Magnificent Christmas days were spent with my maternal grandparents. The gatherings began with four generations.
One year I counted twenty-eight at the dining table. The miracle was where did all the food come from? The oven wasn’t huge, but like ‘The Magic Pudding’ there was always plenty of delicious food for everyone. Roast turkey, ham, and crunchy baked vegetables with freshly shelled peas from the garden. Raspberries and strawberries also from the garden, plus plum pudding with threepences and sixpences hidden in it, with an abundance of cream and home made ice cream. Uncle John R-T always had the parson’s nose, and he always made a fuss about getting a coin in his pudding, although, on occasions he swallowed the one my grandmother strategically put into his piece.
‘Washing up time children, and remember, …( the usual refrain), the water has to be very hot! Start with the glasses and they must be left upright after drying them, until they cool, before putting them away!’ We children washed up with excited anticipation. Decorating the tree outside followed, before Uncle Henry brought out the movie camera and presents were opened. We didn’t receive presents from everyone, nor were they expected. It’s hard to think of my mother being young, but together with her sister Mary, on film, they are flaunting their new, almost strapless, flared skirted sundresses, looking very young, playing up to the camera.
The regular visitors who came for Christmas afternoon tea were Grandma’s brother, Hector McFie, (the politician), his second wife, Toni, and their daughter Helen. Great Uncle Hector was viewed with disapproval after Nana and Papa’s deaths due to his rapacious dealings with the will. This was something that was only spoken of in hushed tones, so the children wouldn’t hear.
The Wells from Latrobe would drop in, as well as the Jennings and Volprechts. The tins of sweets the Jennings family gave us each year were always appreciated. Auntie Mynie’s single friends would often be there. Voluminous forms filled the circle of fold up director’s chairs on the lawn. Uncle Percy’s permanently bent fingers didn’t stop him holding a cigarette. Henry’s films show the ‘Greats’ gradually diminishing in number, and eventually Christmas days moved to 29 Victoria Parade, where my mother presided over the cake-cutting ceremony. My grandmother was caught on film cutting the cake for three consecutive years wearing the same dress. My mother decided she wouldn’t make this mistake.
Miss Jean Nichols, a spinster neighbour took Miss Benjafield’s place, after she had died. I’m sure Jean was in love with my mother, but Brenda just pretended otherwise and allowed her to be part of the family.
On 2nd November 1957 Auntie Mary married Bob Gott, and later their three children, Timothy, Robert and Susan, had their own Christmas dinners at Steele Street. This meant alternating afternoon teas between Victoria Parade and Steele Street, which lessened the burden of the main meal with the growing numbers.
My father was never very excited about Christmas. One year we went along to St Columba’s Presbyterian Church; my parents with their five children sat in their usual pew, quite close to the front of the church. My father only attended annually under sufferance to please my mother. On the way out, the minister said, ‘And who are you?’ My father answered, ‘Give you three guesses!’ and walked on.
Another Christmas on the way home from Ronald Street, we stopped at the Pyetts’ home. Dad and Eric went off to inspect the bees that Dad had given Eric. Dad had become allergic to their stings. That day he received five stings on the head. We rushed home, Mum driving and Dad seeing double. On arrival, Dad passed out in the passage and Mum couldn’t get a pulse. I rang Doctor Endelmanis, who came down. Mum had told me not to bother him on Christmas Day, but I thought it was more serious than that. By the time the doctor arrived, Dad had vomited, so we knew he was alive. Doctor Endelmanis asked me to make really strong coffee. We didn’t have proper coffee in those days; so I made a brew with lots of powdered coffee. Doctor Endelmanis stayed for two hours to see that Dad would survive. How we appreciated him giving up so much of his time on Christmas day.