Margaret lived her childhood in Tuai, a village associated with the Waikeremoana hydroelectric scheme, in the Hawkes Bay. In the 1930s and 1940s village life revolved around community activities and Christmas was always a special time to gather together. Margaret wrote this story at a recent meeting of her life writers' group in response to the topic 'Something about Christmas.'
Do you know that reindeer milk is green? I know, because I’ve seen and tasted it.
Every year Father Christmas comes to our village, always arriving a different way. This year he sailed across the little lake in the heart of our village in a yacht. He came ashore down at the steps and was brought up to the village hall on the back of a big red truck. He tells us, the excited group of children who’ve been waiting eagerly to welcome him, that his reindeer are very tired after their long trip from the North Pole, so they’re resting up at the beach at Onepoto on the shores of Waikaremoana. In a large shining milk can, there is a cup of their sweet green milk for each of us. I taste it myself, so I know.
In the middle of the Village Hall there’s a very tall Christmas tree, covered in sparkling coloured lights, dazzling our eyes. We’re all wearing fancy dress. This year I’m a Christmas tree, covered in shining tinsel and miniature decorations, with a star in my hair. I’m very proud and happy to be in this pretty dress. My little sister is a fairy.
Any moment now, someone will tell our important white bearded visitor that he can hand out the presents from the big bag he has brought with him. We’ve danced our folk dances, played our party games and filled our tummies with reindeer milk, fairy bread, cakes and biscuits. Now we’re all quiet. I’m hoping so hard that he will know I’ve been a really good little girl this past year, and give me a present. I’m not so sure about my little sister - she’s often not so good - but I’m hoping he’ll give her one too.
But in the midst of my excitement, I’m sad. I don’t know where my dad is. He should be here with all the other dads and now he’s missed seeing Father Christmas.
Margaret Merton believes that life writing is a powerful way to integrate and discover meaning in your life. As she explores extended Adulthood and Intentional Elderhood this is a tool she needs.
My father. That’s who I want to spend this time with right now, my dear warm, loving father, old enough to be my grandfather, who yet came swimming with my little sister and me in the freezing cold, clear water of Whakamarino, the little man-made lake at Tuai. And who swam with us, when work permitted, in glorious Waikaremoana’s blue-green deep water. The big man who taught me to throw goals with the real leather basketball he would so lovingly oil for me. The man who growled when Gillian and I squabbled, who taught me some Hindustani: the words for ‘Be Quiet’ and ‘Shut the Door.’ Chupurow?
My father, the man, who wrote to my mother in hospital after their first baby’s birth death. ‘My darling, I can’t wait till I have you home safely.’ My dear father who taught me to whistle and for whom I waited, each early evening at the gate, to come striding along the road from work at the power station. My father who in his eighties went shopping for boot laces for his elegant Italian dress boots and was so wryly dismayed to discover they were no longer available.
My darling father who after he had been to his youngest sister’s funeral that bitterly cold June in 1969 announced to me, ‘I have seen the last member of my family into the grave and now it’s my turn.’ Who even in his hospital bed held my hand to warm it on that freezing Christchurch black frost morning, the day before he died. Thank you Dad.
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