Traditions that Bind us Together

I’m not usually the most Christmassy of people, and although current Covid Christmas restrictions could potentially have given me the perfect excuse for simply not bothering much with any of it this year, I nevertheless found myself taking the box of decorations down from the loft earlier than usual and not only have I put up the Christmas tree but have also added a few festive ornaments and a string of sparkly lights to the mantelpiece.

With all of us here in the UK necessarily having an extremely pared-down minimally-numbered Christmas this year I felt a surprising longing, a need to create some kind of fun festive feeling around our home, as if we were still expecting a flurry of visitors at any time. We may all be physically apart this year, but we can all still share the emotion and experience of the same old family traditions that recognisably bind us together, but simply enjoy them separately, each in our own home.

We can still put up our usual decorations, over-indulge in the same kind of food we always eat, enjoy the myriad repeat TV programmes we usually watch every festive season, and remind ourselves that if nothing else Christmas 2020 has truly taught us to appreciate the value of presence over presents at this time of year. Being able to choose to be with those we love at Christmas is the best gift we could have, whether family, friends, fur-babies, or any other favourite loves.

To have that choice taken away from so many of us this year hurts, but hopefully it is a wound that for most of us will heal in time. We need to remind ourselves that losing someone to Covid lasts forever and so is a risk too far for many of us to take, especially with the promise of vaccines becoming available to all in the months to come. We are where we are in this current coronavirus crisis, but this too shall pass.

So for this week’s Weekly Smile here is a gallery of some of my favourite tree decorations bringing some much-needed Christmas cheer to my home and to my blog – hopefully the idea if not the actual baubles and trinkets themselves help bring a smile to your faces too. For me the ritual of trimming the tree feels wonderfully familiar, becomes a heart-warming task brimming with mementos and memories and magic, helping me feel close to those I hold most dear, however near or far, in this time of national sacrifice.

So here I am wishing a very Happy Christmas 2020 to all my blog friends, from my home to yours, and hoping for a better year for all of us in 2021 ❤

Back Home, Back Online

I’m back home again, and back online – Mum is now home from hospital much improved, Dad is doing fine, and my brother and I are both thankfully back to work and looking after our own family households again – until the next parental health crisis of course! 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Online

Excuse My Absence

Excuse my absence for the next few days, family life has inevitably intervened again.

Mum (Dad’s main carer) is back in hospital just now (another asthma attack) so my brother and I are doing our best between us to juggle the necessity of someone always staying with Dad and us both having to work. Usually emergency respite care from Social Services would kick in for Dad while Mum is in hospital but with the Covid situation that’s not an option just now. So my brother’s been staying with Dad for the last couple of days and now it’s my turn – I’m going straight out there after work tonight and probably won’t be online again until after I get back.

Take care everyone, see you soon 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Excuse

Cow Sheds and Sugar Refineries

Vacherie – is that like a sucrerie, but for vaches?

Thinking about my husband’s Cajun family hunkering down in Southern Louisiana tonight as they prepare for a sideswipe of heavy rain from Hurricane Laura as she potentially rages across the neighbouring state of Texas…

Remembering me on my last visit, driving with my father in law and seeing a road sign for a place called Vacherie and asking the immortal question ‘Vacherie… Is that like a sucrerie, but for vaches?’ He smiled, an amused look on his face, and said ‘Well yeah, I guess it kind of is…!’

My husband’s grandfather grew sugar cane on his family farm and so had a sucrerie, a small sugar refinery shed in the yard by his house, so using my basic schoolgirl French to work out the names of things I remembered sucre is sugar and vache is cow, so it followed that sucrerie and vacherie had to have some kind of link in meaning 🙂

One Liner Wednesday

Me and My Dad Out for a Walk

More than anything else this weekend I really wanted to go out and visit my parents at long last.

Although I’ve kept in touch by phone what with one thing and another I haven’t actually seen them in person for six months, and during the four solid months of lockdown they not only both celebrated birthdays, but Dad actually spent five weeks in hospital with a chest infection and urine infection – thankfully not Covid after all, but with his spiking a high temperature and developing a bad cough, for a few worrying days we were all so scared we might lose him.

My Dad is 84 years old and has survived four strokes, and he now also has vascular dementia so not only is his mobility not great any more, but he also has good days and bad days memory-wise. Mum and Dad live in the beautiful Scottish countryside in the back of beyond, miles away from the rest of the family. So today was the first day since I went back to work three weeks ago that my husband and I could manage to go out to visit, and we all had such a great day together.

Dad walks indoors with a rollator, but struggles to keep his balance outdoors so a fortnight ago he was given a wheelchair to use outside – but he wouldn’t use it, he resisted all Mum’s efforts to get him out for a walk and refused point-blank even to try. Up until about five years ago Dad was always fit and healthy, easily walking several miles a day for pleasure, but since then sadly it’s been one thing after another for him health-wise and his walking world has shrunk accordingly.

However I’m very much my dad’s daughter, I have inherited his stubborn temperament and can often find just the right thing to say to get through to him when others fail. And so it was today – thankfully a good day dementia-wise, too. About five minutes after I learned that Dad had a wheelchair, he was in his jacket and hat and sitting comfortably, ready to go out for a walk. Mum chose to stay at home, and although my husband came with us, I pushed Dad in the wheelchair.

It felt so good to share that experience with Dad. We didn’t go far, but went along a well-known route from the past and Dad thoroughly enjoyed having a good look around to see what had changed since his last proper outdoor excursion (last September, also with us, just before the cold weather set in). We chatted and reminisced and he soon got over his initial emotional discomfort at being pushed in a wheelchair – I pointed out to him that he used to push me often enough in my pram when I was young, so it’s only fair I push him in return now he’s growing old.

To me this is the stuff of life that matters, these are the precious moments that count the most. My husband took a few lovely photographs of Dad and I together while out for our walk, and I’ve shared my favourites above. I feel so lucky at my age to still have my Dad, however old and infirm he becomes. He is, and always has been, my hero, and to be able to do something so simple for him that brings such a huge smile to his face brings me nothing but happiness wrapped up in a lifetime of love ❤

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: More

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Precious

Weekly Smile

Weekly Smile, Running Late!

It’s almost time for next week’s Weekly Smile, and here I am only writing this now. I did think about just skipping this week and just posting tomorrow for the new week instead, but I realised if I link up today I can also use it as my Stream of Consciousness Saturday post, which is only a day late. So this way, any nonsensical ramblings that follow can simply be construed as unedited random brain-to-finger-to-page thoughts… 🙂

Work days and Days off – Now I’ve been back at work for a full week I can really appreciate the simple joy of a proper day off. The trouble with lockdown was having lots of time on my hands, but none of it felt like productive time off because there was nothing in place to have time off from… 🙂

My husband’s birthday – My husband turned 59 this week, and although we didn’t fancy risking going out to eat in a restaurant yet we cooked ourslves a lovely meal at home with some nice wine and chose a rich chocolate cake for a birthday dessert – yum! 🙂

More grandchildren hugs – We had a visit from my youngest daughter’s family on Friday, and my husband and I spent a lovely day mainly in the garden with the three grandkids while their mum and dad faced the gauntlet of shopping for new school clothes for everyone. And this afternoon my eldest daughter is coming to visit with her two youngest, so our sorely-depleted hug-tanks will have been filled to the brim this week! 🙂

Fell Asleep On…

Today would have been my grandmother’s 106th birthday – 14th July, Siege of the Bastille. She lived a long life, surviving two World Wars, and she died peacefully in her 90s with her two adult children by her bedside, one on each side of her holding her hand. She just drifted off in the end, ‘fell asleep’ as so many gravestones say, passed on quietly to whatever comes next, if anything.

Well over a decade on I still miss her a lot, and as my first grandson was born a few years before she died we had five direct-line generations living for a while. I used to think of us like Russian nesting dolls – my grandmother with my mother inside her, then me inside my mum, my daughter inside me, and my grandson the tiniest doll in the middle of all of us 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Asleep

Memories of Auntie George

Auntie George was my maternal grandfather’s spinster aunt, his mother’s youngest sister. She had been christened Georgina, my grandfather always called her Georgie, but to the three generations of family that followed – my mum’s, mine, and my children’s – she was known affectionately as Auntie George.

My earliest memories of Auntie George were of her living with another aunt, her older widowed sister Eliza, in a small fisherman’s cottage in a little village here in the Scottish Highlands. We used to visit as a family, and I remember the tiny cottage mainly as neat and old fashioned and dark and smelling of moth-balls, quiet apart from the tick of the large clock on the sideboard. I remember, while the grown-ups had tea and cake, being allowed a glass of fizzy lemonade in pretty tumblers that were kept in the sideboard, and the bubbles going up my nose.

After her sister died, Auntie George moved out of the cottage and in with my maternal grandparents, where she lived until her health deteriorated to a point where my grandparents simply became too old themselves to care for her. Although she lived to a ripe old age sadly she necessarily ended her years in a local nursing home, dementia robbing her of her past and so all knowledge of who any of us were, turning a neat-framed meek and mild-mannered genteel old lady into someone unrecognisable, violent and vitriolic.

But while she was alive and well and living amongst us all, Auntie George was someone who was simply always there as I was growing up, an integral part of my extended family landscape. She happily joined in with family occasions big and small, formal and informal, but always quietly hovering in the background, remaining self-contained and small in that inoffensive and unobtrusive way she had.

Embarrassingly in all those years I don’t remember ever having had any deep and meaningful conversations with her about anything that mattered. And in spite of me having had a living great-great-aunt in my life until I was grown up and married with children, I’m ashamed to say I know so very little about her younger life other than the fact, always relayed in hushed reverent tones, that her young man had gone off to war – this would have been the First World War – and had never come back.

I grew up surrounded by family photographs, and even now my mum still has several old boxes of tiny black and white family snapshots she inherited after my grandmother died. A few years ago we were looking through them again and I found a photograph I hadn’t ever seen before, of a tall young woman standing in front of a fancy car parked in front of what looked like a Swiss chalet, with a clear snow-peaked mountain range on the horizon. From her style of dress and bobbed marcel-wave hair and cloche hat, it must have been taken in the 1920s.

Intrigued, I asked mum who it was, and she said it was Auntie George, taken when she was in service with a well-to-do family who travelled a lot, taking some of their staff with them wherever they went. I was amazed to see her standing so tall in her youth, because the elderly Georgie I knew had both a scoliosis and a kyphosis, twisting her spine forward and sideways, giving her a rather crumpled, apologetic stance. And I was stunned to realise she had travelled so extensively in the past, even if only in the employ of others. How could I have known her all those years and yet not have known that?

Thinking about that little photograph and the untold secrets of the life behind it, I look back today and I wonder – did Georgie enjoy her single life? I realise that like so many other young women of her generation she effectively lost the chance of marriage and children when her fiance was killed in the war, but had she got married as intended she would most definitely never have had the chance to see any more of the world beyond her kitchen sink. Did her long-term single status and a chance to earn her own living actually give her more freedom to be herself in the end? That’s something I’ll never know.

One thing I do know, she outlived everyone else in her generation and even her neice and nephews – my grandfather, his elder sister and his younger brother all died before her. When I knew her, admittedly in her later years, she certainly seemed contented enough with her lot. Not left on a shelf but included and embraced and always there in our family snapshots, smiling and a definite part of the proceedings even if on the periphery.

I’m really sorry I didn’t ever think to try to get to know her better as I was growing up, but nevertheless I’m very proud to have had her as my great-great-aunt. I still have a few little sentimental trinkets of hers that I’ve kept close all these years, including a glass hairpin jar with silver screwtop, a cut glass perfume bottle, and a beautiful hand-sewn linen handkerchief sachet, pictured above. Thank you, Auntie George, thinking of you! 🙂

Weekly Prompt: Family Photo

Coffee, Tea, or Milk of Magnesia?

I thought I was going to be totally stumped today by Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt of Coffee, Tea, or Me – flirty phrases are just not me, especially not embarrassingly dated stuff like that.

Then I read John Holton’s SOCS post mentioning about air stewardesses back in the day writing a book of that name and suddenly it all became clear. Yup, in the context of the sexist world of the original ‘trolley dollies’ (such a ghastly, demeaning name) I can see how that phrase might come about.

But to be honest the thing that struck me most about John’s post is the 1970s ad he’s included at the bottom for Milk of Magnesia – because oooh, there’s something I can post about, family medicine cabinet staples from my childhood! I suppose it’s a kind of Stream of Consciousness post once removed – related to Linda’s topic, but indirectly, through reading John’s post.

I so clearly remember the blue bottle of Milk of Magnesia, we were usually given a spoon of that white milky liquid for the solid kind of bellyache caused by constipation – I can even remember the odd taste of it. It was joined in its choice of eye-catching blue glass bottle by a little jar of Vicks Vaporub – its powerfully strong menthol heating sensation when rubbed on your chest and back was used to relieve congestion due to a cold.

My dad used to be bothered with indigestion a lot so there was always a tin of Andrew’s Liver Salts to be had – a spoon of that dissolved in water would fizz up into salty bubbles to be drunk down straight away, usually followed immediately by a huge belch, to settle any stomach discomfort. And I remember dad also carried little white square Rennies tablets in his pocket at all times for his heartburn.

Another duo of products that spring to mind is a tub of Vaseline petroleum jelly and a tin – a proper round tin, not a tube – of thick, pink Germolene antiseptic ointment. Now there’s a smell to stick in your nostrils. In my mind’s eye I link the strong smell of Germolene to the memory of fabric sticking plaster strips, because scrapes and grazes were cleaned with the sting of diluted Dettol, Germolene antiseptic ointment was applied, then a plaster cut to size was stuck over the top and you were sent on your way.

The painkiller I remember most from childhood is Disprin, a dissolvable asprin. If there was such a thing as ibuprofen available way back in the 1960s and 1970s they definitely didn’t make it as far as our medicine cabinet. These were the main generic products I remember, but I was ill a lot as a child so had my prescribed medicines to take too – Phenergan Syrup for my allergies tasted absolutely vile… yuk!

OK, that memory has put me off now, so I’ll just stop there while the going’s still good 🙂

Expectation and Disappointment

I’ve definitely been feeling decidedly pensive over the last few days…

I hadn’t realised how much I’d been looking forward to Scotland moving to Phase 2 of easing lockdown restrictions from yesterday, with the expectation that the original roadmap plan set out weeks ago would be followed. But although we have indeed moved on to a Phase 2 of sorts, the initial tentative plans have now had to be altered and it feels like nothing offered has helped ease my particular situation, or at least enough to make any practical difference to where we were before, and I’m so disappointed.

I listened with mounting hope to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon making her update statement live on television on Thursday, but as the new reality of her words slowly sank in, instead of celebrating as I’d expected, I sat and cried. I do understand exactly why things are as they are – outdoor transmission of Covid 19 is low, but indoor transmission is still problematic so for most of us, indoor gatherings of any size are out – but still, it hurts.

I’d hoped at least to have a fixed date for returning to work – but sadly, the store I work in is enclosed within a shopping mall, so no re-opening for us yet. And although I’d really hoped for a move towards being able to meet family members indoors, that’s still not happening yet either. Outdoor garden visitors are now allowed to come in to use the loo as long as they touch nothing else, and we can meet up outdoors with more than one household a day but groups can still number no more than eight, social distancing is still required as before, and overall travelling distance is still restricted.

It’s not the end of the world, I know, but it really shocked me to be so overwhelmed with disappointment at the minimal changes possible for me – I hadn’t realised I was holding on so tight. I know it’s excellent news for single people and single parents with young children to be able to create an extended household with no social distancing required, but I’m not in that situation. I know it’s excellent news for all shops opening directly onto a street to be able to open again at the end of this month, but I’m not in that situation either.

So in the meantime I’m left alone with my brooding thoughts much of the time while my husband is at work, and I just have to get on with it all as it is… I watch as new infection numbers rise across the world where many places have re-opened too soon, and on the whole I feel relieved that here in Scotland we’re playing a cautious waiting game, but still… I’m tired of everything feeling so stuck and stagnant, and I just want it all to be over so we can feel safe again, meet up again, be together again with hugs and laughter…

One day we’ll get there, and if all this self-sacrifice and social restriction means I can get through this pandemic without losing any family members to Covid 19, it’ll all be well worth it in the end. But until that time, what we can’t cure, we must endure… Sigh! 😦

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Pensive