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December 30, 2016 / hbrowne4

The true spirit of Christmas by Geralyn Rownan

Christmas Week, 1986.  My fingers were numb with cold and I fumbled as I tried to unlock my bike to the railings outside my job. The sleet hit my face like ice splinters; the nearby Five Lamps were lacy with snow.  But my main concern was not the freezing cold and the battle home through the elements, but rather the presents I needed to buy, and the low salary I had to buy them with.  Would people think badly of me if I didn’t get expensive things, and what to buy anyway …?

“Hello Geralyn!”

The padlock finally relented and clicked open and I stood up. Sadie stood in front of me, a huge smile on her face. Her little dog Peppy nudged my hand, demanding his usual petting. Sadie was a member of what my mother might refer to as ‘the genteel poor’. A retired seamstress with salt and pepper hair, she wore a salt and pepper tweed coat that had seen a good few years itself. Peppy was a mutt of unknown variety, he too a mix of black, white and the grey that shaded his muzzle.

They lived in rented rooms in one of the old Georgian houses on Portland Row. Those rooms with their high ceilings and old wood were so draughty that you could be sitting right in front of the fire and your back would be freezing.  Sadie and Peppy passed the Five Lamps every day, on their way to the little shop under the railway bridge in Amiens Street. Their shopping trolley was an old pram, to the left side of which Peppy was always tethered for these trips.

Sadie had a hip problem, and wore a raised shoe on her right foot.  That pram made its way down Amiens Street like an old galleon, listing first to the right as Sadie leaned heavily on the right side of the handle, then to the left as she lifted up and it was Peppy’s turn to pull to the left.  Back they would come, the few bits and pieces necessary for the day having been purchased from the man who owned the-little-shop-that-sold-nearly–everything.  There could be anything in the returning pram; coal, chopped sticks for the fire, bread, tea, her pension.

“Look!  We got a Christmas tree! He gave it to me for free!”

I stared at the thing in the pram. It was the cut-off end of someone else’s fir, with just two branches …

“I’ll put it in the window and put tinsel on it.”  Her eyes shone.

We bid each other Happy Christmas. I watched the little procession walk away up Portland Row, the thing in the pram waving its arms in leafy benediction as it was rocked right and left.

Christmas 1986.  That most cruel of diseases was digging its claws into my father and would take him a few short months later, a week after my job folded. Everything changed for me that year. Everything.

Christmas 2016. Thirty years, gone in a flash. I am sure Sadie and Peppy have long since passed, no doubt leaving this planet as quietly and gently as they lived on it.  I remember them, and the lesson they taught me about Christmas, and gifts, and giving. They had so little. Yet- Sadie had Peppy, and he had her, and they had a ‘Christmas Tree’.  And that was more than enough.

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