Where will you be this Christmas? And who will you be with? Will your mind wander back to your childhood days of Christmas and other special occasions? If so, like me, will you draw on the happy memories? When I reflect on past Christmas and New Year holidays, I am grateful to my parents and extended family. They left me with so many happy memories.
I am the first-born of seven children. My childhood memories take me back to 92 Barrack Road, Cannon Hill. It is a suburb of Brisbane and it was my paternal grandparents home. This is the house where my father grew up, the boys sleeping on the closed-in verandah. It was a working-class catholic family. A family full of activity and laughter. They were not wealthy, but they had valuable characteristics. They were honest people; they were kind, generous and inclusive. These values were lived. And through their example I have worked at integrating these and other values into my life.
My sister Susan was born when I was two years old. Up until then I had my parents to myself. Most Sundays, it was a train trip from Woolloongabba to Cannon Hill for lunch. There were Aunts, Uncles, nieces, and nephews. The house overflowed with people but there was always room for one more.
The men organised the tables and chairs. Three tables joined together made one big family dining table. It was a large rectangular room overlooking the garden. The ‘loo’ was a wooden structure in the backyard, shaded by a mango tree.
There was constant chatter. Everyone joined in, no job was too menial. The women in the kitchen cooked a roast meal, even in the heat of a Queensland summer. Later in the day the men enjoyed a beer sitting on the front verandah.
The table was set with ivory handled cutlery. Large soft drink bottles decorated the middle of the table. Days before the soft drink bottles arrived in a crate at the backdoor. The combination of ice-cream and soft drink was a treat worth waiting for. Once our dessert arrived Susan and I would scoop our ice-cream into our glass – a drink called a ‘spider.’ So many great memories of family at 92 Barrack Road.
But for Christmas day it was our family tradition to gather at the home of my maternal great grandparents, in Helidon. We loved our time at ‘The Laurels’ in Bowen Street. Life was simpler then but not as comfortable as we have come to expect in the twenty-first century.
At Christmas we would enjoy a roast meal. Yes, in the middle of an Australian summer. Is that why these days I cook a roast meal for two! It takes me back to those great family times when I was growing up. At ‘The Laurels’ tables were set up on the open back verandah. We endured the summer heat without air-conditioning or fans. To keep cool we went to the creek for a swim. Everyone hoping for a gentle breeze before an afternoon rainstorm to cool the air.
There were no electric or gas ovens, only a wood stove. Even in the discomfort of the heat there was no lack of offers for work in the kitchen. Refrigeration, in my early years of life, was an ice box. Everyone managed and adapted to the environment. There were no complaints.
Further, there was no television, no mobile phones, and no social media. Yet, it was the best social event. Everyone was together, eating and drinking (cups of tea mostly) and sharing stories.
Now with COVID-19 under control in Australia, people can gather together. Apart from the state of South Australia, families can travel and meet up with families. There is much to celebrate after living through 2020 with COVID-19.
The absence of COVID-19 cases in Victoria after 28 days is cause for celebration. Also, the borders of Queensland open on the 1st December. There will be a festive mood this Christmas. Time to polish up those crystal wine and champagne glasses!
This year I am looking forward to spending Christmas with my son, Matt. After eight years living in the west he is once again a Queenslander! Back in the year 2000, when Matt was with us for Christmas, I made Beef Wellington. To mark the occasion, I cut out from pastry the number 2000. It was placed on the top of the Beef Wellington and ready for the oven, while I worked in air-conditioning. What will I do this Christmas, twenty years later in 2020?
This year I plan to do something special to create a new Christmas memory. One that will carry us into 2021 and gives us hope for the future. What about you, who will you spend Christmas with …? And what happy memories will you create?