Thursday, May 17, 2007

One dark, warm Christmas morning

Christmas was always warm and gentle in the Heininger household. Not just because Christmas falls at the height of the Australian summer, but because . . . well . . . it was a time when peace and tranquility always descended on our Collins Street home.

Mum and Dad never fought through the short Christmas break. They deftly called whatever unspoken truce was necessary in any personal, ongoing trench skirmishes they happened to be involved in during our early childhood.

Christmas was for sharing, for laughing, for feeling summer’s heat, for rich baked dinners at Nana Lizzie’s and Grandfather Ted’s Campbell Street home. And for recognising – for better or worse – we were all OK together. When my brother, sister and I were very young, we may not have been swimming in luxury, but we constantly and smoothly swam in each other.

While almost all childhood Christmases are blurs, I remember one in particular – a year Mum and Dad must have been struggling financially behind our young backs.

It’s a fragmentary, yet calm, memory. So fragmentary, I can’t remember how old I was. All I can remember is that it was just before I started school.

The house was dark, so it must have been very early on an extremely excitable gift-giving morning. The walls of the living room towered over us all, and the room itself felt cool and spare, the carpet square failing to reach the edge of the unpolished hardwood floor. Our tiny stockings had been pinned to the mantelpiece above the Cozy coke heater – the one that came with the house, and would be replaced in the years ahead by a far more modern and functional chrome-covered wood-burning heater – set into the main wall.

Our stockings were small but bulging, only adding to our young excitement. There were so many small things inside. Tiny, intimate toys, many metal, and many of them wind-up. I remember silver paint . . . There were pencils and other small things designed to fit neatly into very small, trembling hands.

I can still see my tiny arms and hands protruding from my checkered dressing gown, and can feel it rubbing against my summer pajamas. Making me feel particularly secure. I’m aware of the cord fluting around the cuffs.

Mum said something about there not being many presents this year, but I'm aware of being delighted with the number and intricacy of the many small things. My brother and I had these treasures spread around our feet, and I can see us playing with one after the other after the other, and with each other.

I must have been excited, so unaware of adult matters that Mum and Dad so deftly maneuvered us around.

I'm not sure how long these tiny treasures lasted, but they obviously had no way of outliving the memory.


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