The Severed Twig: An Excerpt
What is your very favorite holiday? Recount the specific memory or memories that have made that holiday special to you.
Annual family holidays were usually taken during the long lazy summer school holidays of December/January. My father packed the car with mathematical precision and everything had it’s place and every year we squeezed in the increasingly bedraggled Christmas tree. We looked forward to these holidays with some trepidation because of the long car journey to the seaside. It was either a long day’s road trip to Durban or an even longer two day journey if we were going to Cape Town. I got car sick just thinking about being cooped up for long periods. Unfortunately no holiday was complete until I had thrown up all over the back seat. It is part of what makes them memorable for me!
Like every pair of siblings, my brother and I fought incessantly over who had the lion’s share of the back seat and shoved and tugged at each other goading either parent to intervene. These banterings were interrupted only to whine ‘how much longer’. When my father could take no more he pulled over to the side of the road to administer a swift whack to each of our backsides with his slipper, packed for such a purpose under his car seat. Suitably chastised we were allowed back into the car but not before he had rearranged the back seat with a wall of luggage between us.
We arrived a day or so before Christmas eve and the task of putting up the sad excuse for a tree belonged to Mum, my brother and I who decorated it with sparkling baubles, lights and tinsel. The most exciting decorations were those made by my brother and I over the years. The crowning glory of the tree – the hand made angel with her see through doily frock and palsied limbs – was perched on the top most branch by Dad as she jauntily squinted at him before he switched on the lights. The twinkling lights made the bells and baubles come alive with glitter. It was magical.
Christmas was a wonderful time of celebration and this year was one I was looking forward to because I had no idea of what my gifts were. Unlike the year before which was the most miserable Christmas because I sneak-peeked. I had asked for a pair of roller skates and had to know whether they were the kind I envied the other kids having. Making sure no one was home I climbed up into the cupboard where the unwrapped presents were stored. I found the roller skates but … they weren’t what I had been hoping for. How disappointed was I and to have to keep my deception to myself was bad enough without having to pretend elation on Christmas morning when I received a gift in which I was so miserably disappointed. It was torture as I tried so hard to play at being totally gleeful about the roller blades that weren’t what I wanted after all.
Whether Christmas was in Durban or Cape Town, on Christmas Eve we always went for a walk along the esplanade. We stopped at the amusement park and rode the dodge-em cars, merry go rounds and the rickety old wooden roller-coaster until we almost dropped. The roller-coaster totally freaked me out as my heart leapt into my mouth wondering at which corner we would be shot into space. After the bone-rattling shake up the evening rounded off with ice creams and milk shakes and then the long walk back to the holiday apartment.
When we were older Christmas Eve included the show ground games. We popped ping-pong balls into the clowns’ mouths as they turned heads from side to side. We threw hoops around stakes, shot at moving ducks and aimed tennis balls at impossible targets. We expected to earn at least two prizes, tins of biscuits or fluffy toys for me, and pop guns and sling shots for my brother.
Back home we prepared Santa’s snack: a bottle of Coca-Cola, an empty glass, a bottle opener and a piece of mum’s Christmas cake. Then it was time to hang our stockings on the doorknob and settle down for stories of reindeer, sleigh bells and The Night Before Christmas poem. I don’t ever remember hearing the end because it wasn’t long after we clambered into bed that the sandman weaved a web around our dreams as we slipped into sleep and the magic of Christmas enfolded us.
The jolly fat man never disappointed. Stuffed Christmas stockings chock-a-block full of edible treats and toys to keep us occupied until Mum and Dad came to fetch us. There were numerous false starts to the day as we crept out of our bedrooms to make sure that Santa had eaten the cake, and drunk the Coca-Cola; also to check that it really wasn’t time to get up yet. Christmas was one of the few occasions my brother and I resisted fisticuffs before breakfast. We sat together in mutual agreement feeling the gifts, looking for our names and trying to guess what each gift was. For that alone Christmas was memorable.