Comforting Words: A Christmas Story

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Story

Christmas is indeed “the most wonderful time of the year,” and not because of the gift giving although that ritual does have its pleasurable merit.

My love of the season goes way back to my humble childhood, with all its drama and trauma, in Kingston Jamaica. Then, whatever little cash she had my mother would never allow Christmas to come and go unnoticed. I watched our fortunes decrease to the point where the tradition, at least to her, of re-painting the entire house at Christmas time went to simply white-washing the perimeter walls.
We transitioned from having a Christmas spread to a tin of ham with some rice.

In the hay days, my mother’s table included every Jamaican favourite, starting with a breakfast of ackee & salt fish (cod) with ham cuttings, roast breadfruit and plantains to a dinner table that had a roasted chicken as large as a turkey, curried goat, jerk pork, gungo rice and peas, and vegetable salad all of which was washed down by a tall glass of sorrel.

Over the years, wherever in the world or my station in life I have always loved Christmas. Some years that love has expressed itself in a well laid table, the gift giving and re-decorating of at least the bathroom. I am notorious for changing my bathroom pieces (mats, shower curtain, etc) every Christmas.

And I have the Christmases where the celebrations found me on the sidelines – there but not there – because I was not included or totally embraced by the people who surrounded me.
There has also been the Christmas when I wanted the world to stop and let me off.

This Christmas is very different, however, for many reasons not least of which being that my daughter will be joining my soon-to-be husband Robert and I in celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ.

One of the things that have been a part of my marking of the season is attending Christmas Eve candlelight service. This practice was sidelined the last few years either because there was no interest again by those surrounding me and/or my own interest was overshadowed by self pity and grief.

Christmas Eve 2008 will see a re-birth of that tradition even if I have to go alone (and I know I will not be). A United Church of Canada congregation in Calgary, Alberta will have one more candle lit in gratitude for the blessings that have been mine.

The candle that I will light this year will be for the blessing of family.

Being family was not an experience that was always pleasant or meaningful for me. However, there was a period of my life when I had a glimpse of the possibilities and the downside of being family. And despite the latter – the dysfunctions of the family unit that I witnessed – there remain something in me that wanted to have a larger experience.
“Be careful what you wish for,” is a maxim that I am very familiar with and it proved true again for me in a whirlwind fashion this past couple weeks.

It all happened on Face Book where I got this message from a beautiful black woman in Australia basically telling me that we must be cousins. She shared a bit of her story after I accepted her message and the windows to a new landscape opened wide!

The long and short of my Christmas story is through my newly found Australian cousin, B, I found my father’s family who I have not seen or been in touch with for 30 years.

B had made ‘friends’ on Face Book with a young man in New York whose name is T. Esterine. His name jogged my memory that my late father had a brother with the same name. I told this to B and she asked him and then sadly told me “No, Claudette, he is only 30 years old so he cannot be your uncle.” She then added “but I am sure you guys are related too so he wants you to add him as a friend on your Face Book page.”

Hesitantly I did and that is when my world turned! Not only is T my cousin, being the child of the T that I remembered, he told me that my only half-brother was alive and well. Then he proceeded to give me the telephone numbers for my grandmother, aunts and uncles!
In a flash, I was no longer an only child without a real connection to any one else related to me by blood – well except for my mother and daughter. Through Face Book I found my paternal grandmother, seven aunts and uncles, approximately 15 first cousins and 20+ second cousins!

Totally overwhelmed by the ‘find’, I called A, my daughter, and shared the news and she was ecstatic. Before I knew it, she was connected to T and on the phone to her great grandmother - Ma! There is no shyness in that child of mine.

Honestly, I am somewhat terrified about opening myself to such a large community of people – blood family – who I thought either did not want anything to do with me or just simply forgot about me.

Yet, the bigger part of me – my heart – has me checking out the cost of springtime flights to New York. My daughter is right when she said that we need to get to New York before Ma makes her transition. However, before that I need to make some long distance calls in a few days.

So, who could ask for more at Christmas? Certainly not me and not with the full replica of my mother's best Jamaican spread, including my famous Jamaican Christmas Fruit Cake, that will be laid on our Christmas table this year.

My heart is warmed to boiling by hearing that my father’s family has not only been looking for me all these years but is waiting for my call as that will make their Christmas. Finally, I am truly home!

I thank you God and I pray for your richest blessings this and every Christmas for my other family - you my friends, supporters, cheerleaders and readers of Comforting Words.

Merry Christmas!


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