Echo Hall

By Virginia Moffatt

Three generations of women experience love, loss and conflict in times of war

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Happy Christmas!

I wrote this years ago in a class,led by a wonderful tutor, Jenny Lewis, with an exercise inspired by the beginning of Under Milk Wood. It's a little clunky, but I can't think of a better way to say Happy Christmas to you all, and thanks for your support! 


Snow falling, snow on snow – some forty years ago.  Returning home from mother's Old Girls, four year olds stand at the busstop clutching a calendar of lions. We have seen a glimpse into the impossibility of life before us, a chorus of “aahs” and “how sweet”, and this gift of shiny yellow baring teeth, a talisman to wave at older siblings who visited, instead, exotic aunts in their exotic flats in Petty France, and got tea and several kinds of cakes. Snow falls on snow on other midwinters when the dining room is dark and cold, inhabited by the ghosts of exotic dead aunts, who spent their remaining days under our curious gazes, in the neat white double bed, presided over by the cold, gold crucifix, whilst the visiting priest gave the last rites, a blessing on the way out of life to – where exactly? Heaven, mother says, leaving behind the cold, white bed.

Snow falls on snow, on the way to father's school where we watch boys dressed in perplexing drag, singing of pirates and fairies as many eyes examine us, specimens who show the impossibilty he has a life outside the school gates. Before we return to evenings of Blue Peter and Jackanory, nights of games and fights, stories round grandmother’s bed in the candlelit, power-cutted dining room. Grandmother, whose eyes and teeth and voice are just the right size (no wolves here), whose presence banishes dead aunts into the night. Grandmother, who nonetheless, spots hidden grape-stealing fingers, once light returns, banishing seven year-old naughtiness from her sight.

Snow falls on snow as Christmas returns, lighting up the hand-picked, hand-painted tree that colours the dining room, as the milk bottles freeze, so bluetits steal the cream;and all through the house there is more than one mouse awake. The night is muffled with giggles as we wait for Father Christmas who cannot come till sleep but sleep is impossible, in a dark filled with rustles and chuckles and waiting and waiting and waiting…

… and suddenly we are awake and he has been, leaving in his wake:

                       between three – a father-made dolls house, complete with working lights

                                  for two – a pink plastic pram, to mimic mother's passage through the frozen streets.

                                        for eight – a collection of slightly singed books, rescued in the nick of time from the flames of an unfortunate bonfire.

Snow falls on snow, as we are thrown out into the park, booted, scarved and gloved, sliding down the slippery slope, again, and again and again, till at last snowball fights pall and we return to the hot-chocolated kitchen where the iron-boarded mother steams away the cold. Whilst at night time dead grandmothers meet with dead exotic aunts in the dining room, so the journey from living room to bed, becomes an epic voyage, with brave advances and cowardly withdrawals and stairs taken three at a time to avoid the open, black door where dead aunts and dead exotic grandmothers expose their groping icy fingers to grab us in the dark (no matter what mother says) until we reach the safety of the landing and at last to bed and pillow fights. Only the Christmas tree lights are bright enough to banish such ghosts from sight, as Father Christmas comes again and again and again, until he is one day exposed as a big brother wrapped in a counterpane from top to toes.

Snow falls on snow bringing carol singers in the night who sing of bright angels in the sodium light, as we tramp to Midnight Mass to listen to long sermons, breathe in incense, and experience the miraculous birth – shepherds, kings, and angels, peace on earth. Leading us to the twelve-year old night when snow freezes traffic so that we abandon the bus on the way home from school (or it abandons us) at frozen traffic lights, with walking the only option, a slipping, and a sliding that very soon palls, so snowfall is cursed, and at last after two hours of icy travelling we arrive home to a tomato-souped kitchen and a threadbare holey-jumpered father who steams away the humiliating cold.

Snow falls on snow as life expands beyond our house and the fights and noise of all these girls and boys. Now boyfriends banish the ghosts of dead aunts and grandmothers from the dining room as we sit in the cuddling armchairs springing apart at the inopportune opening of the door by mother, father, sisters or brothers. Then boyfriends leave and we grieve for a while in the home-worked dining room where we are haunted by the ghosts of kisses past, till Christmas comes again surrounding us with friends, who laugh in passing at the tiny hand-picked, hand-painted tree that colours the room. Till at last it is time for us to take our leave, but before we do, we  return to church to remember the twenty five years that have passed since our parents made their vows, in the impossibility of life before us. Singing, as we go, a chorus of snow falling: snow on snow.

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Sue Brown
 Sue Brown says:

I liked this description. I did recall A Child's Christmas in Wales and also Under Milkwood... With those lovely grasping ghosts. Evocative and atmospheric...

posted 23rd December 2016

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