|Big sis, my big brother and my mama almost out of shot. 1973 I think.|
At this seasonal time of year, the question often comes up 'what are you doing for Christmas?' It seems a simple and innocent question and yet it is one that often throws up so much tension and emotional turmoil. I was asked the question a couple of days ago and gave my response and then cordially returned the question. At first, the person I was speaking with responded generically, visiting her mother-in-law, seeing her sisters family etc but then quite quickly she began to unravel her family story, the troublesome dynamics, the split in family structure, the issues, the problems, the dysfunction. She was describing both her family and all of our families, yes, even yours, in all their splendid dysfunction. Before I knew it she was sobbing, her sadness and her burden and her grief spilling out of her. It was unexpected and brave, so very brave, all that she shared with me. I admired her and thought of her for the rest of the day and I felt honoured that her words had fallen upon my ears.
Sometimes it feels like such a risk to share our darker side, our imperfections whether our very own or the impact of others around us that we hold dear. I know that feeling. I get a restless, sad sort of feeling often at this time of year, when I think of absent family and friends. I think of a widow, my favourite widow in the world. She's the sort that should have many books written about her, for her bravery and hard work and absolute selflessness. She is probably the only one I know that makes no demands or requests at Christmas, the one who says she'd happily spend time alone if that means others doing what they want to do, and you know, she means it. My mum is a very special lady and sure I'm a mummy's girl but these are true words. I can say that here and in a week or two I'll tell her I wrote about her again and she'll say 'for goodness sake Katy-Anne, whatever do you find to say!' in that humble slightly bemused way of hers.
I think of her when I nurse my own sadness at yet another year passing without contact with my brother. I miss him. And I wonder if a time will ever come when his cup is half full? I wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat having dreamt that we were meant to meet and somehow our wires get crossed and each of us is at the wrong meeting place and we miss each other. Just like that, we miss each other and I have no clue whether I will ever see him again. No clue, either in the dream that I awake from nor in real life, there is no ending. It's not often that I speak of him these days, in bursts really. Recently my boys have been asking questions about him and at the week-end my lovely niece Jessica was asking of him too, carefully navigating the subject with the sensitivity of someone much older and wiser than her teeny nine years. I love sharing these tidbits with the little ones in my life, like little bites of our family stories passed down, ready to evolve and be re-told by new generations like folklore gone before us. It makes me feel better to think of it in this way at least, rather than bundles of devouring sadness that come out from the loft alongside the dusty christmas tree box. Where there is sadness there is also happiness and there is much joy to be had in the simple pleasures of this world, that's what inspired this christmas wish list. It was also pure joy watching those boys of mine decorating the tree this year and even more fun to watch my mother squirm as they haphazardly hung decorations. I loved seeing her itching to spread out a few of the baubles! The baubles were of course perfect - those boys of mine share my haphazard aesthetic!
During this festive season I will raise a glass of something alcoholic to my big brother. I will play 'friggin in the riggin', his original 7" vinyl copy which I believe I have stowed away in a cupboard in my bedroom. I will think of how utterly awesome we thought we were when we would listen to that record as kids. I will think of Cindy, my brother's dog from childhood and my great companion, who I took over caring for when he went to boarding school. I will think of all of the sweet things I whispered in Cindy's ear about my big brother, her owner. I will cross off another year and then I will carry on as before. I will also be thinking carefully before I ask the question, what are you doing for christmas?
|My three siblings with Grandma Peppermint. Before I was born, probably christmas 1974.|
|My big brother, the eldest of my siblings and my big sis, the second eldest.|
|Me with my big brother, I was three and he was ten. 1978|