Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Past

If the Ghost of Christmas Past had been doing his job properly, I would have an enormous archive of memories of over seventy years of Christmases. But there are significant gaps and perhaps that is just as well.

As a child I remember walking around Woolworths with my saved up pocket money and finally selecting for my grandmother a brooch shaped like a bird and studded with "diamonds" and "sapphires." I remember waking up on Christmas morning in my cold bed-room and opening up the pillowcase on the end of the bed. It invariably contained classical books and Oh how disappointed I was. I later came to appreciate these books which formed the basis of my library, though I never managed to read Pilgrim's Progress. And I never will.

What do I remember of my childhood and teenage years? Not much. Sometimes we had Christmas dinner with Nana-round-the-corner and then we had her over for Boxing Day. (That's December 26 for my American readers.) But mostly I think my mother cooked. Surprise, surprise, I just found another post I wrote on this subject when my memory was a little sharper.

 By the time I was approaching my graduation from high school and for most of my years at university I had a Christmas job delivering mail. None of this union business: the Royal Mail handed over the Christmas cards to us untrained workers and off we went.

Then I found myself in California. I was house-sitting (and I think some animal was involved) for a faculty member in the hills above Los Angeles while he went home to South Carolina with his housemate. Marvin had a blue and green tinsel tree and lots of Johnny Mathis records, but the significance escaped me at the time. I remember so clearly sitting on Christmas Day, waiting for the phone call which I had booked to England—that's how it was done in those days—to come through, and then I was picked up to enjoy Christmas dinner with my beloved Trapp Family (no, not that Trapp family.) The next year I was on a train for two days and a night (or was it two nights?), on my way to Iowa to meet Ernie's family. We stopped at Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and then made our way across the great plains to Cedar Rapids. My California wardrobe was quite unsuitable for the snowy mid-west, but it seems the family approved of me.

So next year we were married and living in Detroit and I think we drove to Iowa for Christmas. I am sure we did the next two or three years, taking along small children who combined with Ernie's sister's children who were about the same age. Then came the Christmas of the flu and Ernie drove us all the 500 odd miles home in his dressing gown/robe—I couldn't yet drive. After that we stayed home, forging our own Christmas traditions. I remember wandering desperately around Toys 'R Us late at night, but most of all I remember shutting myself in my bedroom wrapping . . . and wrapping. There was the Christmas we bought Lucy a desk and put it in the garage: we forgot to give it to her until much later in the day. When I was working I usually sent the staff home early on Christmas Eve and stayed at my desk to answer the phone—which rarely rang. I never attempted Christmas pudding, but trifle went down well, and after eating turkey for Thanksgiving, we usually resorted to roast beef.

Before we knew it, the children were going to college and Christmas was heralded by Midnight Mass with all their friends greeting each other loudly in church. There were years when they were not all home: Al spent five Christmases in Africa and Lucy spent one in France and one in England.

Then they began to marry and share their holidays with other families. Babies accompanied them to our house and I still feel ashamed for getting a little upset with Emmanuel who got up on Christmas Morning and opened all the packages in the hope he would find gifts to his liking. Soon the girls took over the task of entertaining and cooking and there was the year we flew out to Washington, where the custom of everyone getting sick was resumed. However much things change, I just pray that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has plans for us for a while.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

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