Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Memories

Our first Christmas as expats was spent back in the UK. Our second was spent with our best friends who came to Thailand. The third, last year, the children went home and I went on a Skyros holiday in Koh Chang. Husband came out to join me on Christmas Eve.

So I’m sitting here, on my fourth Christmas, overlooking the Andaman Sea. (Don’t hate me: it’s raining and yes, I do know how lucky I am.) I’m writing this on my laptop on the 25 December and questioning the irreverence of such behaviour. I won’t post it on my blog today because I know you are all having Christmas… I will post it sometime when you are back. (Are you back yet?)

I look back at my childhood Christmases and I only remember one house: the house that my parents are still living in now. We moved there 9 days before Christmas in 1972. I was six. There’s a story in that move, but not for now.

Every Christmas morning we would wake to stockings on our bed. Downstairs would be the Christmas Creatures: they were started in this house and I believe the first one was a snow man. After breakfast we would, as a family, climb into the car and drive … not to church … no. We would drive to the West Kent Hospital in Maidstone which was one of the hospitals in which my Dad was a doctor. The West Kent was a stunning building. As you walked in the front door two huge staircases would sweep up in a curve on either side of the hallway and meet in the middle as a balcony. I’m sure it was desperately ill-suited to being a modern hospital, but I still mourn its demise*.

First we would visit the wards in which Dad had patients. I guess he was here as a doctor, but as a child I hardly noticed this because my sister and I would be fed crisps, nuts, chocolates or biscuits and given fizzy drinks by nurses decorated with tinsel. We would wander through the ward saying happy Christmas to the patients and their visiting families. After we’d done Dad’s wards, we’d have two vital places left to visit. The first one was the maternity unit to see if there were any Christmas babies – this really was the highlight of our morning and I hated it if there were none. I always worried if there were two as well; what about the baby that came second?

The second crucial visit was the children’s ward. Sister T, a wizened little woman with a severe grey bun, dressed in navy blue with a big silver buckle on her belt, ruled. She had a mighty personality: loving and strict. She welcomed us with open arms. Father Christmas would visit – mostly we’d be in time for this – after all, this is what my sister and I were here for! If we missed him, he would still have left a present for us. (In 1976 my sister spent about six weeks in Sister T’s care in this very ward. She had a broken femur – thigh – in traction.)

All over the hospital we’d bump into Dad’s colleagues and their children. On the drive home we’d stop at Linton Hospital, a geriatric hospital, in which Dad often had patients, though I was less enamoured of this place. I’m not sure if it was the old people that frightened me or the lack of Christmas babies or Father Christmas.

*Later on a new Maidstone Hospital was built at Barming, where it is now and the old West Kent was knocked down. A mixture of my age and change perhaps, but the magic began to fade for me then, despite the fact that Father Christmas would arrive at the new place in a helicopter.

I loved these hospital visits: They were my Christmas traditions. In the old days, my two grandmothers would be cooking while we were out and we’d come home to our turkey lunch. (Present giving took place in the afternoon.)

So I’m sitting here by the window, Husband’s doing his Thai on the balcony and I’m wondering what I’m doing to my children by encouraging this flexible and nomadic behaviour. Will they ever come ‘home’ for Christmas when they are adults? Will they always come ‘home’, or will they search out something else?


monica said...

that's one of the things I wonder about, too. what kind of example are we setting for our kids? when we're old and alone on Christmas while they're gallivanting about with the grand kids we'll only have ourselves to blame!

JJ said...

Monica, I know. I've decided I'm going to go out and visit them wherever they are!

Debs said...

I'm sure they'll have their own Christmas memories that they'll look back on as fondly as you do yours.

I love your post, such a vivid story in it. x

SueG said...

A lovely post. I used to worry about this quite a lot as well, until I realized that my kids had decided on their own what things were or were not traditions...a certain order to opening presents, the way certain prayers are said, retelling funny renditions of shared memories. These are all our traditions, and these have become the "home" that we all come back to as we get older.

Leatherdykeuk said...

They'll love the special time just as you do.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Yes, I'm back. What do your children think about their flexible, nomadic lifestyle? Do they enjoy it, or do they yearn for stability?

Even if they do yearn for stability, that may not last. My family moved around quite a bit when I was young, albeit within England; I lived in seven different houses and went to seven different schools in sixteen years. I envied people who stayed in one place, mainly for their longstanding friends - it was harder to keep in touch across distances in those days - but now I value the breadth of my experience.

ChrisH said...

It's about heart rather than place, really, so I'm sure your children will be fine - although I did love the Christmas babies visits!

JJ said...

Debs, thank you. I'm sure you're right. I had a very stable, stayed in one place kind of childhood. Look at me now!

Sue, you're right of course. My children see their grandparents' home as their 'proper' place for Christmas, despite (I think) having spent less time there than anywhere else!

Rachel, yes, I guess.

Zinnia, (I'm so glad you're back) that's so true. I guess they'll choose, irrespective of their experiences. I think what's important is the choice. I have a friend who won't travel because she's scared. Hopefully my children will be brave and courageous enough to choose...

Chris, It is about heart ... as we're proving here, I think. Thank you.

HelenMH said...

It sounds like you have some fantastic memories. Your children will too, they'll just be slightly different ones.

wordtryst said...

Lovely post, JJ. Very evocative. Thanks for sharing.

I think your children are fortunate to have this kind of exposure to diversity, and if they don't know it yet they will one day.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you had wonderful Christmases I'm sure your children do too.

I often think how different my children's childhood will be to mine, which was lived out in the same yorkshire town. Hopefully they'll love it.