Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Christmas is a time for children. A time for families. But also a time for memories .....
Oh, the Christmases of my childhood! I remember them so clearly - each splinter of time as clear and sharp as ever it was! If only I can close my mind - and my eyes - for a moment to the clamour of Christmas Present. To the lists of presents to be bought. To the cards to be written and posted. To the constant refrain of 'I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday' blaring from the supermarket speakers. To the endless queues at the check-outs, the problem of getting a space in the park-and-ride, the feeling of the days rushing past and being nowhere near ready .... If I can shut out all that, I can be a child again, on Christmas Eve.
We knew it really was "all happening" when our cockerel was delivered by 'Mr Young the Fowl Man'. He reared dozens of them, alongside his flock of hens, in a big open run just the other side of the road from where we lived, so we could hear them crowing for weeks before. The 'First Smell of Christmas' was my aunt, singing off what remained of the poor bird's feathers, which always notched up our excited anticipation. (Actually, I lie. 'The First Smell of Christmas' was much earlier - puddings boiling in the copper. A smell I detested!)
But back to that wonderful cockerel.
In my childhood, chicken was a once-a-year luxury, rather than the commonplace meat it is today. When it was gone we had to wait a whole twelve months to taste another. Oh, the wonderful aroma that filled the house as it was cooking! And it truly was the star of the show. We didn't have all the fancy accompaniments in those days - just brussel sprouts, stuffing, and - if we were lucky - roasted potatoes instead of boiled. But what a feast it was - even if I had to eat some of that hated Christmas pudding afterwards!
Then of course there was the excitement of waiting for Father Christmas to call. I remember looking out of my bedroom window when I was supposed to be asleep, ever hopeful that this year I might catch sight of his sleigh in the moonlit sky. But of course, I never did. I'd wake in the middle of the night, crawl to the bottom of my bed and feel the pillow-case that hung there - my sister and I always had pillow cases, not stockings - and it would be lumpy with a box that might be a jigsaw puzzle, and a couple of orbs that were probably an orange and an apple. I'd managed to miss him again! But at least he'd called and left me presents!
The family presents were always piled on the settee in the living room and covered with a sheet. We couldn't wait to remove it and hand out the assorted parcels to the adults, who sat in a circle as befitted the occasion, and we took it in turns to 'open'. Great merriment always ensued from the presents we received from one elderly auntie - they were always several years too young for me and my sister - I remember 9-piece jigsaws which we had races to complete, and when buying for my grandchildren and great nieces and nephews I live in fear of "doing an Auntie Pat". Her presents to my mother were just as uninspired - we took bets on whether it would be a peg-bag or a voluminous pinafore - each year it was one or the other. And on one memorable occasion a gift from us to them reapeared the following year in fresh wrapping paper ... obviously she was no more pleased with our offerings than we were with hers!
The present I will never forget is the one I got the year I passed the 11-plus to go to the Grammar School. A much longed-for bicycle! Too big to be put on the settee, it was standing in the hall when I came downstairs, also covered by a sheet, but an unmistakeable shape. The excitement I felt then has never been surpassed. It stayed with me as a warm glow for days, weeks, months, forever, really. That bike - a red Hercules with no gears at all - was my pride and joy and it still hangs in our garage. It might be a rusted wreck now that I will never ride again, but I just can't bring myself to get rid of it.
Oh ... those Ghosts of Christmas Past ... Happy, happy days, with memories time will never erase. And more happy ones to come, when I was a young wife and mother, and now a very proud grandmother. But that's another story .....