The old armchair squeaks companionably as I edge my equally aged frame down into its depths. The fire is really only fake electric logs, but if I squint my eyes, minus glasses, it could pass for the real thing. Alone at Christmas, hugging my masculine independence, like a tattered security blanket, to my heart, I close my eyes. Not for me care homes with immaculately scrubbed walls. Let me rather linger here and remember what once was. Thoughts drift…
I see, through falling snow, a man chopping pine. He looks up, beckoning me as he carries in the logs, motioning me to come inside. Hesitantly I dust the snow from my boots. The house is modest but roomy. A girl and boy of eight or nine, rush up to him, their cheeks rosy, as if they’ve been helping with outdoor chores. Little faces peer around the door, shy of this stranger in their midst, whist mother comes in with a tray of steaming drinks.
A real wood fire burns in the grate and I hold out my hands relishing the glowing heat. Muffins follow as the three little faces come in, drawn by the treat. Father heaves one on each knee, laughing, merry, peeking at me from the corners of their eyes
A Christmas tree stands in one corner. A real one, I note with satisfaction, taking in the brisk smell of pine needles. There’s a natural joy about this family that seems to bubble over into laughter, as if they are just so happy to be alive and together. I begin to chuckle too. I just can’t help myself.
Life has a different perspective for them it seems, no hustle or bustle, no vying for gifts. Father proudly shows off his little brood, mother loving and affectionate towards him and them. I‘ve missed this I realized.
Seeing my glance, finger to lips, she motions me to accompany her into a side room. It’s full of half made things, embroidery and needlework, magnificent half completed cushions, paintings, mixtures of dried herbs that give off a wonderful aroma, woodwork, carvings and a beautiful mural set in the floor and I realize it is a workshop, not only for her but for their whole family. I see gaily painted blocks (a project of the elder boy?) A panel of somewhat messy embroidery and a rough half carved rocking horse. I run my hands wistfully over the pine, memories stirring.
I hear music coming from the other room. Mother nods and we return. They’re dancing, the girls giggling and swirling gaily, as father prances around, a fiddle in hand, from which he gleans a scratchy melody. I clap and stamp in time as mother invites me to my feet…
But I can’t dance, my slippers are soggy. I look down at my spilled mug of tea. A dream, just a dream, but it sure was a good one! I glance at the plastic fire, the fake tree with its store bought decorations and sigh.
Just then the doorbell rings. Shuffling along in soggy slippers I peer through the frosted glass. It couldn’t be? Could it?
“Surprise!” I’m almost bowled over by two rambunctious, young teenagers. My son grabs my shoulder to steady me.
“Now calm down you two hoodlums,” he yells. “Gramps is not as strong as he used to be.”
He looks into my eyes, “We couldn’t leave you on your own for Christmas again dad. I just couldn’t come last year… the whole thing with mum, it was too much. But I… I kept remembering about the time we made that rocking horse for Emmie’s Christmas present. Do you remember? It was so wobbly she could barely ride it, but I always remember building it with you.”
“Yes, I remember son.” Eyes tearing I hug him close.
Returning to the living room the fake fire and tree didn’t seem to matter anymore. I had my dream, my Christmas dream.