Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
As Christmas slinks nearer (yes, I’m a Christmas curmudgeon), my mind revisits Christmases past and their striking anticlimaxes. Maybe you’re a sentimentalist and can’t bring yourself to admit that Christmas is, almost by definition, disappointing. Why? Because we build up our expectations to unreal capacities, only to realize as we open gift after hapless gift that no one really understands us. Nor do we understand them. All your sister secretly wants is a spa weekend somewhere warm, and you give her a gift certificate to Michael’s craft store. Doh.
But even a sea of mundane has the occasional exotic fish in it. As I was bah-humbugging my way through the afternoon yesterday, I remembered an exceptional Christmas from long ago, and it warmed my chestnuts like an open fire.
I was in London for the school year. That was great, but the school was throwing us out for the holiday fortnight and the best I could piece together was a one-week trip to Ireland with a couple of other students. It would end on Christmas Eve. Just before I left on the trip, a little desperate over what I’d actually do for Christmas, I rang up the family in Kent I’d spent my first two weeks in England with. The Lakes. They’d been warm, welcoming, and enthusiastic, so I invited myself to their house for Christmas.
Bless their hearts, they accepted the invitation.
On Christmas Eve I flew back from Dublin, took the tube straight to Waterloo Station, took the train to Chatham, and got picked up by Mr. Lake at about 8 pm. He was magnanimous and cheerful. When we got to the humble semi-detached, I found the place decked out with all the Dickensian trimmings and some carols playing on the hi-fi. The Lakes’ little boy, Jason, had already opened one of his gifts — something Star Warsy. He was six.
I slept on the floor and loved it. Smiled myself to sleep. And on Christmas Day, Gina Lake put up a classic English roast with Yorkshire pudding and two dozen sides, not to mention plenty of festive libations. We got nice and jolly. I’ve been in touch with the Lakes ever since, visiting them four times over the decades since. And Jason? He’s 43 now.
Anyway, whenever I feel myself getting blue in late December, I toss my thoughts back to Chatham, Kent — 1977.
Yeah, that was a good one.