I've had a busy month. I left my job at the cafe and started another at a bakery much closer to home. My brother-in-law accepted a position at the resort where my husband is employed and he's been staying with us on his days off. My sister and their younger daughter will be moving here this week, so I've been assisting with advice and house-finding and moral support and everything I can do from here, three provinces away. I knew, somewhere in the periphery, Christmas was beginning to creep into view in shop windows and in people's windows as well, the ones who put their tree up in mid-November, but I had yet to allow my consciousness any tangible participation in the gradual and intentional takeover of the city scenery. The only Christmas-related things I had been doing were paying attention to the price of Brazil nuts for my Christmas cakes which have to be baked by the end of November each year, and hoping the price would go down (It did not), and practicing carols with the choir I am a member of for our upcoming concerts
For many of us, the Holidays mean family coming home, decorating, baking, cooking, cleaning, list making, shopping for and/or making gifts, in other words, a fair amount of work. Add to the list the fact I must have everything ready to transport up to the resort where we will spend Christmas again this year. I enjoy hosting my family at Christmas and feeding them and all that, but I honestly had not even begun to think about it. Last Saturday, while we were having our usual Saturday afternoon beer together, my brother-in-law, Brent and I chatted as I began to prepare supper. Having him around a couple of days per week has been fun. As my daughter says, 'he is so mellow and easy to talk to'. I lived with him and my sister many years ago when I was in university, and we had always been good friends. Brent was impressed I still had the mixed tape he made me for my birthday in 1988. He sent a photo of the cover with all the songs listed to his older daughter who is away at college, and she made a Spotify playlist of all the songs for herself. Some of those old songs wear well - I still listen to my tape from time to time. Anyway, we were chatting, which can make it hard for me to concentrate on cooking, when he said, out of the blue, "Do you like Dylan Thomas?" I said, of course, A Child's Christmas in Wales is my favourite Christmas story. He clicked a key on his laptop and Dylan Thomas' deep, whiskey-soaked voice filled the room. I smiled as I spoke along with the words,
I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve
or if it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
I let the author tell the rest of his story alone as I made supper. It was at the moment when Dylan Thomas sang Good King Wenceslas in the hesitant voice of himself as a small boy when I felt the magic and the possibilities of the coming season. I rather suddenly began to look forward to making the Christmas cakes, despite the price of Brazil nuts. As Brent, my daughter and I sat down to eat we talked about our favourite Christmas music and I put Charlie Brown's Christmas on the stereo and said it was the only Christmas album my kids could all agree on. Brent told us about a jazz album his family had bought at their local variety store in the small town in Manitoba they are leaving behind and how it had become their family's trademark Christmas album. We had a festive evening listening to music and chatting away happily about traditions and families and such.
The next day, after Brent had left to go back up to the resort, I gathered up the necessary energy to drive in the pouring November rain to the local Christmas craft market where I started my shopping in earnest. I bought some handcrafted gifts and talked to vendors, some of whom I knew from other annual markets I attend. I entered the door prizes, voted on my favourite Holiday themed flower arrangement and tasted all the free samples I was offered. I missed my husband, who usually shops there with me and helps me navigate the maze of stalls with his keen sense of direction (I am admittedly geographically challenged) but somehow I found my way out of the massive building without him after circling it a few times.
The next evening I took out some Seasonal piano music and played carols and songs for half an hour missing the resonance of our old upright piano we had to give away, but grateful for the digital one our son decided to leave with us. My husband, home for his days off, came over and put his hands on my shoulders. The twenty-five Christmases we had celebrated as a family fell like cascading notes from my memory onto the piano keys. I played those Christmases with the halting style of a musician who rarely practices but enjoys it all the same.
For anyone who would like to be told a wonderful story, here it is, A Child's Christmas in Wales