Carrum is an old seaside holiday destination for Melburnians. Over the years it has gradually been overtaken by suburbia. Run-down holiday shacks have been replaced by up-market units, trendy coffee shops and large marina.
Yet it still seems to retain an old fashioned sense of community. It seems residents can’t escape the affect of sun, sand and sea.
For many years I worked at a local retirement village where the majority of the residents are inspiring women. Women who achieved many accolades during their working life, women who overcame cancer and now laugh about it, women with incredible stories of perseverance and sacrifice. They battle on, often overcoming insurmountable odds, still giving, still caring for others. They believe in the old adage, ‘Today’s tragedies are tomorrow’s funny stories’. Recently I’ve been encouraging them to grab an exercise book and record the family stories when they pop into their minds. Hopefully one day they will turn them into a book to pass on to their family. So often these stories are forgotten and the younger generation may never know the stories behind so many old pictures. Luckily for me my father loved to talk about the past. When I look at a photo of his brother I know that Wally had a permanent limp. He shot himself in the knee trying to climb through a barb wire fence while on a rabbit shoot with his mates. The stories behind the photograph bring the person to life.
MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS IN PARKDALE
Christmas morning 2014. A wonderful day ahead of celebration and friendship. My mind travels back to memories of my sun-drenched childhood in Parkdale. Mum loved to sing and every morning began with the same song.
Wake up Chickabiddy, the morning is bright. The birds are all singing to welcome the light
The curtains are flung open. Pretending to be asleep I try to breathe deeply, evenly, but Mum yanks back the sheet. I lie like a snail without its shell and shiver in spite of the heat before desperately trying to recover my protective sheath. A tussle ensues that ends with Mum tickling and me laughing and screaming, ‘Mercy. Mercy.’
‘Come on lazy bones,’ Mum says. ‘It’s Christmas tomorrow.’ I plant my good-girl smile on my face and brace myself for the work to come. Tomorrow the family will be here to feast, drink, yarn, fight and make up.
The first rays of light sneak through my window and leap out of bed. Has he come? What if Santa has been too busy to visit? What if he couldn’t find the chimney of the little two-bedroom home tucked amongst so many others? Maybe he missed seeing the candle in the window telling him that a child was anxiously waiting? I run to the lounge room door and turn the knob. It won’t open. Santa has done it again, tied the doors on the inside so I can’t get in. I’m dancing on the spot, legs crossed with excitement. Through the wavy glass door panels are distorted shapes and bright colours.
I run into my parents bedroom and jump into the middle of their big double bed. ‘Wake up Chickabiddies,’ I yell, bouncing up and down. ‘Get up lazy bones’. Two sleepy heads don’t move and I poke, prod and tickle any part of the inert bodies I can lay my hands on. Finally, Dad emerges in his striped pyjamas. Mum, in her frilly nightie, grabs my hand and we hurry to the tied doors. Dad eventually opens them and I run to the Christmas stockings hanging from the mantle-piece above the fireplace. Mum’s long silk stocking is bulging. Dad’s big grey woollen sock is lumpy and my white lacy sock is overflowing with sweets. Peppermint sticks, sherbert bombs and orange-coated chocolate jaffas tumble out. I cram my mouth to overflowing.
Underneath our tree is my favourite doll. I hardly recognise her. During the year I had combed her hair so many times that she lost her Shirley Temple curls and ended up a tangled mess that only my kindergarten scissors could fix. Now she has bouncy blonde curls, a pretty blue dress, little white knickers and a beautiful pair of tiny white leather shoes. I hug her to me and understand why she had to go away for a while.
The candle is still burning on the window ledge and Santa has taken a big bite out of the Christmas cake and drunk half of the lemonade . ‘Why didn’t he drink it all, Dad?’ ‘Maybe we should leave him a bottle of beer next year,’ he replies
Mum’s parents came from England so we always have a hot Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Mum says is tradition and wipes the perspiration from her brow as she opens the oven to check the roast pork and turkey. A plum pudding bubbles happily on the stove. Aunty Olive is busy making brandy custard. She keeps sampling the brandy in case it has gone off. Aunty Mary is whistling while shells the pea s to prove that she isn’t eating any. ‘Run outside and play with your cousins under the sprinkler.’ she says with a smile.
The men sit in the back yard under a beach umbrella and sip beer. Occasionally one will half-heartedly call, ‘Want a hand?’ as his wife hurries by, but he doesn’t wait for an answer. At one o’clock we are called inside to find our places before laden tables. The adults sit around the formal dining-room table and the kids are put at a rickety card table. I yearn to be big enough to sit with the adults.
For many years now I have sat at the dining-room table, but this year instead of roast pork there will be prawns, salmon and salads followed by fresh strawberries and ice-cream. Over the years a cold Christmas dinner , more suited to the hot Australian climate, has become our tradition. I have wonderful memories of two small boys curled up like snails trying to ignore my bright ‘Wake up Chickabiddies. It’s Christmas tomorrow and the family are coming to feast, drink, yarn, fight and make up.’
Okay, so I’ve written down my memories of past Christmases and tomorrow I’ll record my thoughts and feelings about today. Why don’t you do the same? After today has settled down, jot down some of your memories of this special day of days. One day your family may want to bring to life the faces and people captured in faded photos.