Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Ghosts of Christmas passed: Memories are sweet!

Merry Christmas folks. In this morning's emails was a magic little memory from good friend Greg Cary. He talks about a Christmas day of some 50 years ago. He arose at first light and there under the tree was his fort complete with Indians, soldiers and horses. He had been looking at this in the toyshop window for some time!

And it made me think.. 50 years ago.. can I remember Christmas Day?

I made myself a new cup of coffee with our new coffee machine (18 years worth of QANTAS frequent flyer points.. but that's another story) and sat down in the peace of my office…

Christmas 1963.. up early and there are the toys. Not one, not two but a bucket full. My father at 65 when I was 10 used to spoil me something terrible. His good friend Bill Rocheaix owned "Tim The Toy Man", a toy wholesaler on Petrie Terrace. Dad would order around (in today's money) $1000 worth of toys. I would hang a pillow slip on the end of my bed for Santa to put the toys in. But they wouldn't all fit. So they would be piled on the floor everywhere.

And on that Christmas Day in 1963, a couple of things stood out. Two battery operated police cars. They had a corded remote control, so they could go backwards and forwards and a steering wheel as well. This was a purely mechanical connection to the front wheels. Also were two plastic building block kits that would allow you to build houses. I really loved them.. and to build the White House, you needed two kits.. so two dad bought. And of course there was so much more.. cap guns, caps, holsters for the said cap guns and on it went…..

Now on Christmas Day dad used to visit the lonely men in hospital. (The wards were gender specific back then) We would leave around 8:00 Am and visit George Kallenicos's cafe at South Brisbane and he would buy lots of biscuits, chocolates and cigarettes. The Buffalo Lodge would donate around 20 quid for this (dad was the Grand Secretary) but he would chuck in another 30 quid and away we would go. All of the hospitals, including the then Mt Olivett Hospital for the incurably ill. (Terminal has such a harsh sound to it)

Once there he would ask the ward sister who wasn't likely to get any visitors and dad would seek these lonely men out. I was terrified of lifts then so I would run up the stairs at the hospitals and dad would meet me at the top. We worked our way around all of the hospitals and then a few "convalescent homes" on the way back to Clayfield.

On that morning back in 1963, the last home we visited was at Clayfield. Just near our house. An old WW1 digger was sitting on a chair on the front verandah and he watched as we walked up the front path. Dad walked up to him and said.. "Merry Christmas old man.. thank you for your service" I passed Dad the old leather bag he used every Christmas and from it he produced a packet of Rothmans and some Arnotts Biscuits. I think dad must have known him as they had a long (well for a 10 year old) talk about the Western Front.

Then the old man turned to me…. "Can you read and write son?"  "Yes I can" said I.

He then lifted a newspaper beside him and from under it he produced a Platignum Pen and Pencil set.

A fountain pen, a ball point and a propelling pencil. "Here lad, have these.. they were a gift to me but I cannot read or write".

Actually I suspect he had crook vision rather than a crook education!

Father said no.. but the old man persisted.

So Christmas Day 1963. Toys everywhere, a house filled with family, mother's week long of cooking results all  over the table. Out of town guests every Christmas too. (We have the Germans today) But the thing that I will always remember is this:

The smile on that old man's face as he handed me that pen and pencil set.

All of those toys.. but an old man's smile.. priceless!