Yesterday I promised to continue on with my Christmas collage, an assortment of colourful Christmas remembrances that have somewhat bluer shades than all the rest. While growing up in the 50’s and 60’s on a South Western Ontario farm, our family eventually expanded to five girls, and three boys in all. I also had the most loving and caring parents any child could ever have been blessed with, so I really have far more memories of every bright and happy colour imaginable, than I do blue ones. But those which I have chosen for this written collage of sorts, are those which have embedded themselves more deeply— perhaps because of the darker shades of disappoint in those fleeting moments collected together here.
From the moment that my mother first guided my tiny pencil-clenching fist over a piece of scrap paper, causing me to leave a squiggly drawing of a five-pointed star behind, I have loved stars. Whether it is myself I first remember or one of the later toddlers in the family sitting on Mummy’s lap and going through those zigzagging motions until they had learned it, I am unsure. It was certainly me once, and as my mother took great enjoyment in teaching us to draw and write and play little games with pencil and paper, it was an oft-repeated scene. Soon each little one learned to draw perfect stars—sometimes with great abandon on freshly papered walls and newly painted woodwork (which of course was far less appreciated!)
My first fancy doll arrived one Christmas from my Godmother, my Aunt Catherine who lived far away in Pittsburgh. This doll was a dark-haired princess who wore a royal blue gown encrusted with tiny silver sequin stars all over it— not just the satin top, but all over the wide flowing skirt made of matching blue see-through fabric, as light as a wedding veil and draped over the satin underskirt. My little brother Keith who was called Butchy at the time, still slept in a crib in the same room as my sister Marsha and I, but he had learned to climb out of it and would soon need a big boy bed. The day after Christmas I found my princess doll in my baby brother’s crib. He had escaped during nap time and kidnapped my doll. Then he had climbed back into his crib again. When I went to wake him up from his nap, I found him laying there in his soft little footed sleeper with his pudgy face all covered in slobber and stars. He had chewed every single one of them off my princess’s dress with his tiny baby teeth. Her gown was now a chewed on sopping wet rag! I was so angry I balled my eyes out. I eventually forgave my baby brother of course. He was so wonderful and cute and only a baby after all, but that particular Christmas I felt no joy at all in tinselly Christmas stars.
My first Christmas pudding experience happened at the end of a long ago Christmas dinner that my mother had put on for the extended family on my father’s Scottish⁄ English side. We had now traded our small white house for our grandparents’ much larger brick farmhouse. Anyway, there was the usual feast with all the long-awaited festive dishes that Mom had prepared. Just as an aside—there is a reason they call stuffing “stuffing”, particularly after third helpings!
Just when we were all sitting around on our last gasps, as overstuffed as Grandma’s parlour settee, out from the kitchen my Aunt Irene paraded the steaming pudding.I had never seen one of these things before and was not the least bit impressed. What was it anyway? It looked like someone had taken a big mixing bowl full of our dog Judy’s food and tipped it upside down on a cake plate. “It’s a Christmas pudding and Mom says we have to eat it!” the whispered message quickly passed mouth- to- ear around the part of the table my siblings and I had laid claim to. In an effort to keep the peace with her difficult Scottish mother-in-law my mom was determined that we children must do our family duty. “Why do we have to eat it?” “Because Mom said so!”… “Or else!” Marsha whispered back. Aunt Irene, my Dad’s sister then took a big silver spoon and began scooping gargantuan mounds of bloated cooked raisins, mushy carrot bits, and dark currants all mixed up together in a cakey goop that smelled like our dad’s Old Spice shaving lotion, into cereal bowls. Because we didn’t own any fruit nappies. On top of each serving she poured a ladle full of what looked like gravy although we knew it couldn’t be. Could it? That would be even more ridiculous. “It’s Scottish tradition. It’s bad luck not to eat it all.” Aunt Betty, Dad’s other sister said. Our mother couldn’t bear to see the terrified look in our eyes, I think, so she began clearing the table ( In reality it was probably just a ruse to escape eating any of it herself— especially after Aunt Irene said she liked to use “lots of suet in the recipe to keep it moist.”)
Thinking that Mom apparently had abandoned us to our own devices we were hopeful that Keith would come up with a plan. He had always been very good at sneaking unwanted bread crusts outside to the dog in his pockets…Maybe if we could just find enough paper napkins…
My mother had not factored in one very crucial thing. Some of her kids might actually like this stuff enough to eat it all up (especially the rum sauce), and on top of all the huge portions of their favourite things that her kids had already gorged themselves on… well the consequences just might not be too pretty…
Ever since that day when my siblings and I have sung the carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas, when we get to the second verse we usually sing “Oh bring us a pity pudding!” instead of “a figgy pudding.” The last time that we sang it that way my son–in-law Phil turned to me and said “You know it’s actually a “figgy pudding”, not a “pity pudding” don’t you?” All I could say was “You had to be there!” On that day and for all Christmases that followed thereafter, I have certainly gained no luck from, and definitely felt no joy whatsoever in the consumption of Christmas pudding.
Well, another tale or two is told and I have not yet finished my Christmas collage, so I’ll be back with more tomorrow.
Until then, enjoy your rum sauce if you must, but in my opinion anyway “Hold the pudding!”