Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Ghost of Christrmas Past

My memory contains huge holes. I know why. It's protection, it's what brains do in the face of trauma, they edit out stuff. Sadly as well as the painful, the sad and the difficult, they sometimes erase the good as well.

Christmas in Australia is so different to here. Here Christmas marks the start of winter and is the last good thing to happen until Easter. In Australia Christmas marks the start of summer and is just the beginning of a long summer of holidays, trips to the beach, swimming and fun.

The smell of Christmas is what I remember the most. Eucalyptus, dust, the sunshine emphasising the scents of summer. I would look forward to the food, groaning tables of cold meat and salad, new potatoes, fresh fruit, my aunt's icecream bombe.

And Nana. Always Nana. I know one or two of my early Christmases would have been spent at the farm. My grandparents had a sheep farm in Lilydale northern Tasmania, not far from Launceston where I chose to do my degree.

When  first started counselling late last year my counsellor would ask me for a safe place to go if it got hard. I chose my grandmother's kitchen  at the farm. Strangely though I remember her every day cooking I don't remember Christmas at the farm at all. I remember vague anxiety that father Christmas may not be able to find us there, though he certainly did.

I remember Nana's gifts. I have some of them now, sadly not all. One of the things my first husband used to do was destroy things close to me, and her books to me were often a target. I still have A Child's Garden of Verses and read them to Joseph. She often bought me the Children's Book of the Year, my favourite author was Colin Thiele, and my favourite book of his was The Valley Between, which was just so funny.

Nana sometimes bought us jewellery, often she'd have something extra for me. We were extraordinarily close. She used to take us to the movies, I have fond memories of her taking us to the Star Wars sagas and removing her hearing aids!

When I was seven they sold the farm, moving to Hobart, not just to be closer to her family, both my mum and my uncle lived in Hobart, some 200 kiometres away from Lilydale. Christmases now are clearer. Usually we would go to either my aunt and uncles or have to at ours, alternating. In the morning we'd whizz over to Mornington to swap presents with the grandparents, then go back in the evening for a meal. My nana would set up a buffet table in the back bedroom with sandwiches, sweets and cake. 

I remember Nana as a small, kind old lady, yet she was only 79 when she died. I was just 19. I was living in a lovely sharehouse with two amazing girls, Christina and Jodie. They wrapped me in love and kindness and cared for me dearly. I loved that house, there we were all safe. Then everything changed. Christina got married, Jodie dropped out of university, and later sadly died. That house on Mangan street could well have been the safe place in my memory, with its rotary clothesline, funny little laundry room with the bright yellow floor and a dated kitchen that now would be considered charmingly retro.

Now the Christmases I have with my son are so different. Yesterday there was no family to visit. A fleeting FaceTime with his grandparents and cousins in Germany. No whizzing around trying to fit everyone in.

After my grandfather died my Nana moved in with us and became an integral part of our every day lives. Our bond grew even closer. She taught me about faith, love, embroidery, cooking. I looked up to her so much. She was truly an amazing woman. When she died the house was filled with cards, letters and flowers.

She touched the life of everyone who crossed her path, she was amazing.

She's my ghost of Christmas past.

And I miss her. 

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