When I was very young, we would often travel to my grandparents' home a province away. This would involve a train trip on a Pulman car. The porters were kindly gentlemen who made the whole event feel special. I have always loved cozy spaces so the best part was watching the transformation of the seats to a cunning double berth made up with crisp white sheets. The world felt less dangerous then, The War safely in the past, and the rough wool privacy curtains more than enough of a divider. The parent who drew the short straw would share the lower bunk with me; apparently it was a dreaded ordeal, as I was an eggbeater with sharp elbows and knees. But for me, at least, falling asleep to the clickety-clack of the wheels pre-disposed me to a life-long affection for rail travel.
Wherever we were, Christmas was always a busy time. There were special projects at school: for years, my sainted mother kept the Yuletide log I had fashioned in grade two out of flour and water with a sprinkle of sparkle and one sprig of spruce which went bald almost immediately. She must have clung to the hope that it had a certain lumpen charm. And every year there would be yet another creation for me to haul home triumphantly and for her to make a fuss about. She was an exemplary mother.
It seems to me that we sang a great deal -- in the classroom, in the music class, and at church, whether in the pew or in a choir. Once we had a piano we sang at home too. To this day I belt out the alto line of the carols and feel the absence of Mom's soprano and Dad's tenor beside me. The Christmas season ended on New Year's Eve with the singing of Auld Lang Syne; after that, the prospect of going back to school was unavoidable. (I like to think that I've always been someone who always made excellent use of free time.... It wasn't school I disliked so much as having to get up on a cold dark winter morning!)
For a child, it was all about the gifts. Trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve was sheer agony. Sometimes I just crawled over to an air register to eavesdrop on the adult conversation; that was a guaranteed sleeping pill. Come morning, there would be my stocking at the end of the bed and I could usually count on a doll or doll clothes to fill in the hours until everybody else woke up.
And we ate. Christmas was a turkey dinner, a ham graced the table on New Year's Day, and I ate my own weight in Christmas cake and mincemeat tarts. To this day I cannot understand how anyone might reject a good fruitcake and so I offer the magnificent gesture of allowing those of you who suffer fruitcake surfeit to send me your cake. Let me eat cake, as Marie said. You can even send it COD and I'll pay the postage. While I have my mother's recipe, the year I tried to bake it (at great cost, I might add), the recipe foundered on the reef of assumed knowledge -- it seems that I needed more guidance than a recipe with no timing for the traditional three nesting cakepans. The Mama Bear cake was fine, but Papa was too dry and Baby needed changing.
Jon and I have been busy wrapping gifts for all of the little people and finishing the hand-made ones; he has a pair of hickory walking sticks in progress for the boys next door, for example. I try to combine book gifts and art supplies with special things from my own childhood like tiny dolls. My Aunt Bess always had something of the sort for me and I still treasure them.
May your Christmas be enriched by those of the past and serve as a joyful future memory for others.