Grace looked out of her window into the small garden of her cottage. The recent drought had made short shrift of her plants and shrubs.
But, on the bright side, the sun was starting to brighten up the day and the grass was finally green again after some unexpected but extremely welcome rainfall.
Grace was thinking about Christmas. She’d decorated her small tree with a lot of hope in her heart. Would her daughter be able to make it?
She’d spent years going all out at Christmas. The tradition had been passed down from mother to daughter for generations. Was it going to die with her?
Lilly didn’t like cooking very much but her husband didn’t seem to mind. Grace was always happy to put on the huge spread everyone seemed to enjoy so much, despite the December heat.
Grace’s brother and his family would descend on her every Christmas for five days and she’d do the honours happily. But this year Eric couldn’t make it. It was a first. His wife had finally got sick of his chronic addiction to work and they were currently separated.
She’d “met” someone else, although she’d insisted it wasn’t an affair. Eric, understandably, was pretty broken up and wanting to stay in Joburg to spend as much time with his children as possible.
EVEN though it was a bit like crying over spilt milk or too little too late, Grace was at a loss. She was heartsore for Eric. She adored his kids, she was fond of his wife. She needed to cook for people at Christmas. It was in her DNA.
Her mobile rang. It was
Lilly. “Hello, love”
“Hi, Mom. Are you okay?”
“Yes, Lil, all good my side.
Grace held her breath. Waiting.
“We’ve done our sums and we just can’t manage it this year,” Lilly said. “I’m really sorry, Mom.”
“I understand,” she said, not really understanding at all. She’d never missed a Christmas with her parents in all the years they’d been alive. But times had changed.
Lilly and Rod had emigrated to Australia and made new lives for themselves. A grandchild was now on the way and Grace knew that the contact she’d have with the baby would be minimal and probably technologically powered by Skype.
“I’m disappointed, Lil,” she said trying to remove the hurt from her voice, “but I suppose I might as well get used to it now.”
“Oh, Mom, please don’t lay a trip on me!”
“Sorry, Lil. No trip-laying. Just need to say it like it is.”
There was a short uncomfortable silence. The Australia thing was a landmine topic. Neither women would go there in this conversation. Grace pulled herself together and took a deep breath.
“How’s the morning sickness?” she asked
“Well, it’s more all-day sickness,” Lilly groaned. “Talk about a misnomer if ever there was one.”
“Well, you’re two months now? So only another month of it to go.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“And Rod? How’s he?”
“He’s fine, Mom, working hard, as usual.”
“Someone at the door,” she said. “Give him my love and remember ginger beer is what worked for me.”
SHE hung up and went to the door. There really was someone there. She hadn’t made it up. It was an elderly neighbour who’d moved in up the road a few years ago.
She’d gone round with a chocolate cake when they’d arrived. She’d met Janice, Johnny’s wife, and they’d had a few chats. But nothing more serious. She was surprised to have a visit. Pleasantly.
“Hello, Johnny,” she said, “how lovely to see you.”
“Can I come in,” he asked. “I have a huge favour to ask.”
He came inside and sat down on the sofa, putting his walking stick to one side.
She was about to offer him tea and caught him looking at the small tree she’d decorated with so much hope in her heart.
“It’s lovely,” he said, “and cheerful.”
“You know I’m Jewish?” he said.
“So, Christmas is a bonus time for us if we’re lucky enough to get an invitation.” He smiled broadly.
Grace laughed along with Johnny.
“Well, our son is coming here for Christmas with his wife and all four of their children.”
“That’s lovely,” said Grace, trying not to wince at her own pain.
“The problem is we can only accommodate four people in our house.
“Janice asked if you’d be able to put up two of the grandchildren. It’s a boy and a girl in their teens. They’d only need to sleep at your place. They’d spend the days with us.
Grace was so surprised at this question that her expression must have caused Johnny some alarm
“We’ll pay of course.”
“No. No. I’m just wondering how I’ll entertain two teenagers.”
“They’ll entertain you,” he chuckled.
“It’s only for a week.”
“I’d be delighted,” Grace answered.
Suddenly her day felt brighter. It was as if a weight of lead had been lifted from her heart.
After Johnny left she roamed upstairs and surveyed Lilly’s teenage bedroom. Even though Lilly had left home once she’d started working, the room had remained as it was, untouched.
Grace realised she’d allowed it to remain that way due to sentimentality. Clinging onto some sort of hope that she hadn’t lost her family, entirely. As if Lilly would ever live in that room again.
She needed to get a grip and move on.
It would be wonderful to have young people in the house again for Christmas. She started to pack Lilly’s teenage artefacts. She was going to change this room. She’d get an extra bed.
As she worked, sorting and packing the flood of memories was inescapable. On the shelves were the photos.
There were pictures of Lilly on horses at various ages; with her dad before he died; and, much later, Lilly’s selfies with a friend – their faces pulled and tongues sticking out. Why did they do that? She’d never worked it out. She shook her head.
She realised she was weeping when tears splashed onto the frames. She let the tears come.
When she felt she could cry no more, she went downstairs to make some strong coffee. As she stirred in the milk and sugar, an idea sprang into her mind.
Why not invite Johnny’s whole family to Christmas lunch here in her home? Space was small but doable. Just some extra chairs and something to extend the table.
She found herself getting more and more excited at the prospect of a full house again on this extraordinary day!
“Hello, Janice. Yes, it’s Grace . . . No, no problem at all having them stay. Not at all, something else entirely. . . I just wanted to suggest something to you. I’d really love it if you and John and, and er . . . the whole family would join me for Christmas lunch . . .
“Honestly, I love cooking and I’m never happier than when I’m feeding people . . . you would . . . Of course, you can bring salads and trifles . . . you must just tell me what not to make, I know about pork . . . Oh, you aren’t kosher? That’s great.”
Grace went to her notepad and started writing. One turkey; two, maybe three chickens; lots of potatoes, yes there must be plenty of potatoes to roast; and butternut. Some fresh peas from the garden and carrots.
She’d make a Yorkshire pudding; a sausage and herb stuffing; mint sauce; apple sauce; and a rich, delicious gravy. The whole works. She was getting more and more excited by the minute.
Her mobile went again.
“Mom! Great news, Rod’s just announced it. We’re going to make it home for Christmas after all!’
“Oh, that’s wonderful news, darling!”
There was some more delighted banter as Lilly filled Grace in on the details. The older woman was almost in tears with happiness.
“Now,” she thought. “Just where am I going to put everyone?”
She went back to her list happily to make the necessary adjustments. This was going to be a very unusual Christmas.
© DIANA ASHMAN