When I was a kid, some years we would go and visit my grandparents for Christmas. They had a very old house, with a huge fireplace in the living room, a secret back staircase from the kitchen to the second floor, and a root cellar with a dirt floor.
The fireplace was a very important feature. Unlike our house, it provided an actual place to hang our stockings and a proven method for Santa Claus to gain entry, although we couldn’t figure out how he would know where we were. When we spent Christmas at home, we were always afraid Mr. Claus would end up in the furnace when he tried to get down the chimney. We thought it was quite a miracle this never happened. Unfortunately my grandfather was of a generation that took great delight in scaring the daylights out of little kids. He made sure to stoke the fire to the rafters before we went to bed, pretty much guaranteeing barbecued Santa for breakfast.
The next instalment of the childhood trauma agenda was going to pick up the turkey from the farm down the road. The recently deceased turkeys were stacked in the cold shed, labelled by size. They were cleaned and plucked, but their heads and feet were still intact. Once we had picked out dinner, the farmer took the bird over to the wood stump that served as a chopping block, and decapitated it, adding to the pile of heads and feet decorating the barn floor. Okay, maybe that’s not completely accurate but it’s what it seemed like at the time.
Probably because their advanced years prohibited going out to the bush to cut down a tree, my grandparents had one of the first artificial trees on the market. It had a metal trunk and branches with silver ‘needles’. Apparently the metallic nature of the tree made it unsafe to put lights on it. Instead, there was a separate rotating light that sat on the floor and alternated between shining red, blue and green colours on to the tree. The resulting effect was somewhat like a geriatric light show.
One problem with being at our grandparents at Christmas was that we had to buy them gifts. Or at least, present them with something that may or may not have been purchased with the proceeds of our own piggybanks. My solution was to promote my grandfather’s tobacco habit by buying him pipe cleaners. As I recall, a year’s supply cost about 50 cents.
My grandmother spent a lot of time knitting. This is probably why she decided to make me a shoebox full of Barbie outfits: knit dresses, skirts, capes, hats and tiny mittens – all in pale shades of pink, green and blue, courtesy of leftover baby wool. Much like the velvet Christmas dress I was forced to wear once a year, Barbie modelled her new outfits on December 25th and never wore them again. Unfortunately she didn’t have the excuse of out-growing them.