At this time of year I tend to get a little reflective. Endings are always great chances to look back and see what was, what was done well, what could be done better and learn from the experiences. But it's also a time to be thankful.
This time of year for me is always filled with family. It's the one time of year that my loud, irreverent and dysfunctional family unit made that real effort to come together and actually embody some 'Christmas spirit'. Now we weren't religious by any stretch of the imagination, but going to a church service at Christmas was kind of part of the tradition. It heralded the time when we actually tried (in our own Protestant way) to embody the qualities of good will toward others, generosity and peaceful interaction with our fellow men. (Except maybe for the Catholic neighbours on the opposite corner who poisoned our gum tree 8 years ago).
Christmas is, for me - all about the family. Now as a youthful idyllic teenager, I had my vision of what family should be. How we should behave, what we should be like around the dinner table and vociferous amounts of love, affection and mutual hugging. Where warm expressions of gifts were offered and we all stayed together in the house helping each other with the table setting, the roast meals, picture perfect Kodak moments of delight. For years I longed for and tried to create this facade of perfection and hope that for one day, just one day we could manage to pull it off and be like the Waltons or the Brady Bunch. In reality this wasn't the case. Mum shooing everyone out of the kitchen as she stressed trying to produce the perfect roast meal with oodles of veggies. Dad usually ducking out the back regularly to have a cigarette and talk to his other family which he couldn't do inside the house. My sister and I usually ending up in a fight because she wanted the presents I got and usually I wanted the presents she got too! It was far from this household domestic vision of happy endings with swelling orchestral music and manufactured poses of smiling groups that belong on a politicians placard.
So many years I would have faith that we would create the moment. Have the happy smiling blend of love and affection that I always saw in television shows, movies and the New Idea magazine. But each year we never could quite manage it. There's be squabbles, tension, the eventual comment thrown out that would send the whole morning descending into bite sized snippets of pointed comments that could rival the screenwriters on LA girls sororiety movie series.
But then the first time I went overseas and decided to spend my first Christmas away from my family, I remember standing in a phone booth in a small town in Scotland, clutching a handset in the freezing cold and calling home on Christmas Eve. I was tearing up in the phone booth and wanting so desperately to be home with the crew in the lounge room with the air-conditioning. It took that adventure to teach me that even though I didn't have the perfect image of a Christmas morning, it was my christmas morning and it was something that was my experience. Consequently the next year, I grinned when Dad disappeared out the back and Mum started calling the vegetables an expletive and oddly enough my sister and I didn't fight but passed vegetables under the table so Mum didn't see she wasn't eating her pumpkin. It was all so... normal.
Over the years as we all grew older, moved away and found other families to be a part of, there was always an understanding that we had 'our' Christmas. We would descend on 13 Johns Ave every year from wherever we were and spend that one morning/lunchtime together.
There were still the digs and the jousts that were part of family life but there was maybe more resilience and more determination to curtail the behaviour a little more. The softening of the old guard saw a subtle change as little ones were re-introduced into the mix and everyone had to ‘behave’ themselves a little bit more. The subtle changes had a cumulative effect and as the years passed, we had more and more measured success on Christmas Day.
Then came one of those significant Christmas’ where you treasure what was. Poppy was still doing his usual dance of hilarious if not inappropriate gifts that had everyone laughing and questioning just exactly what the function or idea behind it was. The ice creams from the shed for the kids before lunch (just to have a little dig at Grandma) and the flowing and pouring of the wine and bubbles at the table. He barely ate anything that year, that was the only thing remiss. But at this Christmas with Grandma’s silver and crystal (the good stuff from the cabinet) out on display, there were these Walton’s moments of happiness. Hugs between sibilings, squeals of laughter from the small ones and giggles of humour from the big ones. Jokes and stories at the table, the occasional inappropriate comment that made everyone laugh, endearing offerings of wisdom from childhood perspectives and even board games where finally we were all sitting around after dinner and participating in couples - we even got Grandma to join in - and she was terrible! All of a sudden - I had my kodak moments. My picture perfect family with all their inappropriate behaviour and gaffs and loudness - and it was wonderful.
We lost 'Poppy' 4 weeks later.
It was so fortunate that in all the times of hoping that it would happen, when I let go and maybe learned to accept my crew for who they were, rather than trying to manufacture them into what I imagined they should be - we got there in the end. And yes - I do have the kodak moments of that Christmas with treasured happy, laughing faces full of affection and body crushing hugs.
That one Christmas has now led to other Christmas’ where I now gladly, willingly and determinedly make that pilgrimage home - to a ‘new lounge room’. There, for 3-4 days there is such joy and love and happy moments with my wonderfully imperfect family. Where laughter rings throughout the house and we are the envy of the neighbourhood with our loud lunch and raucous behaviour - including slipping down the driveway after too many bottles of champagne. Funnily enough, now I have the family that is the object of envy. My pictures are the ones that people want to enjoy and my family is the most treasured thing I have to experience.
So whoever you are with this year - your ‘crew’, take pleasure in the company. Find the moments that make you shake your head, find the things that you can laugh at and the generosity to allow everyone to ‘be who they are’ - take that glass and fill it halfway. For that is all that is needed. A glass half full still has all the capacity for merriment, joy and love. Appreciate and accept what is - and revel in it.