November 26, 2013 ~ Edit
The snow crunched underfoot, compacting solid to leave the ridges of footprints from each and every step. The night stars glittered in the dark, some shooting across the sky at blurry speed. The full moon glowed brightly and lit up the laneway approaching the house, something that Arthur was most appreciative of. With his hands full as he approached the door, Arthur tried to figure out, what manoeuvre was required to retrieve the keys from his pocket? He had no choice but to put the boxes down on the ground, they were wrapped so beautifully, he thought as he gently lay them down. He searched through his pockets, rummaging, waiting to hear the rattle of the keys being disturbed. Eventually he found them in the first pocket he had searched. His icy breath bounced off the glass in the door as he now struggled with the key to open the door. The house was dark inside when he finally swung the door open. He bent and picked up the boxes, again he admired their beauty, the wrapping was inviting and the bows were screaming to be pulled to release their contents. The house was cold as Arthur entered; he shivered as he removed his coat but left his gloves and scarf on as he prepared the fire.
The paper went up in a whoosh when he put the match to it. The fire swirled and fought in all directions and soon the dry kindling lit up, cracking loudly as the flames wrapped themselves around the timber. After stacking a few logs on top of the kindling, the flames died down and were replaced by a warm glow that seemed to heat up the room instantly. Arthur removed his gloves and scarf and rubbed his hands together, enjoying the new found warmth. It only took a few minutes before Arthur’s face was as red as the glowing embers. Remembering the boxes, he gathered them up and left them under the tree. He looked out the window as the snow began to fall again. The flakes were scarce at first but soon they covered his view in a blanket of white and he struggled to see to the end of the laneway. He gazed out smiling, ‘perfect’, he said to himself. He checked his watch, looked down the laneway and checked his watch again. He stared hard, he could barely make them out through the snow, but he could see the headlights approaching. Arthur turned quickly, he admired the fire, and he counted the bright red socks that were hanging from the fireplace, three in all. ‘Perfect’, he said again, he glanced around at everything one last time. ‘This’, he mumbled to himself, ‘is going to be the best Christmas, ever’.
John, his son had returned home. They were only in the door an hour or so but the yawning had been constant from them all ever since. Arthur knew that they were tired, a long flight followed by a long drive. He decided even though he hadn’t seen them all for such a long time, there would be plenty of time to catch up over the next few days. ‘Time for bed I think’, Arthur suggested. No one disagreed with him. Arthur showed the children to their room. Michael as the oldest got to sleep in the single bed; Tommy and Julie were in the bunk bed, a bunk bed that Arthur had purchased especially for when the children would visit. Tommy was in the top bunk, and was tucked in last. Arthur, John and Mary were about to leave the room when suddenly Tommy bolted upright. ‘What’s wrong?’ Arthur enquired. Tommy had a puzzled look on his face, ‘are you sure Santa will be able to find your house?’ Tommy questioned. ‘Of course he will’, Arthur replied, laughing. ‘Dad, are you sure that you wrote in our letters that we were staying here for Christmas?’ ‘I’m positive, Tommy, you’ll see in the morning, now get some sleep, it’s a big day for you kids tomorrow’. Tommy seemed to relax a bit and lay down with a sigh. ‘Ok goodnight’, Tommy said and Arthur turned off the light. ‘Goodnight children’, Arthur replied and he closed the door. With the children snuggled up in bed, Arthur showed John and Mary their room. It was obvious that Arthur had put a lot of work and effort into preparing for the visit. The room was pristine; everything in the room looked brand-new. ‘Thanks Dad’, John said, obviously appreciating the effort. ‘We better go out to the car and get a few things,’ Mary said. ‘I’ll go to bed,’ Arthur said and left them to it. ‘Goodnight Dad’, John shouted after him, ‘goodnight son, and happy Christmas to you both’.
Arthur woke suddenly; he rubbed his eyes and slowly rolled over to check the time on his alarm clock. It was only 6:55 am. Arthur could hear the children running around the sitting room. Every now and then one of the children would shush the others but their excitement was uncontrollable and they shrieked with joy with each new present that they opened. Arthur jumped out of bed; it had been a long, long time since Arthur had felt any urgency about getting out of bed. He stood beside his bed and stretched; his old bones and joints creaked and cracked. ‘Christmas’, Arthur said and he smiled broadly. He grabbed his dressing gown from off the hook on the back of the bedroom door and hurried towards the sitting room. Arthur felt alive, childlike even. He entered the sitting room to a sight that he would remember forever, the sight of happiness. The children were showing each other their new toys. Tommy heard Arthur enter the room and turned and ran to greet him, ‘granddad, look what I got?’ He was so excited that what he was trying to say came out all mixed up. ‘Slow down, slow down Tommy’, Arthur said and he picked him up and put him sitting on his lap. ‘Granddad’, Tommy started again, ‘Santa found your house’. ‘I told you he would didn’t I?’ Arthur was delighted. ‘Look at what I got?’ Michael said and he approached with a remote control car. ‘Very nice’, Arthur was clearly impressed with the car and he studied it carefully. ‘Show me how it works’, he finally said. Michael put the car on the ground and sat up beside Arthur. He took the remote control in his hand and expertly drove the car around the floor. ‘I remember when I was your age, getting a little wooden car, oh how the times have changed’. ‘Was it remote control?’ Tommy piped in, much to Arthur’s amusement. ‘No, no, we didn’t have that kind of thing in my day’, Arthur replied, laughing heartily.
Tommy jumped down from his granddads lap and returned to show him his new carpentry set. ‘Look granddad, look’, he shouted eagerly. Julie, not to be left out also came over. She was wheeling a pram and talking to the baby doll that was lying inside it. Arthur sat back and enjoyed the moment. Tommy and Michael were shouting and competing for Arthur’s attention. ‘Shush’, Julie said, ‘you’ll wake the baby’. Arthur laughed loudly, ‘and your parents’, he added. ‘Too late for that’, John said as he and Mary entered the room. ‘Daddy, Mammy’, they screamed as they ran to their parents. ‘Look what Santa brought us’, the competition for attention increased even more. Tommy was holding his carpentry set and was pushing it into his father in an attempt to make him look down. ‘Tommy is going to help me out in the workshop’, Arthur said, much to Tommy’s delight. ‘Ok, ok calm down’, Mary tried to repel the onslaught. ‘I’ll put the kettle on’, Arthur said.
For as long as Arthur could remember, he had always had a big fry up on Christmas morning. Even when times were tough, his father would always save enough to buy the fry. This Christmas was to be no different and he was thrilled to have his family there, to share it with this year. He went to the fridge and withdrew all the necessary ingredients. He had sausages, rashers, eggs, mushrooms and black and white puddings. The flame underneath the pan spread quickly when Arthur flicked on the switch. The vapour from the cooking oil rose from the pan and was sucked up by the extractor fan. ‘Is there anything that we can help with?’ Mary asked as she and John entered the kitchen. ‘No, no, everything is under control’, Arthur replied. ‘Actually, there is one thing John, would you mind lighting the fire? Everything you need is in the sitting room. John and Mary left to light the fire and Arthur admired the sizzling sausages and rashers. ‘Breakfast’, Arthur shouted when it was all ready. The children reluctantly left their toys behind. After breakfast Arthur got the excitement going again. ‘I bet you didn’t check your Christmas stockings’, he said to the children with a grin. The children ran back to the sitting room and the shouts of joy started all over again. ‘It’s hard to beat a good Irish breakfast’, John commented. ‘It is, you should have more of them’, Arthur said with more than a hint of sarcasm. ‘But did John not’, Mary started. ‘We’ll tell him later’, John whispered, ‘when we give him his present’.
The snow had stopped falling but the ground was heavy with it, much to the delight of the children. After mass they had a big snow ball fight, Arthur, John and Mary joined in. Arthur couldn’t remember the last time that he was this happy. Michael and Tommy were only babies when John and Mary had first moved to America. Julie had been born there. Although they visited twice a year, this was their first Christmas visit. John’s work had always prevented him from returning to Ireland at Christmas, but not this year, this year John had made sure that he would return to see his father at Christmas. Arthur was never shy about dropping hints to John about returning to Ireland for good but John and Mary had settled well in America and both had good jobs there.
Before they had left for mass, Arthur had put the turkey into the oven. On re-entering the house, the aroma from the kitchen was swirling around the hallway. Everyone helped to prepare the dinner, even the three children. Michael washed the potatoes that his father had peeled. Mary prepared the vegetables and Tommy and Julie set the table. The turkey seemed to take an age to cook and Arthur meticulously basted it every few minutes. By the time the dinner was ready, everyone was famished. Arthur placed the turkey in the centre of the table. ‘Would you do the honours, John?’ Arthur asked. ‘I’d be delighted to’, John replied and with great haste and expertise, he began to carve the turkey into succulent slices. The dinner was a great success. Crackers were pulled, the corny jokes inside were read out, the worse the jokes were, the bigger the laughs. When everyone had finished eating, John stood up and tapped his knife off of his glass. The dink, dink, dink brought silence around the table.
‘Dad, as you know we have been living in America for a few years now’, John said. ‘I know where you’re going with this’, Arthur interrupted, ‘but I’m too old to move now, there is no way at my age, I could move to America’. ‘Dad just listen for a minute, will you?’ Arthur nodded in response. ‘As I was saying’, John continued, ‘we have lived in America for a good few years now and last month after a long talk, myself and Mary made a decision. We have decided to move home to Ireland. John stood looking at his father, waiting for a response. The tears were welling up in Arthur’s eyes. He was lost for words. Arthur smiled as he looked around the table. ‘Happy Christmas Dad’, John said and the children began to clap. ‘That it is son, that it is’, Arthur said and he walked around the table to hug everyone. ‘The best Christmas present ever, you really have made an old man happy’, he said as he wiped the tears of joy from his eyes.