Gentle Readers: Here I am, indeed – alive-ish and, well…But grateful to John and a group of other friends, family members and colleagues whose stories and voices enlarge the column every so often.
I’ve been told toddlerhood stories of how I’d blink in time with the Christmas-tree lights, wobble up to it and, mesmerised, reach out to hold one’s shininess reflecting the flashes. Surprise my stealth, though, and I’d grab that beauty, and tug it to the ground.
I’ve excavated memories of Afro Saxon Christmas, that one year my prideful mother covered a guava branch with that itchy fibreglass that was called angel hair, below which you could watch the coloured lights blink. I straddled the era of the old strings of light bulbs in different shapes that screwed into a socket and the modern “fairy” light sets; of the fragile blown-glass ornaments with spring hangers you boxed away each year (minus a few) in cotton wool, and the shiny plastic ones you’d just toss into a bag. On the other side, the lights bounced off what we’ve come to learn is poisonous lead-foil tinsel.
I’ve repeatedly shared the narrative of my grandmother’s cancer that followed my parents’ separation, the daily after-school vigil my nine-year-old big sister and I kept outside her Caura sanatorium ward, the insistent call and response of my mother’s tears and our “Mummy, don’t cry” in unison the entire length of the darkness of the Beetham; her Christmas Eve burial; and how that led us to become Christmas itinerants.
I’ve also told the story of some of those small 1970s Christmases in places like Siparia, St James, St George’s. But I am just now taking account – as I search for another Christmas story to share with you before the year, and my editor’s deadline, runs out – that I have never gathered the fragments, told the story of my travelling Christmas all in one place.
I recall the call. The bawl. The hasty funeral in Paradise Cemetery.
I don’t recall what we did that first Christmas Day.
I don’t know if it was the very next year, and I can’t imagine what wilfulness it takes to carry yourself and two tweenaged [sic] children by somebody who is not nuclear family for the Christmas holiday. But so we did.
Siparia is in so many ways my “year in San Fernando.” Staying in the St Christopher’s rectory, I witnessed Boxing Day weddings; watched the pothound turn vicious after she’d given birth; and coming from a middle-class “mixer” family, experienced what it was like to take turns as children at mixing Christmas cake by hand, and churning ice cream.
St James is the parish in Barbados where fixed-wire Rediffusion service still existed, the set knobs able to be muted but never turned off. Noelle, the closest thing to a child in the household, was a piano prodigy; you’d pick up a songbook off the instrument and she’d play whatever tune you selected. It was my introduction to such Bajan delicacies as sea eggs and falernum.
St George’s (Grenada) carries its own grand narrative, how at an orphanage Christmas party down the hill from our family’s house, my sister and I were given the same gift toy every other resident was. When I spoke up, complaining to authorities that mine was defective, the administrators swapped it with a resident’s – a powerful and lasting lesson about equality and justice.
But the Grenada trip is also one where my cousin Natasha repeatedly called her own mother, morning-sick with my cousin Steffan, Auntie Shirley, while calling my mother “Mummy.” Where the table was set perfectly each morning, including grapefruit spoons. Where you could hear the sounds of the coming Revo, at the very least its refrain of “Take Warning.”
The evil that men do comes after them
Your evil today will blight your tomorrow
So do good today and avoid your sorrow.
I don’t have a single Christmas story, but remembering my mother’s stuffing and beef roast recipes with my sister just now, so we can carry them down, our Christmas warrants a more integral telling that the fragmented dramas I’ve given it as a travelling storyteller. It’s a big task, but one that readers deserve – a better knitted Christmas than the ones I’ve pulled out so far that that pull so tight.