Ringing the Changes by Juliet Foster
It was past my bedtime, it was Christmas Eve.
I went across the farmyard with my mother, the ground was hard, the stars were bright. We opened the stable door, and saw the horses contentedly lying down in their stalls, comfortable in their deep bedding, looking at us as we flashed the torch, checking each one. Suddenly I heard him. I heard the sleigh bells in the sky. I ran into the house calling my father, “He’s nearly here, I’m not in bed asleep and now he won’t come to me,” I sobbed. But, he did. I awoke very early and found a fairy cycle propped against the end of my bed.
It was a large family gathering at my Aunt’s on Christmas Day, a great grandfather, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles, parents, my sister and me. A magnificent table heaved with food, glasses, and decorations. A glorious Yorkshire dish called Seasoned Pudding served with gravy preceded the turkey, this was made to my aunt’s own recipe. The fires glowed, the coal red with heat. The Christmas presents were opened after the Queen’s Speech, the eldest began the ritual. It was nearly bedtime before I opened my parcels. High tea was served, gammon, salad, pickles etc; and then my sister and I were put to bed. A gas fire spluttered, its flames decorating the room, and a large bolster was put down the centre of the double bed to prevent us from fighting.
Some years later the mantle was taken up by my parents. By now, many relatives had departed, but there were a few new ones. Christmas was elegant, the Christmas tree reached the ceiling, beautiful records of carols and pealing bells greeted us as my sister and I arrived with our families. My parents had five grandchildren around their Christmas table, including the odd son-in-law. Sometimes very odd. My parents were wonderful hosts, the house was dressed in holly, mistletoe and garlands and the food was superb. I was the filling in the sandwich, the middle of the three generations.
And now? My parents left us long ago, I am a grandparent, the most senior member of our family.
These days Christmas is held in London. We are a fractured family, many mothers-in- law attend, some are exes, some not. Some ex partners, some new. Some strangers, some not. We have only had Christmas pudding once, my ex daughter-in -law is bored with cooking and us by this time.
When I was young we played Charades in the evening. Now they show a film. “Slumdog Millionaire” was selected once. As young children had their eyes gouged out I left for the kitchen. For the second time we’ve chosen to stay at home, and yes, we will cook our Christmas pudding.
On Christmas morning we will walk up our lane and watch the cattle peacefully in their barn eating their silage and hay. They in turn will watch our dog watching them, above us the buzzard will watch us all.