There is this one childhood memory of Christmas and it is forever stitched into my mind.
The family had bought a record player – a big deal back then – and when my grandfather arrived at our place for Christmas lunch, his Irish accent still strong after 50 years in this country, someone played “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”.
I don’t know that he particularly cared for the song but he smiled anyway. I still remember the smile.
And there was the watermelon. My father had gone to the trouble of carving a watermelon into a basket shape that year, complete with handle, and had filled it with cubes of melon flesh.
I was overwhelmed by the ingenuity of it all and thought how brilliant Dad was to have hit upon such an idea.
Dad passed away eight years ago after announcing every Christmas for the previous 10 years that this would be his last Christmas.
“Keep it up,” I would tell him. “One of these years you’re going to be right”.
There wasn’t a lot he needed in those last years, apart from a new body, so I’d just buy him fistfuls of lottery tickets.
He promised to cut me in for a share if he ever won The Big One, the same big one that had shimmered before him like a mirage throughout his life.
His time ran out before he cracked The Big One.
This year’s Christmas shopping, thanks to my wife, is all but done.
This contrasts with my gift buying pattern of years gone by which was to spend much of Christmas Eve in the pub with my mates and then go shopping.
It made for an interesting time on Christmas morning as I tried to wrap the presents and remember what I had bought for whom and why.
This blurred approach to shopping meant that I was often complimented on my generosity. “It’s nothing” I would say, seeing little point in confessing that I had little or no recollection of buying the present in question.
As an exercise, try and remember the gifts that you have been given at Christmas over the years.
Three stand out in my mind. One was a huge water pistol given to me as a child by my grandmother, another a plastic kit of a World War II bomber which I had to assemble and the third a red Cyclops scooter.
The rest are lost to me apart from some of the truly awful gifts I’ve received, chief among these being a coffee mug of the sort sold by discount stores for 50 cents.
“How lovely” I said as I beheld it. “It’s just so Christmas-like!” I enthused as the distant relative with the million dollar house who had bought it for me smiled hugely and I thought un-Christmas-like thoughts.
The cheap undies with the waistband elastic that resembled a tired piece of string after one wash and the calendar which someone had been given by an airline and thoughtfully passed on to me also stand out in the Gift Hall of Cheapskate Infamy.
Had the Good Lord realised that one day his birth would be celebrated by people giving each other 50 cent coffee cups, I doubt if he would have bothered going through with the whole business.
I once became so cynical in my regard for the festive season that instead of attending the family lunch in Brisbane, I spent it at Noosa with a couple of friends.
It was a mistake and I still regret it. I’ve also spent three Christmas Days overseas, one freezing my butt off in Vancouver and two others in Los Angeles, a soulless city on any day of the year but depressingly so at Christmas.
I’ve now come to realise that one of the reasons that we gather on December 25 is to provide our children with the memories on which they will dwell in their later years.
At Christmas we are characters in a movie, I think, playing our roles as parents or uncles, aunts or friends, a movie which our children will replay in their minds as they in turn assume our roles.
My recollections of childhood Christmases remain among my most treasured.
Mainly, however, I am reminded of my grandparents enclosed verandah, its hardwood boards polished to a deep sheen by my grandfather.
At the end of the verandah was the tree, the gifts for our extended family piled at its foot, the whole scene bathed in an innocence long gone.