I started writing this post about Paul and I and what Christmas means to us, but in the telling of the why, I found myself thinking back to the Christmases of my childhood…..
I get that some people have bad memories of childhood Christmases, a drunken parent, or relative, or a Christmas Grinch that spoils it for everyone, leaving a legacy of bad Christmas memories for the family. Then there’s those who lose a loved one during the silly season, and Christmas is never the same for the family again. My heart goes out to the families of a recent tragedy that happened last week in Northern Tasmania. Five children from year six were killed at their end of year school celebrations. A gust of wind blew their bouncy castle up about ten metres into the air. Several more children remain critically injured. Christmas will never be the same for those families.
For me, though, Christmas has always been the best time of the year. My earliest childhood memory of Christmas goes back to when I was just six. It was the last Christmas we were to have with my stepfather, Roy, as he was killed in an accident in November of the following year. As far as Christmas memories for the rest of my childhood goes that was probably a good thing. He was one of those drunkards that I mentioned earlier, and if he hadn’t died when he did most likely my later Christmases would have been tarnished by not so good memories. Getting back to that Christmas though, we had gone snooping through mum and Roy’s wardrobe, and what did we find but three beautiful Walkie, Talkie, dolls. I was only six and should have still believed firmly in Father Christmas but I had five older siblings who delighted in displacing such myths. Finding the dolls certainly chased away any doubts I may have still had. We proudly told mum and Roy that ”we know Father Christmas isn’t true because we’ve seen the dolls in your wardrobe”
Roy told us firmly that Father Christmas was indeed very, very real. Apparently to ease Santa’s load on Christmas Eve he had delivered our presents early knowing that were good children who wouldn’t snoop. However, as we had proved we weren’t that good after all, Roy said Father Christmas would no doubt take the dolls back and give them to some more deserving little girls. Around to the phone box he went to phone Santa and tell him of our mis-demeanour. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure of myself after all. I really wanted that doll, and I was very scared that Father Christmas might be real after all and he would take my beautiful doll away and give it to some other little girl. You can imagine my delight to find the doll on the end of my bed on Christmas morning.
The following year Roy was electrocuted when away with the army reserves one week-end. Power lines had come down touching the truck he was in, so when he stepped out of the truck he coped a fatal volt of power leaving mum widowed with seven children, no life insurance, and a brand new mortgage to pay off (we’d only moved into our new home a year or so previously)
Money was in very short supply, and we lived from one pension to the next. Ornaments for a Christmas tree were out of the question, so we never had a tree. Instead we made chains from crepe paper to string around the room. Balloons were blown up and fastened into the corners of the rooms. Our Christmas gifts weren’t expensive or plentiful, but there was always something wrapped up and placed on the ends of our beds to open on Christmas morning. Our gifts always included a few pieces of stone fruit, plus some juicy, deep red, cherries. Mum’s budget didn’t often stretch to fruit, so this part of our gift was a real treat. To this day cherries are a must for me on Christmas morning. Christmas breakfast these days for us is croissants with ham and cheese, and a bowl of fresh cherries.
Chicken was expensive when I was a child, so buying chickens to feed eight people for Christmas dinner wouldn’t have fitted into mums widow’s pension budget. So what did mum do – she reared her own chickens. They provided eggs throughout the year, and then a few days before Christmas she would lop off their heads and hang them from the clothes line to bleed. An amazing woman was my mum and these days there’s not a Christmas goes past that I don’t remember the effort she went to to ensure we had a feast on our Christmas table.
Christmas dinner was in the middle of the day and we would sit down to half a chicken each, lots of roast veges, greens and home made gravy on our Christmas plate. To follow was mum’s home made plum pudding cooked in a rag and smothered in creamy custard. The pudding would be full of silver threepenny bits, a few sixpenses, and one silver shilling. I always hoped to get the shilling, but never did.
After dinner us kids would often head off to a park to play cricket leaving mum to clean up all the dishes. We’d come home famished for Christmas tea which was always ham, lettuce salad with eggs, and tomato, cucumber and onions in vinegar. Pudding was always trifle – two puddings in one day, no wonder I loved Christmas.
I wish I’d appreciated my mum when she was alive. She passed away when I was 46, and sadly I still had the selfishness that had come in my youth and hung around for far to long. While the selfishness remained my thoughts were always on mum’s failings, on what she had failed to provide for us. She wasn’t any scholar, nor did she appreciate or encourage an education for her children. She wasn’t physically demonstrative, no hugs and no good night kisses, one bath a week in shared bath water, and darned clothes to go to school in. It was long after she’d gone that I started to realise just what my mum did give me, and not least of those things is wonderful memories of many happy childhood Christmases. The food mum put on our Christmas plates and the effort she went to to get it there spoke volumes more than any hug or kiss could ever speak. From the bottom of my heart, thank you mum!