When my mom’s brother called from Scotland with the news that their father had died, my mother made high pitched wailing sounds and rolled on the living-room floor clutching the phone to her breast.
“Oh no, no,” she wailed. “No!”
I stood watching not knowing how I might comfort her.
My mother decided not to go home for her father’s funeral. Rather we would go home to Scotland as a family at Christmas to fill a void for my grandmother.
My mother’s youngest sister took me Christmas shopping in Glasgow. I bought my dad a watch for five pounds and we bought black crepe paper and canned snow to make a crèche at my gran’s. When I went to place the infant Jesus in the manger, my auntie told me that I had to wait until after midnight on Christmas Eve.
“Can I place Him then?” I asked, certain that honour would be bestowed upon the eldest or the youngest rather than the middle sister.
“Aye, you can dae it, hen,” she told me.
To make sure it would be me, I pocketed baby Jesus and didn’t let Him out of my sight.
We gathered for sing-songs at the homes of various family members. My sisters and I received simple presents from some of our relatives. We walked in a soft snowfall as a family to St. Stephen’s Church for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and returned to my gran’s to the sound of pealing bells, the clock having struck one. I took baby Jesus from my pocket and placed Him in the manger as soon as I burst through the front door.
On Christmas Day, we snapped open Christmas crackers to find colourful tissue-paper hats, which we wore at dinner, as knells of laughter competed with my grandmother’s weeping.
“Ma mon, ma mon, ma poor deid mon,” she cried.
My mom, embarrassed at her mother’s show of emotion, told her to be quiet. “Och, mother,” she said. “Shush-up.”
My grandmother never gave my grandfather a minute’s peace when he was alive. When she wailed for ‘her poor deid mon,’ I didn’t understand. I thought they hated each other.
New Year’s Eve was my dad’s birthday. With my sisters and cousins, I helped my gran make my dad a Hogmanay plum pudding with money baked into it. We wore paper hats that night too and at the bells, the children went outside to bang pot lids together and yell, ‘Happy New Year!’ in the streets.
My father flew home before we did. The night he was to depart, I was asleep with cousins in my gran’s back bedroom as the adults had a farewell party for my dad in the front room. Hearing a commotion, I crept out of bed and saw my dad’s face through the frosted pane of the front door. He went to say cheerio to the Gannon family up the road and my gran deliberately locked him out. My auntie tried to pry the long, iron door key from my gran who held it behind her broad back. I screamed at my gran to let my dad in and seeing me there, she quickly handed my auntie the key. When the door was unlocked, my father rushed towards me and swept me into his arms to soothe me, returning me to my bed. I begged him to take me home to Canada with him, but he left without me.
That Christmas I was surrounded by kin, no matter how poorly behaved at times, and I had my father’s love. The holiday wasn’t lonely for ten-year-old me. It was my best Christmas ever.