Saturday, December 17, 2011

A tear shaped bauble

My older brother untangles my hair with a comb circa 1962.


And then there was the day my father pulled down the Christmas tree. He was drunk as usual and in a fit of rage had ripped the tree out of its pot and threw it to the ground.

A tear shaped bauble, with its silver sprinkles encased in a gold centre, shattered on the carpet. Three other baubles broke in the fall that day, but it was this tear shaped beauty that mattered most to me.

My parents had brought it with them all the way from Holland. My mother had wrapped it in newspaper and cushioned it in a cardboard box alongside half a dozen other baubles, decorations that went back to the early days of their marriage.

These baubles had lasted at least another twenty years until now. I took care not to let the splinters catch on my skin.

This was the Christmas I remember when I could no longer hold to the idea that Christmas was special.

I suspect it happens for most of us in one way or another. There comes a time when our childhood pleasure at the excitement of events such as Christmas, and it need not be Christmas - it could be a birthday or some other celebration - somehow loses its lustre.

I read about Christopher Hitchen’s death on line yesterday and watched an interview conducted in 2010, some time after his diagnosis with oesophageal cancer.

Hitchen's hair was wispy thin across an otherwise bald head and his face had the puffy look of too much medication. But his eyes were sharp and his voice focussed. He talked about the fact of his dying and debated the notion of an after life. The notion of uncertainty.

I often rehearse my own death. What will it be like? assuming I get to know before hand that I am dying. Will I be like Christopher Hitchens, thoughtful and resigned, or will I panic?

These days I think more and more about the limitations of time, and the struggle I have to make the most of it. Make the most of it, I tell myself. Do not waste it.

I have this thing about waste at the moment. I cannot bear to waste anything, food, money, opportunities.

The other day I noticed a hat in the spare room, a short rimmed panama hat. The type that was fashionable for men and woman a couple of years ago. One of my daughters had desperately wanted this hat for Christmas and although it was expensive I had conceded in buying it for her, as it was Christmas.

I cringe when I realise I have not seen her wear this hat, not once. This is not to say she has never worn it. She may have worn it at times outside of my viewing, but it could not have been often. A brand new scarcely worn hat that now sits unused in the spare room and I ache all over again.

I hate to become one of those dreadful whingers but in recent weeks I have become just that.

My husband went off to the country this morning to buy the special Christmas hams he so enjoys at this time of year and I urged him not to buy too much. Last year we threw out left over ham because we had ordered too much and could not eat it all before it went off.

Christmas tends to be a time of excess in so many ways and for some reason this year I want to draw a line on the excess.

A cranky old woman, my daughters say, and perhaps they are right. A cranky old woman who suddenly recognises the passage of time, the finite nature of resources and she wants to scream, let's slow down.

Before the day my father pulled down the Christmas tree I thought of this time as a time of plenty. Every year since I have needed to balance the tension between my desire to celebrate and my need to hold back, to slow down, to resist the consumerist demands and at the same time, to join in the fun.

I am especially glad for my grandchildren, this year. They remind me of how simply delightful it can be to celebrate life, in generosity and good will. But behind the scenes for me there is still the spectre of the smashed and shattered bauble of my experience.
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