A freezing cold December morning. I walk the half hour journey to the Acton Post Office Depot, resentful that packages addressed to my flat when I’m not home require collection from such a remote location. And, as I look at the hideous council flats stretched along Bollo Lane, in such a ghetto. My resentment is aggravated by the package requiring a customs duty payment of £23.50. I know that this will be my father’s Christmas gift to me, and I know I will neither like nor need it. This may seem ungrateful, but to provide an indication of his gifts – a few years ago he gave me a sword. An actual full-sized, real-life sword. Did he really think I’d want a medieval weapon to hang on my wall?
I pay the customs charge and open the item then and there. I look at a silver necklace with a cross hanging from it. No surprise, I don’t like it. But I look at the envelope containing my card and I know that’s where the real present is. Dad’s written words. And I know that the words will contain a link to the necklace. I smile and get ridiculously excited. I rush to a café and sit down with a cup of coffee and a breakfast muffin. I didn’t relish opening the present, but I want to savour the gleeful experience of the card.
I carefully open it, read the first page and laugh so loudly the couple sitting near me jump.
My mind conjured up an epic. Well not really an epic, more like an essay. Not even that really, closer to a Reader’s Digest short story.
‘Bout a ten year old boy in Peru, who with his father toils on the family’s meagre plot at the base of the majestic Andes when to the lad’s surprise his hoe unearths a cross and chain.
Thinking that it must be an imitation, Raul (the youth’s name), gives it to his young sister who wears it proudly to her village school. Her teacher, an expert in rare artefacts, takes an interest in this “imitation” and persuades the girl to let him take it to Lima (capital of Peru) on his next trip there so as to have the curator of Lima’s Central Museum assess it …
But alas the ‘fire’ died in me and would not flare up … I believe I’m finished in literary circles.
The second page makes me laugh further, as I hold the enclosed lottery ticket in my hand.
DON’T, I REPEAT DON’T LOSE THIS TICKET. Same contract – 80/20. 80 mine!
Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas,
Michael My father’s surname (off the list), Walt Whitman
(common as muck)
How sad that such a giant should fall
Dad’s cards are always like this. Never any niceties, never any mention of the reason for the card and certainly never any reference to me. But I love them and they’re the highlight of every birthday and Christmas. Over the years he’s sent lengthy tales, always painstakingly handwritten and only composed when he feels “inspired”. He wakes in the night compelled to write a few paragraphs, or he’ll pull the car over because he has a sentence he needs to jot down.
My father (Michael/Mike) left school at fourteen, so his love of literature is especially heart-warming. I feel defensive on his behalf when he comments derisively on his grammatical inaccuracies (he’s asked me to type up some of his stories and to “put commas and apostrophes and that where they need to go”).
There’s truth in his jokes about the end of his writing days. His tales have become increasingly short and I can feel a struggle for him. This’ll be the last card of this style but I don’t feel sad. He’s ended on a good note and I feel grateful and honoured to have been the sole recipient of his creative expression for so many years. Merry Christmas Dad.
Just as I’d finished writing this Dad phoned. He wanted to know if I’d received his card and to apologise for it “not being up to standard” as “I was struggling quite a lot, but knew I had to send it off to you in time for Christmas”. I love the energy he invests in writing (especially when he has such limited energy these days). The effort and passion are a demonstration of emotion (and a connection) that I value immensely.