A different Christmas

You could, rightly, say every Christmas is special. As well as being the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus it is also, for most of us Aussies, a happy summer festive time. A time to catch-up with workmates, friends, neighbours and rellies, maybe some special lunches or dinners and, perhaps, gift giving to all or some of the above. A good time to remember to donate to our favourite charities who help those having a tough time; especially this year with many families so badly affected by bushfires and droughts. Many in my family will, again this year, eliminate family gifting, except for our primary-school grandchildren, and instead give to relief agencies, like the Salvo’s and Red Cross and a some other special-need appeals.

But this Christmas will be a poignant time for me. Last December our wonderful five children with their families made an incredible effort to meet together at a Caravan Park in northern Victoria for the whole week leading up to Christmas. Somehow, in cabins, caravans, trailers and tents we had well over thirty people together! Dorothy had been admitted to full care at a nearby Melbourne aged-care facility just a week or so before that but we arranged to for her to be with us, at the park, for that week knowing it would be our last chance to be together as a complete family. And what a good time we had! Although not without its little moments of sadness for us with Dorothy briefly tearful at unexpected times when her embattled brain was trying to understand what was happening. For the most part I think she was able to recognise and respond to some degree, and her usual happy disposition shone though! That was a ‘together time’ that can never be repeated; we all knew it and savoured the moments and they were special, happy times with each other, and with ‘Mum’.

That’s why this year will be so different; it will surely be unique in my married life. The first time in over sixty-two years that Dorothy and I haven’t been together over the Christmas period! Our children and their families are growing older (but our twins are not yet even sixty!) and this year they will be spending time with their own children and/or their in-laws or friends. That’s what happens as families grow and mature; they disperse and make the most of the annual summer holiday period. We’ll be seeing many of them at some time over the next couple of months. Of course, we grandparents are aging, too, and in this era, the ‘distance’ between us and our grandchildren and their partners keeps on widening. It isn’t just a time distance – it’s a sociological and cultural change that’s been sneaking up on us! Our grandparenting roles have changed also, because the nature and diversity of our grandchildren’s ‘young’ lives becomes more and more different to the world Dorothy and I knew, even twenty years ago! One consequence of that is that we have fewer areas of common interest and activities; the world, the technology, even our local environment, is vastly different. Our grandchildren have never known a world without computers at home, high-speed internet, multi-channel TV, easy international travel and mobile phones, and seldom have a postal letter delivered! After Dorothy and I married we were on a waiting list for a landline phone, and our street was unmade in the sixties when we built our first home, a little three-bedroom rectangular house (which still stands in North Balwyn!). I remember when I was about ten years old having the excitement of building my first ‘crystal set’, a tiny radio with headphones salvaged from somewhere and a 20-foot-long aerial my uncle helped string up, high in our backyard in Newport! We kids made toys out of matchboxes and played in the wide-open paddocks around uncle Sam’s house. And I was in awe of his horse, Dolly, stabled in the backyard, and uncle’s flash ‘Jinker’ used for local shopping to buy the things that weren’t delivered. At that age, Santa delivering by reindeer was not too hard to believe!

They were special Christmases back then, and of course even more so later, as our children grew to adulthood, with Dorothy by my side for all those years. I’ve been spoiled and I’ve been blessed to have all those Christmas times of family and Church with baby Jesus and gifts under Christmas trees. (I can remember Santa sneaking in at midnight with presents to leave at the foot of our children’s beds, and eating the little treats left for him!). Christmas time over those sixty-two years has changed, but we remember the journey……and those that journeyed with us who are no longer here to share those memories. And thoughts of Dorothy, who shared every intimate moment along the way but at this time can only experience a single moment, here and now, are heavy in my heart. So, yes, Christmas is a special time, and a lot more special for Dorothy and me, this year. It will be special for many others, too, who have had a calamitous year and who are facing all kinds of stresses; I am ‘not the only pebble on the beach’, as I said once before!

Now, to all my readers, and especially those whose journey is ‘different’ this year’ because of health or personal struggles or fires or droughts or any other adversity, I send my heartfelt greetings with the wish that it will be a time of refreshment and reflection and, mostly, a renewal of spirit and of love.