Month: December 2013

The Mad Rush

When I was a kid, I loved the mad rush before Christmas.  Scan 5

I loved going with Mum and my brother on the tram to the city to do our Christmas shopping.  We would be dressed in our best clothes. Mum even wore gloves.

First we caught the ferry across the river at Hill End to reach the tram terminus.  This was the worst part of the journey for my mother. She was prone to travel sickness and always felt ill as the ferry chugged its way from one side of the river to the other. My brother and I were totally unsympathetic.  Our minds were on the great adventure ahead of us.

The tram would be packed with people standing in the aisles holding on to the dangling hand straps. As we rattled along I liked to collect smells.  I know that’s weird but it’s what I did. I noticed stuff like that. I liked to close my eyes and try to figure out where we were just by the smells. There were the flowery scents (it wasn’t called perfume back then) worn by the ladies, the interesting spicy smells as we travelled past the Indian grocery store, the body odour of the large sweaty gentleman standing beside me, the peppermint smell of the chewing gum Mum gave us so that we wouldn’t talk too much and the ‘man’ smell of the conductor collecting the tickets. I later learned this was a combination of beer and cigarette tobacco but at the time I associated it with men because my father and my uncles all had that smell about them.

Once in the city, we would head for the windows of Allan and Stark’s department store which were always decorated for Christmas with animated scenes.  We side-stepped our way along the pavement, from one window to the next, eyes wide with delight.  Sometimes, if we were really good, Dad would take us to see the windows at night …magical!

Inside the stores, Christmas music played and one store even had strolling carollers.  I remember my view of things being obscured by the crowds of people all intent on completing their Christmas gift shopping in the shortest time possible.  Luckily Mum had a firm grip on our hands so that we didn’t get swept away by the torrent of humanity.  These days I can’t stand being in crowds of people. I feel like they are going to trample all over me – a suppressed memory of childhood Christmas shopping perhaps.

We would battle our way to Santa’s chair and wait in line to sit on his knee and recite our list of wishes.  My brother was a tad wary of Santa and had to be restrained from tugging his beard.  Santa usually handed out boiled lollies to good children who managed to sit amiably on his knee, without peeing or throwing up on him.  It was all very exciting and, now that I think of it, Santa’s chair was always very close to the restrooms.  Hmmm.

The best part of the day, other than Santa, was having lunch at The Shingle Inn. Oh, the smells in that place!!  It was pure heaven to me.  I can still smell the raisin toast.  Yum.

Then it was off to the tram stop for the journey home.  My brother would be tired, grumpy and complaining about having to keep his shoes on. I would be counting what was left of my pocket money to see if I had enough to buy some sweets at the ferry shop. Mum would be loaded with shopping bags and doing one final check of her list to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anyone.  She still had another ferry trip to get through with one irritable child and one extremely talkative one.

Once home, we were ordered to lie down for a while and have a rest.  I think that was more for Mum’s benefit than ours.  I remember lying on my bed re-running the day in my head and munching my lollies.  I just knew that Santa was going to bring me that whatever it was I had asked for. I was already planning the fun I was going to have banning my brother from touching or even coming close to my treasured new (with that great ‘new’ smell) possession.  Ah, yes, I loved it all.

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Christmas Memories

Christmas is an interesting time of year.

It seems to bring out the best and worst in people.  You see random acts of kindness and you see the most incomprehensible pieces of idiocy.  It puts a dent in one’s wallet but fills the heart with happiness as families come together to celebrate.

When one is very young, the time from one Christmas to the next seems so very long.  I can remember waiting and waiting for the November page to be torn from the calendar  – the signal that Christmas was just around the corner.

Here in Australia Christmas is hot and often steamy, not the Christmas weather one sees depicted on Christmas cards.  These days  Christmas lunch at my house consists of a variety of meats, some hot, some not, seafood and array of interesting salads. But my memory reminds me annually of the holiday seasons of my childhood.

When my Nanna was alive, the whole family would arrive at her place for what she called a proper Christmas. On the way from our place to Nanna’s, Dad would call in at the ice works to buy some bags of ice. These would be used to fill the laundry tub into which the beer bottles (and some bottles of lemonade too) would be placed to chill.

Nanna and my mother and aunties would spend the morning in the kitchen preparing baked ham, roast chickens (and once even a goose!), roast potatoes and other assorted vegetables and the most delicious gravy ever.  Nanna would have already made the mince pies, Christmas cake and the plum pudding complete with sixpences hidden in its yummy centre.  The men would arrange themselves on the verandah in squatter’s chairs with glasses of beer close to hand. My cousins and I would be left to climb the mango trees in the backyard in search of the treasured fruit or to add tinsel and handmade decorations to our treehouse.  The oldest of the boys would be set to work mowing a strip of grass in preparation for the post-lunch cricket match.

At one o’clock, Nanna would tell my Uncle Herbie that dinner was ready. He would announce the good news to the rest of us by way of a piercing whistle.  Never have so many children moved so quickly!  The race to get a drumstick was a very serious event.  We were greeted by a table (two tables end to end actually) groaning with bounty….yummo….it was a sight to behold.  Nanna would stand at the head of the table, her face flushed from the heat of the day and the effort of cooking for the multitude, and say “We give thanks for all that we are able to enjoy this day. May God bless us this Christmas and in the new year with health and happiness, friends and family and love and laughter.  All these in abundance.”  To which we would chorus a hearty “AMEN”.

There wasn’t room for us kids at the table so we sat on the floor or on the stairs with our plates of goodies.  My brother would have Vegemite sandwiches. He was not an adventurous eater. Nanna tried every year to tempt him with some delicacy from the feast but he would never relent. “Vegemite sandwich please, Nan.”

When we had cleaned our plates we were allowed to distribute the gifts from under the Christmas tree.  I usually received some clothes, a book or a jigsaw puzzle and one of the items from the long list I had sent off to Santa.  There was usually a stocking with boiled lollies, noise makers and paper hats etc. as well.

While we played with our new toys, the men of the family would clear the table and begin the washing up, while the ladies sorted the leftovers into bundles to be taken home.  Nanna would be told to put her feet up and relax.

Then the cricket match would begin. The usual backyard rules – over the fence is six and out etc.- applied and there were certain allowances made for the little kids.  One by one, the men would claim injury and retire to the verandah for a medicinal beer or spirit, and soon it was just us kids playing.  We played until the light did not allow us to see the ball. We kept ourselves hydrated by sucking on lumps of ice pinched from the laundry tub.

Finally we would all sit on the verandah and enjoy the mince pies and plum pudding served with custard.  My Uncle Harry always seemed to find the sixpence in his pudding. We were sure he slipped one out of his pocket and onto his plate.

We would go home tired, laughing about the day’s events and our tummies full. We would sit in the back seat of the car surrounded by bags and baskets loaded with gifts and leftovers.

Every year as I decorate my home for the season, these memories flood back and I hope that my family go home on Christmas day filled with similar feelings. I hope that when they look back on our family Christmas celebrations they too will remember them fondly.

We give thanks for all that we are able to enjoy this day. May God bless us this Christmas and in the new year with health and happiness, friends and family and love and laughter.  All these in abundance.