I smile at the memory of my childhood Christmases when my parents were happy and still together. I was an only child, much loved in the centre of their world. We had moved to Molong, a country town in a sheep and wheat belt. Our extended family lived in Australian cities. It was quite lonely, so we didn't spend our first Christmas in Molong. We travelled back to Sydney to visit my grandparent and uncle, who lived on the cliffs in Coogee. That was a magical place. The stories I used to make up about smugglers and cliff caves and undersea tunnels.
Well, this particular Christmas Eve, I was excited about Christmas and spending time with my Nana and Pop, but at the same time I was feeling a bit low, because eight-year-old Beverley Zimmerman had stated quite flatly there was no Santa Claus. I didn't believe her, of course, but it was an awful idea to have in my mind at Christmas. I told Mum I wished I could wipe it from the slate in my mind.
Because of the excitement, I couldn't eat the baked dinner my Nana had prepared. No amount of coaxing could get the fork to my lips, although, I would have managed some of her homemade ice cream that I'd watched her hand-whip during the day. I was sitting between my Dad and my uncle Royd with my chair against the wall, moving food around my plate. I didn't take any notice when the phone rang
Mum got up to answer it in the hall. She came back with a huge grin. 'Wendy, Santa wants to talk to you.' I didn't wait for Dad or Royd to let me out. I crawled under the table and in a state of shock I picked up the receiver. I can't remember what that lovely old voice said, except that I should eat up all my vegetables and go to sleep early so he could bring my presents.
I came back to my vegetables and shovelled them in so fast Dad was worried I'd be sick. He said, 'You can leave them now.' But I wouldn't because Santa said.
The next morning I ran to the lounge room to see if Santa had been. Under the tree was my favourite doll, which Mum had sent to Santa at the Icy Pole, a couple of weeks earlier. She was dressed up as the most beautiful fairy queen, with silver wand and crown. Her white taffeta and tulle gown was covered in little gold sequins. I was so thrilled that my young friend had been mistaken. There really was a Santa. That was the year Nana and Pop gave me my first watch. It had four tiny rubies on the quarter-hours. My uncle had one of the new His Masters Voice radiograms, something I hadn't seen before, and he played Christmas records. Holding my fairy queen, I danced around the room to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
During the day while helping to clear up the wrapping paper in Uncle Royd's room, I found a red and black dartboard that Santa had forgotten to put under the tree. Well, I figured, he couldn't think of everything, he was in a hurry and he had taken time out to call me.
Back in Molong, when I was ten, I spent the lead up to Christmas sewing presents for my dolls and teddy bear. I cut up and hand hemmed old sheets and petticoats for little cot covers and shawls. I cut holes in old lace doylies to make hats and skirts and painted red nail polish on dried pumpkin seeds and strung them into necklaces. On Christmas Eve I wrapped up the presents and tied them with ribbons. With my dolls lined up on the floor, I placed their parcels in front of them and went to bed. Then, first thing Christmas morning, before my parents woke, I sat with my dolls and we opened their presents together. Imagining their delight and seeing how pretty they looked in their gifts was a lovely experience for me.
After Mum's turkey roast and the plum pudding, which had silver threepences hidden in it, I sat in the shade with my new Enid Blyton book and The Girls' Own Annual. Beside me, tied to a stake under the willow tree was Barney my sheep; Spotty Boy, my fox terrier; an ice-cold glass of lemonade and a piece of Mum's homemade Christmas cake. Total bliss.
As a mother, I always spent the lead up to Christmas sewing for my kids. Somehow I'd established a pattern. Sewing became part of my Christmas scene: decorations, craft gifts, a skirt for Mum, a new dress for me; one year I made trousers for my husband and my dad.
I guess it all started with that Christmas in Coogee. Mum was a beautiful sewer. I learned years later that Mum and Nana had been on hands and knees in the dining room, searching for any stray sequins.
Oh yes, I actually met Santa. It was at a family funeral when I was an adult. We gave a lift to my mother's aging Uncle Darcy, and Mum told me who he really was.
Merry Christmas one and all!
The Unhewn Stone – coming August 2011