Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas past--age 13

We moved from Battersea to a flat above a shop in Brixton.  Now my dad was living with us.  It was great for me, but it was obvious that my parents did not get along.  Christmas came, and Dad brought home a big tree--not as tall as the ones in Winnipeg or Vancouver, but tall enough that I could not reach the top.  Mum and I were out one day and came home to find my dad drunk.  I think it was the second time in my life I had seen him in that condition.  He was a funny drunk, full of jokes and tricks.  He had not only bought and decorated the tree, he had also bought presents, wrapped them, put them under the tree, and blown up enough balloons to fill the whole floor of our sitting room.  Christmas Day, we had a big dinner, now that we had three ration books to buy a reasonable amount of meat, etc.  It wasn't turkey, but whatever it was, it was well appreciated.
Around that time, my mother received a letter from her mother who was still in Vancouver.  Granny had sold her Vancouver house and bought a small farm an hour's drive from the city.  She had written a will, that gave one acre of land to each of my  mother's siblings, but instead of land Mum was being given a trip back to Canada.  I was ecstatic!  I hated England with such a passion--I had always told my classmates that if I could arrange it I would be on the very next boat out of there.  Here was my chance.  Mum began to look into what needed to be done for this trip home.  We'd need vaccinations.  We'd need to find out what transportation we'd be taking.  Granny had somehow arranged with Cunard for us to simply go into the London office and book passage on a ship.  She had also arranged with the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway for our trans-Canada journey--with another stop-over in Winnipeg. 
At the Cunard office, my mother was driving me crazy and throroughly annoying the desk clerk.  She hummed and hawed about this and that until I finally got up from my chair against the wall and went to the counter to see what was going on.  I listened for a moment, and then I said to the clerk, "When's the next boat out of here?"  He said, "Saturday."  I said, "We'll take it."  My mother started to protest--we could go to Scotland, we could go to Paris....  I said, "We've been here three years.  There was lots of opportunity to do that and we didn't.  Let's just go home."  The clerk was so glad at the prospect of being rid of my mother, that he had everything all set up and ready to sign in no time at all.
Unfortunately, it never occurred to me that my dad would not be coming with us.  Granny had not provided for him.
The Christmas tree was still up in our little flat, when my dad took our bags down to the taxi and accompanied us to the train station. That was the last time I ever saw my father.

Christmas Past--age 12

While still in the house where we had the 18" tree with the green paper angel, I had a wonderful surprise one evening when I was, as usual, alone.  The doorbell rang, and to my amazement, there stood my dad!!
He had lost track of us with all our moves, and had asked the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to track us down. Then, he just took the train across Canada and a ship across the Atlantic and a train to London and a taxi to our house.  Unfortunately, we had only one bedroom with only one double bed, no sofa and no big chair and no sleeping bags.  So I don't know who slept where that night, but my dad did not stay with us.  However, he was back in my life and that was all that mattered to me.  It wasn't Christmas then, but he was my best gift ever.
He moved in with one of his brothers in Birmingham, and often came to London to see us.  Meanwhile, Mum and I moved yet again--this time to two bedrooms above a grocery shop where we shared the back-room/kitchen with the grocer--still in the borough of Battersea.  There was a sort of chaise longue in the kitchen, and when my dad came to London, that's where he slept.
Christmas arrived.  There was no place in the shared kitchen or either of the bedrooms for a tree, so that was once again dispensed with.  However, my uncle invited us to his place (where we had stayed on our arrival in England) to have Christmas dinner.  I don't remember if it was Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but we had a good time and stayed far too late.  When my uncle realized the problems we were going to have, he shooed us out in time to catch the last bus to The Angel Islington, where we would catch another bus to Battersea.  Unfortunately, when we got there, the queue was very long and we could not be squeezed onto the last bus going anywhere from that location.  We walked around, looking for a taxi or a bus or anything that would get us home.  No luck.  Even the tube stations were barred shut.  We ended up at a train station.  It might have been Victoria, but I don't know.  My dad saw to it that Mum and I could find a place to sit in the Ladies' Lavatory--there were benches in there, in a room adjacent to the row of toilets.  Mum lay down on a bench and slept.  I did a jigsaw puzzle on another bench to pass the time.  Early in the morning my dad pounded on the door for us to come.  There was a train due that would take us to Clapham Junction and we could walk home from there (maybe a mile or two).  I remember that walk: passing the horse-drawn milk delivery carts on their rounds.  That was my second Merry Christmas in Merry England.

Christmas past--age 11

Our time in England was not good.  We stayed with my uncle and his family for about a month, then moved to a dingy attic room for a while--then--well, it's easier to remember the places by the schools I attended: Sigdon Road while I was at my uncle's; Drayton Park School when we moved out of the attic into another one-room place; then in with some of my mother's friends when I attended Bounds Green School, and finally we moved to a house in Battersea where I attended a school called Surrey Lane, but later changed its name to William Blake.  In all that time, we had one Christmas--that was in Battersea.  My mother was not around very much--having found that pubs were more entertaining than our less than elegant homes. So, on Christmas Eve, our first in England, I found myself alone and thinking that this was not what I had heard about Merry Christmas in Merry England.  I had sixpence in my pocket which was supposed to be for my lunch the next day.  But, ever the optimist, I set out for the shops in the high street where I was able to buy a Christmas tree, about 18 inches tall.  It cost a penny ha'penny.  Then, I looked around and found a shop that sold some decorations, but all I could afford was a thrupenny paper angel.  They came in green or red.  I made a mistake and bought a green one.  When I got them home, I realized that the green angel on the green tree didn't look very festive.  My aunt in Winnipeg had sent us a food parcel (because food was still rationed in England), and I found that she had included some candies with foil wrappers.  So I unwrapped all the candies and made decorations out of the foil, and trimmed the tree.  No lights, of course.  Even if I'd had them, we had no electricity in that house--only gaslight or candles.  It didn't occur to me to try to put candles on the tree, and that was undoubtedly a very good thing.

Christmas past--age 10

One day I told my parents that I had seen some pictures of England and that I'd like to go there some day.  I was sure they'd say, "That's nice, Dear.  Save your pennies and some day you can go."  But no.  Instead, I came home from school one day only to find the house was for sale and my dad had found a small suite for himself.  My mother bought a set of luggage and we had tickets to sail on the Queen Mary.  My dad was enthusiastic, because I'd get to meet his mother and some members of his family.  He, however, was not coming with us. 

Mum and I crossed Canada by train, leaving Vancouver on November 14th, stopping for a few weeks in Winnipeg to visit my aunt, then we carried on to New York.  It was Christmas Eve when we set sail.  There was a big tree on the main deck, and all the children were invited to go (with parents) to the First Class Ball Room where the captain was playing Santa Claus and we all got armloads of excellent presents.  It was a great beginning for a fantastic adventure.  Too bad I was seasick for the rest of the five-day crossing of the North Atlantic.

When we arrived at my uncle's house in London on December 30th, Christmas was a memory, and my English relatives did not celebrate New Year.  I had always been allowed to stay up for midnight to bring in the new year, but not this year.  I slept right through it, and my mother told me that when the clock struck midnight, she was in the copper bath tub in the kitchen, being scolded by my aunt for having the light on so late at night.

Christmas past--middle grade years

We moved from Winnipeg to Vancouver in the summer before my eighth birthday.  First we stayed with my grandparents, them we moved to a small attic suite, then to a rooming house where my parents had one room with a kitchenette on the main floor, and I had a room in the basement.  My dad installed a two-way telephone so we could communicate without having to run through the whole house.  Then we moved to another house where my mother got a job as a nursemaid for twins, and my dad came to live with us after a while.  We didn't stay in any of those places long enough to celebrate even one Christmas.

Finally, we moved to a house where we stayed for almost a couple of years.  We had only one Christmas there--but the tree was a disappointment.  The decorations were new, because we had not brought our decorations from Winnipeg.  No more revolving lamp shades with camels going backwards.  Nor did my mother put up the two-coloured streamers with the big red bell.

I should explain that I got married at age 17, and when I moved in with my husband, I asked my mother to help me count the places we had lived.  In my 17 years, I had lived in no fewer than 32 places!

Christmas past--early memories

One of my earliest memories was when I was four years old, and the house we were living in burnt down on December 10th.  The Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg kindly put us up for a while, until some friends stepped up and took us in, letting us live in their summer house on their property.  Naturally, Christmas took a back seat to our struggles for resuming a normal life.  We stayed in the cottage for a few months, and then moved to a house in Winnipeg where we stayed for the next two years.  That was the place where I had my happiest childhood memories of Christmas.  I remember my mother taking red and green crepe paper streamers and twising them together, tacking them at the corners of the living room ceiling, so that the red and green alternated with every twist.  She had a big red crepe paper bell that she hung in the centre of the room.  Our tree reached the ceiling, leaving only enough room for the tinsel star on the top.  I remember best of all the little lamp shades that topped some of the tree lights.  As the lights heated up, the shades turned.  They were sort of sepia coloured, with pictures on them--a nativity scene on some, and three wise men following a star on the others.  The most memorable thing about these revolving lamp shades was that unfortunately the wise men were going backwards!  It bothered me a lot, but my dad (who could always fix everything) couldn't fix that.  The wise men were never going to get to Bethlehem.  I was an only child, and because all my toys had been destroyed in the fire, my parent and relatives did their best to make up for my losses.  I was spoilt rotten with the heaps of gifts under the tree, just for me (with one or two for my parents).

New Years Day 2012

Every year I set out to make new year's resolutions and then promptly forget all about them.  I'm sure they're all listed in this blog for the last two or three years.  Not so this year.  I resolve only to live my life to the best of my ability--exercising and eating sensibly, writing regularly, and so on.  This year, I spent some time looking back over my life to see what it is that I have against Christmas.  I do love the music and the lights and sending cards with our newsletter--but really other than Advent prayers and attending the special church services, I hardly notice when December 25 arrives or has passed.  I found that by looking at the Christmasses of my childhood, there were only seven years when we actually had a traditional day--with our own tree and with turkey dinner, etc.  For me, traditional Christmasses began when I got married and made them myself.