Christmas with the Smiths

By Lynn Elder – A short story

A feel good song.

She moved a hairbrush through her little one’s tangled strands of long auburn hair. Strains of the Wiggles could be heard from the television in the adjoining room as they jumped about singing “Hot Potato.” It reminded Sarah of the holiday concert she took her twins Annabel and Chloe to last Christmas. There was a red, a blue, a purple and a yellow Wiggle. Times had changed, though, with the arrival of a female Wiggle who donned the yellow skivvy.

The Smith family had survived another Christmas yesterday with the extended family present. Every year there was trepidation as to what the day would bring. Peace and joy to the world were not the first words to spring to mind. Her in-laws were not essentially bad people, but Sarah struggled to find anything in common with Fred and Myrtle. They held extreme conservative political views that did not align with their environmentally minded daughter-in-law.

Buying Christmas presents was not an easy task either, and Sarah’s husband Brett was happy to offload the task to her. It was not something she relished because, in previous years, the response to her gift selections was lukewarm, to say the least.

Sarah braved the crowded shopping centre a week earlier as the dutiful wife she was, searching for appropriate gifts. One positive was the elegant gift wrapping that the shops provided, sparing her from another job in an otherwise busy time of year.

Christmas Day arrived with the in-laws on the front step. As was the custom, the grandchildren insisted that they open their presents before the big, cooked lunch. Sarah thought to herself, let us get this part of the day done with. Brett welcomed his parents with big hugs while the twins tugged at his jumper, urging him to hurry up. Soon they were all settled into the sofas facing the brightly decorated pine tree surrounded by presents. The girls squealed with delight on opening their gifts from Grandma and Grandpa. They were still young enough to enjoy playing dress-ups with their Barbie dolls. Then it was like the game pass the parcel as the various wrapped gifts were handed around.

Fred ripped the paper as he opened his present, which revealed a book about vintage trains. Sarah held her breath as she waited for his reaction. Thankfully, he was gracious enough to say he had almost bought a copy for himself recently. One down. One more to go. The sausage-shaped present was in the hands of Myrtle now. She was more delicate in undoing the pretty wrapping paper and the curly ribbon. A long skinny item fell onto her lap being a posh-looking umbrella. Myrtle exclaimed, “Oh, what a lovely but useful present. Living in Melbourne, you never know when it may rain.” She opened it to display the impressionist art of Renoir. Arty but practical, Sarah thought to herself. The reaction was better than hoped for. The gift-giving ritual was now completed. Lunch was still an hour away, so the adults stood up and stretched as the twins played with their new toys.

Fred surprised Sarah when he picked up the blue guitar leaning against the wall in the living room. Brett had bought it for her last Christmas. Unfortunately, looking after two lively twin daughters and running a business from home, learning to play the guitar was not a priority. Chloe and Annabel were distracted enough to urge Grandpa to play a tune. Sarah imagined him playing something akin to a call to arms for fellow comrades. She did not even know he could play a musical instrument. Imagine her astonishment when the girls’ favourite Wiggles’ tune, “Hot Potato”, was played. Before anyone could protest, all the adults were up and dancing with the twins. Sarah and Brett exchanged a hug and a kiss with her husband, shouting over the music, “Best Christmas yet!.”

12 Days of Christmas writing prompt: Using the following random words, write a Christmas, summer, or holiday themed story. Potato, Guitar, Book, Umbrella, Hair brush

Prompt provided by author Melissa Gijsbers.

The Wish List

by Lynn Elder

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 “For Christmas I wanted…,” “Where is it?” “I hate you all!.”

A mop of wayward blonde curls was tossed hither and thither as the little girl stomped her feet in anger. The angelic demeanour of an hour ago was but a distant memory for her parents now.

Sipping on a Yule-tide mulled glass of wine, the older woman winched as she remembered her behaviour from so many years ago. It was like she was born into the wrong family because no one understood her passion and took her seriously. She smiled while surveying the unwrapped gifts beneath the Christmas tree. Now, she was able to tick off her wish list.

One painting easel.

Half a dozen paintbrushes to suit different strokes and mediums.

A collection of acrylic and oil paints.

Blank canvases of assorted sizes.

Sketchbooks for forays into the countryside.

A tin of watercolour pencils.

A box of pastels.

A giant workbook.

A large coffee-table sized book about Renaissance painters.

She turned around at the sound of her daughter’s voice.

“Oh, Mum, Dad and I and my brothers hope we didn’t forget anything on your wish list.”

Her mother responded joyfully, “ I have everything I need now for my painting trip to Italy in July. Thank you so much, my darling.”

  • Day 1 – The 12 Days of Christmas Writing Prompt. Prompt provided by author and writer Melissa Gijsbers.

Christmas…why bother?

Another Christmas is done and dusted! How was yours? Thankfully, ours was peaceful and relaxing. I managed to avoid any family conflict or discord this year. Given the love-hate relationship many people have with Christmas, it is easy to understand the negativity that surrounds this annual Christian celebration.

Regardless of whether Christmas has a spiritual meaning for you or not; if one can pare back all the man-made trappings that the festive season brings especially in the developed world, the Christmas message can be a powerful one.

Take away the window dressing of tinsel and baubles, giant Santas and cherubic images to imagine a much more humble setting. Outcasts are driven from their home to seek shelter in a stable because there is no other place for them. Mary and Joseph bed down with the animals to await the arrival of their child. All across the world women give birth to babies every day. It is a source of wonderment that a new being comes into the world nine months after conception. What makes the nativity scene such a love story is not only the bond shared by the parents of Jesus but that God so loved his only son and was prepared to let him live as one of us and hopefully lead us to the cross. It is a story of hope in a world that is so bereft of it. For me, it illustrates the beauty of this humble beginning that says fear not if you are not rich or powerful; you matter regardless.

The sermon message on Christmas Day at my local church was one of how Jesus has come to serve the lowly (insert disadvantaged, poor, abused, bullied, exploited etc) not the wealthy and powerful. Some will say this smacks of left-wing politics but then social justice requires advocating for those who don’t have a voice.

Living in a secular climate that seeks to remove or reduce God to a nice fairy tale; there is still a justification for the celebration of Christmas. Journalist, Greg Sheridan explores this in his commentary “Christmas Story Still Resonates” in the Weekend Australian (Sheridan 2019). Sheridan’s says ” Christmas remains the most universal, powerful symbol of both humanity and divinity, not only in the West but in the entire world.” He makes note of the historical events that surround the Christian story and points us towards some creditable authors including historian John Dickson who has recently published, “Is Jesus History?”. Sheridan makes the point that supreme gods in other religions, do not compare to the treatment that the Christian god endures via defeat on earth, arrested, tortured, humiliated and killed most cruelly and grotesquely (Sheridan 2019).

Like many others, I enjoy the festivities that Christmas brings but it is the simple tale of love come down that makes me want to bother with Christmas and offers hope in the new year ahead.

Reference:

Sheridan, Greg (2019), “Christmas Story Still Resonates”, Weekend Australian, December 21-22. pp13 & 16.

Summer days herald the New Year in the High Country!

Spring rains have produced long green grasses now dried golden by the hot baking sun.

Several of my good intentions never materialised including a blog post to herald the start of summer on December 1. This was due to the busyness of my life before Christmas. I can’t blame it on Yuletide preparations. I come from a small family with members scattered across Australia, and Christmas tends to be low-key. My husband has a married brother with two adult children living near London, in England. We spent Christmas with them in 2015, followed by New Year’s Eve in Vienna, in Austria. It was such a special time because we don’t get to see each other very often being so far away. But thankfully the internet and cheap overseas call rates helps us stay in touch.

Some members back home avoid Christmas all together which is fine by us. Bolly (my husband) and I were once again invited to join friends in town for Christmas lunch with their extended family. This year there was 12 of us compared to 16 last year. I got out of cooking again! The only problem with this is I don’t have any left overs for our traditional Boxing Day picnic outing. Never mind, we made do with pizza and beer at Wrong Side Brewing at Jamieson on a hot summer’s day.

The end of the year was extremely busy with our local agricultural show on the 17th November involving lots of work beforehand and after. Took me the secretary, two weeks to recover! The hard work of all the committee obviously paid off, not only were we blessed with a beautiful late spring day, but our gate takings were the best ever in several years and everyone commented on a great atmosphere enjoyed by young and old alike. Of course, behind the scenes we can see areas that need to be streamlined before next year which will be our 130th show. Our next event is the annual campdraft in March. This has evolved from mustering cattle into one of the fastest growing equestrian sports in Australia.

I was also trying to keep on top of my studies. In lieu of doing a community development placement I was allowed to do a project on my involvement with the Friends of Venilale group and my return trip to East Timor in September. This country has a special place in my heart and I now have several Timorese friends on Facebook. The local Friends’ group continues to meet monthly. Fundraising efforts in 2018 included a stall four times per year at the annual bush market, the ridgeline walk across several local farms, special guest talks, a trivia night, a book launch and a film afternoon. Despite being time poor, I managed to produce a 1500 word essay and an audio-visual presentation. In early December I started a new study period doing an elective unit “Drugs in Society” which is proving most interesting. End of February, I will commence my final core unit for my sustainability major. This will leave me with two more electives to complete and hopefully my double degree before the end of the year!

November was also a time to commemorate the contribution of our service men and women 100 years later at our local Remembrance Day Service on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. This was preceded by a procession of those who were returned servicemen and women, and those who proudly marched wearing medals passed down through their families. My husband wore his grandfather’s World War One service medals for the first time. It is a real community event with young people involved in the service.

As 2018 drew to a close, temperatures began to climb into the high 30s and even 40 degrees Celsius on a couple of days. The nearby hills have lost their green tinge by becoming brown in the hot sun. Our paddocks look wave-like as the long, dried golden grass moves in the breeze. Our fire warning ratings have hovered between high (blue) and very high (orange) this week. The weather has been unsettled over the Christmas and New Year period with some heavy rainfalls followed by high humidity. During the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, we were surrounded by constant storms with lightening and thunder. Rambo my cat tough by name not nature, hid under the bed all afternoon. We received a phone call from a neighbour to alert us to a nearby grass fire at the end of our road. I checked out the emergency services’ website, to find there was another incident of a small fire two roads away. But both were under control. Early evening we learn that another neighbour has a tree on fire on his property which was also dealt with quickly. All three were caused by lightening strikes! We need to revisit our fire plan and be sure that we are prepared in an emergency.

We enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve at home with just the two of us. I made a special dinner including wine trifle for dessert. We had an early night so we could get up early to drive to Melbourne and celebrate New Year’s Day with my Sri Lankan friend and her family. It is a annual lunch with loads of traditional Sri Lankan food, drinks and even dancing to work it off! We love catching up with my friend who was a former employee of mine. Bolly and I limit our alcohol consumption so we can make the three-hour trip back home. As much as we love visiting our friends and family in the city, we are always keen to get back to our country haven.

As normality returns to our lives, it is time to prepare for the coming year and setting goals so our time doesn’t get squandered. Just before Christmas we invested in solar panels for our north facing roof of our house. It will take about four years to start to recoup our money but at least we are doing our bit for the environment. I follow the tracker for our energy provider and notice less usage when the solar panels are operating during the day. Other jobs include finishing painting the outside doors and windows. We have two new homes being built nearby so we are going to do a huge tree planting along our fence line. Today sees a change of neighbours directly behind us, who no doubt will want to make their mark on a new property acquisition. Life is full of changes and sometimes we just have to embrace them! While Christmas is behind us, or until the Christmas tree and decorations come down, I thought I would include the video below as a reminder of striving for peace and harmony throughout the world in 2019. May we all find joy and personal satisfaction in the coming months.