The television ads for Christmas present suggestions get more and more ridiculous, cost-wise, each year. I suppose there are some folk ‘out there’ that can afford to spend thousands of dollars on gifts for family and friends, but I’ve never been one of them. Yes, it would be wonderful to be able to give high-price-tag items to my children and grandchildren. But, honestly, that’s not what this time of year is all about for me.
When I think of Christmas, I think of family, getting together to share a meal, a few laughs, stories of Christmases past, and remembering those who are no longer with us to sit around the table, usually fanning away heat and flies.
When I was a child, one of the highlights of the season was the annual Christmas party with my mother’s family, the Healeys. My grandmother’s sisters and brothers would take turns to host the gathering, in various suburbs of Melbourne, everyone contributing to the food and enjoyment. There was always wriggling in anticipation, while waiting for the handing out of presents, small gifts for each member of the family. It might have been a tin of toffees, or a Christmas stocking filled with kid-sized packets of lollies and mini pinball games for the kids, a cake of soap for the adult females and a packet of hankies for the chaps. Whatever it was, it was always appreciated. More so was the chance to catch up with cousins, aunts and uncles.
It was special going to auntie Mavis’s, my grandmother’s outgoing younger sister, for the family singalongs around the piano. We weren’t a musical family, with instruments appearing from under chairs at family gatherings (though there was always someone to join in with the ‘spoons’!). Nor do I ever remember a family concert, as such. When there was music, it was a treat.
My Christmas card, this year, reflects what the season means to me. A looking back to simpler, often harder times, when working class families made their own entertainment in celebration. A time long before all the gadgets with screens and buttons took over as ‘family fun’.
Taking a rest from coloured reduction printing, I’ve recently been focusing on small black and white prints – appropriate for one whose first camera was the family’s old box brownie!
In the seventies, along with my then partner, I was involved in rallying. A friend’s birthday inspired the above linocut. A bit of time-travelling of my own, back to when my friend’s wife and I spent nights at checkpoints, rain dripping down our necks, waiting for the bush to be illuminated by Super Oscars, the sound of engines screaming with quick gear changes, as the cars approached over the crest.
Perhaps it’s my ‘advancing’ age, or my confusion over today’s society’s priorities, and what is taken for granted by so many, that takes me back to things and events of my childhood. I seem to sound more and more like my grandmother! Even living in a Melbourne suburb in the early seventies, sewerage was a luxury for many, my family included. Not only was there the payment to the council for the infrastructure – pipes underground – for a struggling, single-income family, but there was the additional cost of ‘connection’ to the system, and the physical relocation of the ‘dunny’. In our situation, it meant building on to the family home to accommodate an internal toilet.
The dunny man was an essential part of life. And he, like the garbos, milkman, and postie, received a small Christmas gift from my mother, every year in appreciation. I never envied him his job. The few times I saw him (he usually visited during the early hours), he was balancing the pan on his head. What if he stumbled or tripped? What if the dog barked and startled him, had trouble with the latch on the gate, and the pan wobbled, leaked or overflowed… I shuddered, thinking about the poor man wearing our family’s poo and piddle. It was only after quizzing my parents that I discovered he wore a special hat. Unlike my father’s, the dunny man’s hat had a supporting frame beneath the battered felt. It was not as precarious as it appeared, thank goodness. Though I never quite understood how he didn’t also wear a peg on his nose.
It’s inevitable that times change. Today, it’s all about technology, to make life faster and easier (often debatable). Though, I too regularly wonder, at what cost to family values, sharing, togetherness, and sociable communication. What family stories will my great-grandchildren hear? I, for one, don’t mind regressing to simpler days, or appearing old-fashioned and behind the times, especially at this time of year.