say anything.
I vividly remember Mom’s frailty and how not even the fire’s reflection could give her face any colour. I remember Dad’s patience and gentleness, Billy’s enthusiasm, my anger. I watched all of it with a great fury and I let that fury be known for the rest of the day. Why shouldn’t I have been angry? I had lost my Christmas.
I got to be in the school’s Christmas pageant, but I was the only one there without a parent. Dad arranged for me to get a ride with the neighbours and their kid, Martha.
Martha stuck to me all night like a bad smell—literally—and in doing so ensured the complete destruction of what remained of my social standing.
The thing about Martha, besides her “top student” marks, and her random, loud, snorting laugh, is that she will occasionally stick her hand down the back of her skirt, pull it out and sniff it. She did it that night, on stage!
My perfect evening was complete when, on the way to the car, Martha grabbed my hand with the hand—Merry Christmas!
All I wanted was one morning—Christmas morning—just a couple of hours of normality. But Mom couldn’t even give us that. How hard would it have been? One hundred and twenty minutes of pretending everything was all right. That was it. That was all I wanted.
(Just J was written with the financial aid of the Toronto Arts Council.)
“Jenevieve, 13, is dealing with issues that are causing her life to spin out of control. Her mom has just passed away, her little brother is needy, and a woman, Fanny, is moving in on her dad before her mother is even buried. Just when the teen’s life is hitting an all-time low, an aunt she never knew she had appears at the funeral. Regardless, her father allows J to spend the summer with Aunt Guin, a philosophizing free spirit who fixes up old houses with her friend Art and then sells them at a profit. J spends the summer camping in the backyard of a fixer-upper, learning life lessons through her aunt’s random quotes. The teen’s engaging voice is full of sarcasm, dry wit, and angst while her aunt’s voice is ethereal and soothing.” — (School Library Journal)
“Frizzell’s prose is engaging and well-crafted…a reader can’t help but connect with J.” (Globe & Mail)
“The novel has some great dialogue and descriptions…middle school girls will enjoy the short chapters, continuous wordplay and happy endings.” (Voya)
“J is a force to be reckoned with…girls will enjoy [her] spunky personality and her unwillingness to give in to the emotions that rip through her.” (Kliatt)
“Unique in voice and setting, and there is an unabashed emotional truth to J that resonates throughout and keeps one turning the pages. Recommended.” (CM Magazine)
Other Works by Colin Frizzell:
The bestselling teen novel:
Chill (Currently in its fifth printing)
Grade 7 Up— “Chill is a talented artist. He also has a disability, a crippled leg. It has been a significant issue in his life, but it has made him a better artist by channelling his frustration. When a campaign ensues to have a mural painted at the front of the school, he is awarded the job. In the meantime, he has an immediate adverse reaction to his new English teacher. Chill’s friend Sean, who narrates the story, wants to be a novelist and finds Mr. Sfinkter’s attitude below par, yet wants to like him. Sfinkter promises to have one of his “publishers” look at the boy’s work, which endears him to Sean but causes a rift between the teens. As the year progresses, the man repeatedly insults students, claiming that he is getting them ready for the real world. Chill’s distaste for the man increases. When the mural is finally unveiled, he has painted a mad clown (Sfinkter) squishing the dreams of the kids in the school. The novel offers an interesting portrayal of how a teacher can affect a student’s life. It is also a commentary on responsibility and the right and wrong way to approach issues that may come your way. Though it is written for teens in terms of plot and character, the content itself is based on a 3.5 reading level, making it perfect for struggling and reluctant readers.” — (School Library Journal )
“Frizzell mixes the right ingredients to please middle school boys.” (Teensreadtoo.com)
“Frizzell reaches deep into the psyche of high school students…respectfully emulates the voice of a teen.” (CM Magazine)
“A good read for all teens, especially for the less popular and the artistically inclined…one of the better Orca Soundings.” (Kliatt)
When a photographer (Abbie Cornish) suffers severe memory loss after a traumatic accident, strange clues amongst her photos suggest she may be responsible for the deaths of family members she never knew she had. Long plays a psychiatrist who helps her recover lost memories.
Release Date: TBA