Rural Pickering, along Kingston Road to Lakeshore
a long trek
Grandpa Carr home from war
divorced my grandmother
Dad at six, forced to live with a step-mother; father he never knew.
We entered through the back kitchen
Grandpa, amateur boxer
red hair and freckles menacing
shook his fists teasing “put up your dukes”
I cowered behind dad.
Our visit once a year – Christmas –
not a celebration
something to endure
These aunts, uncles, cousins – strangers.
in champagne blonde curls and brocade suit
gave exquisite gifts
gold locket, plaid pleated skirt,
angora sweaters, blue baby doll pajamas,
all lace and frills
What little girl wouldn’t be thrilled?
The best part
Mom made tea; Dad scrambled eggs
I went to sleep happy.
From her new home in the suburbs
Aunt Ruth took over as matriarch, hosting Christmas
We walked up a long plank to her front door
Mud everywhere, later lawn would grow.
All my cousins dressed in red
soft scarlet velvet, bright crimson corduroy
the Christmas colour in the fifties.
My aunts chose glossy black taffeta or translucent nylon
Glamorous Aunt Helen,
sleek black hair coiffed in a French roll
a cherry sheath hugged her slender figure
ruby heels completed her look.
Buffets – the order of the day
Ham, tomato aspic, ambrosia salad
Paper plates balancing on laps.
Uncle Ralph retrieved his accordion
“Let’s all sing Jingle Bells for the kids”
With the adults sipping wine and beer, the chatter escalated
a scavenger hunt erupted
cousins scurried about the tree
with a flourish Margaret tore open a parcel
climbed into oversized underpants
(meant for Grandma)
pulled up to her shoulders, danced about
“Time for Silent Night” said Uncle Ralph.
My aunts locked arms and swayed singing
Uncle Tim harmonized on his harmonica
“This one’s for you Jean” called my uncle
We launched into Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond
a tribute to Aunt Jean Mc Dougall
“Oh, ye’ll take the high road and
I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye”
Then our family favorite
a rollicking I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts
Hands clapping, toes tapping,
“I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts
There they are all standing in a row”
Wistful, we segued into
It’s a Long Way to Tipperary
Was this to honour Grandpa Van and Uncle Walt
who’d enlisted risking young lives in The Great War?
An adult before I realized
Our family’s songs travelled the ocean
from battlefields and British pubs.
Now my aunts and uncles are gone
The music brings them back.
Like Keats, Gail seeks to capture the essence of the moment. Gail’s writing is a response to her natural and emotional environment. Her poems have been published in Blank Spaces, Wordscape, Arborealis and on CommuterLit.com. Her creative non-fiction has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Trellis, Heartbeats, Renaissance, NOW Magazine, Blank Spaces, Our Canada and More of Our Canada.