Tuesday December 24th, Christmas Eve
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring….
“And that is why we have oily gravy, lumpy custard and that dreadful stodge your Aunt calls eggnog” David’s grandmother said, smoothly. Oh so smoothly. Instead of helping Aunt Anne the old bat would rather moan.
He had only just arrived. He was tired after 18 hours of travel and several busy hours before that leaving his home in a state that would be fine when he got back. But he was here, Aunt Anne needed his help, yet the old bat demanded his presence. This was like every other Christmas he could remember. Aunt Anne would have been sewing or painting or embroidering busily for weeks, making everyone a Christmas Present. Yet it was his grandmother who wrote the cards to be attached. And the cards always said from Grandmother. He had realised just how unfair it was once he was old enough, but Aunt Anne always told him to be quiet, to let it be.
The house was clean, smelling of pine needles from the wreaths Aunt Anne always made. The kitchen was warm, the sitting room was warm. He went to his room, icy cold. Then he peeked into the other rooms. Aunt Anne’s just like his, cold as charity. But his grandmother’s room had a fire, coals glowing and it was reasonably warm.
After the Christmas Eve meal it was now time to go to the church. He went out to the car and warmed it up. Aunt Anne came out helping her mother, carrying a warm blanket for her. The service seemed to go on and on. He would have left if he hadn’t seen Aunt Anne’s face, looking happy for the first time that day. His grandmother had been escorted to ‘her’ seat at the front. He and Aunt Anne were told to ‘go find a seat before you cause a disturbance’. They sat upstairs behind the choir, happy surrounded by those beautiful voices. At midnight he and Aunt Anne turned to each other and said “Happy Christmas”, she kissed his cheek and said “Now I can rest, you have done so well for yourself.”
Home again and now he had been awake for over 24 hours. Grandmother began telling Aunt Anne what she should do. His tired nerves snapped. “Leave her alone. We are all going to bed and I don’t want to hear a SINGLE SOUND until I want to get up!” he shouted. His grandmother looked startled. No one EVER spoke back to her.
The two women went into their rooms, and shortly the only sound was the snores emanating from his grandmother’s room. He sniffed the down comforter on his bed. It smelled of Aunt Anne. Then he remembered he hadn’t seen one on her bed. He got up and went to her door. She was in bed, wearing so many clothes she almost looked like a ball. He rushed back to his room, took the comforter and put it over Aunt Anne. Then he climbed into bed with her and held her till her shivering ceased and she slept. Exhaustion overcame him and he slept.
Wednesday December 25th, the first day of Christmas:
When he woke he could hear sounds from the kitchen, and voices arguing, if a one-sided tirade could be called arguing.
He rose and dressed quickly. Once in the kitchen he started to help while gesturing to Aunt Anne to make the breakfast while he took the job of washing the previous night’s dishes.
After they had eaten when he started to collect plates to take to the kitchen, his grandmother said “Don’t do that it’s Anne’s job. Come and tell me about the wide world out there, Anne is such boring company.”
12 more days of this! He could hardly bear to think of it.
When Anne came in from tidying up he looked at her. She looked tired. He said, sit Aunt Anne, I’ll make us all some tea. His grandmother’s eyebrows almost hit her hairline. She started to talk, and he said quickly, it’s Christmas day and a time of goodwill to all, Anne made a delicious breakfast, so now I owe her some tea.
When he came back with the tray, he discovered Aunt Anne now sewing, obviously something for his grandmother, in a hideous lilac. He took the tray to his grandmother who reprimanded him for expecting her to serve herself, and of course Aunt Anne jumped up and assisted. Giving her mother a cup of tea, properly stirred, and a slice of cake exactly the way she liked it.
He went to his room and came back with the contents of his second suitcase, many presents. He started to arrange them under the tree, while his grandmother sat smiling at him. “So kind to bring me so many gifts” she said. “I will start with that small gold one, thank you.”
“Oh no, he said, that’s Aunt Anne’s” he replied. And he took it to his aunt. She smiled at him her hands trembling and took it. “Well hurry up woman, his grandmother snapped, “I can’t wait all day for mine, I could be dead before it arrives”.
Aunt Anne carefully opened the present, careful not to tear the paper. A beautiful yellow scarf, in a fine wool. She sighed looking at his with her eyes brimming. “Thank you” was all she could get out. His grandmother snorted, “well that is a most impractical colour, bring it here I want to see how it will look with that coat you haven’t finished for me for Twelfth Night”
“Stay in your chair Aunt Anne” he commanded, and took his grandmother a similar sized present.
“That’s better” she said, but I wanted to choose what to open first.
“There is one present a day for the 12 days” he replied smoothly.
“But there are more than 11 left” his grandmother complained.
“Exactly, he said, “11 more for you and 11 more for Aunt Anne”
“You have done enough for her” complained the old lady, her voice all trembly and forlorn. “No one remembers I’m just a poor old lady”
“Well then if you don’t want to open your present, I think we can go for a walk” he started only to be interrupted by the doorbell. Aunt Anne had already noticed the figures coming and was at the door to answer it immediately. He could hear them talking for a few minutes then they came in. It was the local vicar, smiling broadly as he greeted first the old lady, then her grandson.
He was a middle aged man, about the same age as Aunt Anne, but looked somewhat younger, due no doubt to the fact he did not have to wait hand and foot on the old bat.
Aunt Anne went to the kitchen and returned with an extra cup for the vicar.
“Reverend Smith is so good, he visits me daily” smirked his grandmother coyly. “Now vicar aren’t you impressed with the number of presents my grandson has brought for me?” she asked.
“Most impressive” he replied. The young man’s feelings of annoyance that this man would come and pander to the old bat were somewhat abated as he noticed a wink from the vicar, aimed at his aunt. The pair of them seemed very comfortable together now that he thought about it.
His grandmother ripped open the present. Inside was a black scarf, also made of wool, but somewhat thicker than the aunt’s scarf.
They all talked companionably about last night’s service and the morning service, how well attended they had both been, how the weather looked almost ready for snow, though sadly probably not in time for a white Christmas.
Eventually the his grandmother said to the vicar, “We do not have a formal Christmas meal today, we had it last night, but would you like to join us, if Anne can rustle up something vaguely edible.” Aunt Anne blushed and went off to the kitchen. David tidied up the cups and cake plates, his grandmother clucking over him, what a help he was to Anne who was so lazy.
In the kitchen he discovered that Anne had a full Christmas dinner ready, a ham and a roast chicken, vegetables; all the traditional ones for their home. He quickly went through and laid the table. Anne came through with a wreath for the centre. David invited the vicar and his grandmother to come through.
The champagne he had brought was cold enough from his bedroom, so they opened that and had a fairly merry lunch. His grandmother complaining about the poor quality of the meal, blaming Anne for her poor cooking skills. David felt very annoyed, it was delicious!
After lunch the vicar thanked them all and left, saying he had to prepare for the final service of the day. David was going through to the kitchen and saw the vicar touch Aunt Anne’s arm as he was leaving, a familiar yet friendly touch.
Thursday December 26th, the second day of Christmas:
Boxing Day followed, with a familiar pattern of boredom, punctuated by his grandmother’s complaints. The vicar again appeared in time for morning tea and was pressed to return for a light supper when he told them he had accepted an invitation for lunch at the local ‘big house’.
The two presents for the second day of Christmas turned out to be perfume, but sadly his grandmother dropped and broke Aunt Anne’s bottle. All she said was “I’m sure you won’t be missing that, what would you be needing perfume for?”
David went out for a while, visiting a school friend. He returned with a spare comforter on loan from his friend.
Supper was a delight, soup such as he remembered, thick and full of vegetables and Aunt Anne’s famous homemade soda bread. The conversation was interesting between Aunt Anne, the vicar and David, punctuated with complaints from his grandmother about the food, and that no-one was paying any attention to her.
After the vicar had gone, his grandmother began to talk of him in the most unflattering terms. David said “I’m going out for a walk, will you come with me Aunt Anne?”
Anne looked a bit startled, but agreed. Leaving her mother with a cup of tea and some biscuits, they dressed warmly and left. Crunching through the leaves covered with frost, their breath steaming ahead of them David took his aunt’s arm and linked it in his. She looked very good with her bright yellow scarf. They walked through the crisp night air, not speaking, just enjoying being together.
Friday December 27th, the third day of Christmas started like the others, with his grandmother complaining about Aunt Anne’s cooking, housekeeping and anything else she could think of. After breakfast David went off to visit his school friend again, and came home with some new plans, not that he told anyone. As usual the vicar popped in, and again was invited to lunch.
The pattern of the three having a lively discussion while his grandmother sulked and complained continued. Today’s present was slippers. Wonderful warm fluffy ones. Fortunately Aunt Anne took a size smaller than her mother, so there was no chance of them making their way into the old woman’s cupboard. David had twice rescued the yellow scarf from his grandmother’s room.
Saturday December 28th, the fourth day of Christmas and David went off on a private errand. His grandmother complained that he shouldn’t have bothered coming down if all he was going to do was gad about and leave her home alone and lonely. That day’s presents were opened in the evening, with the vicar present for dinner again, and proved to be a subscription to a magazine each. His aunt’s to a birding one, his grandmother’s to a woman’s magazine specialising in cooking and crafts. She was speechless for a while, then she began to complain. David said “If you don’t like the magazine you can always give it to Aunt Anne.”
David liked up and saw the vicar smiling. He began to wonder just why the man visited so often.
Sunday December 29th, the fifth day of Christmas
Now that Aunt Anne was accustomed to it, he helped her more and more, cleaning out the grates and re-laying fires, peeling vegetables and washing dishes. When he said “You need a dishwasher” she just smiled and said “Oh I don’t mind really.”
Once again at the church, his grandmother insisted on ‘her’ seat, causing confusion and annoyance to some visitors. David and Aunt Anne escaped to the back of the choir again. On the way out, he watched her smile at the vicar, and suddenly realised he had only ever heard her address him by his first name when her mother was not present.
Today was lunch at the vicarage, three of the local families had brought food, and they all participated, seated around the large table. The only one not enjoying themselves and trying to make others unhappy was his grandmother. David became more and more annoyed with her behaviour.
The presents that day were bed socks, made from angora, soft and warm. His grandmother said “I prefer my electric blanket” and left them lying on the floor. He noticed Aunt Anne taking them quietly away.
Monday December 30th the 6th day of Christmas. David offered to take his aunt to do the week’s shopping. She looked a bit confused but then accepted happily. Once in the village, all their shopping done and safely stored in the car, he took her hand and said, “Time you and I had a cuppa alone”. Off they went to the local teashop, a pseudo-quaint place run by two of his Aunt’s friends.
The happy chatter there, with one or other friend popping by made him realise his aunt was really rather young. Her friends’ children were only in high school. She just seemed older when his grandmother was around.
Of course the old bat complained when they came home. “Left all alone, I could have died and no-one the wiser” she grumbled.
When he again went out that afternoon, the old woman complained again. He simply ignored her.
That evening their presents turned out to be quite different. His grandmother’s was a knee rug, and his Aunt’s a sunhat. He later found the hat in his grandmother’s room, with the crown damaged.
Tuesday December 31th, the 7th day of Christmas:
David was dressed quite formally when he came in for breakfast. When he had helped carry plates and cups to the kitchen, he turned to Aunt Anne and said “I have to go and see a Mr Taylor. I have no idea who he is or why he wants to see me.” Anne went a little pale, then two red patches in her cheeks appeared. “You just go and see him, and remember how much we love you” was all she said.
His grandmother seemed very pale and said nothing at all.
When David arrived at the address, he realised it was a lawyers’ office. The woman at reception asked him to wait for a moment and went through to an office. She returned to show hime in and offered David and Mr Taylor some tea. She returned a minute later with a tea tray, while David and Mr Taylor were still at the basic polite conversation stage.
Mr Taylor poured for them both, and as David took his cup for a first sip Mr Taylor went to his wall safe and removed a large envelope. “Your grandfather’s will that relates to you” he said by way of an explanation. He removed a few sheets of paper and said “Would you mind if I read it to you and explain as I go along?”
“That sounds reasonable” David replied. The office was comfortably warm, the chair also comfortable. Yet David somehow felt uncomfortable.
Mr Taylor started in on the preamble about sane mind etc etc. He read out the initial paragraphs, that left the right to use the house to his grandmother and aunt, with an adequate monthly income to maintain the house and support them. Mr Taylor was the manager of the trust.
David listened feeling as though he was drunk. Mr Taylor mentioned the names in a rather odd way. Anne he called Sue-Anne. David dropped his cup. Sue was his mother’s name.
Mr Taylor looked up. “I gather this is a surprise to you?” he said. “I’m sorry; I did think one of them would have been honest with you by now. I was your grandfather’s best friend here and knew the whole story, but of course it was not mine to tell. You need to ask your family about it.”
When the mess had been tidies up, Mr Taylor said “There is a lot more relating to you in the next section. May I continue?”
David said, “Please will you excuse me for a while, I need a chance to digest this.”
He left the office and walked up the street, ending at the top of the little hill, looking down to the sea in the distance. He sat on the bench usually occupied by those wanting to see the view. A peaceful view that he loved. He used to come up here as a youngster with his grandfather, wishing he lived with his parents and not have to cope with his grandmother’s demands for perfection. Memories of flying a kite with his grandfather watching, both of them somewhat depressed when the afternoon drew to a close and they would have to return home. His grandmother always seemed to be there, casting a cloud over every bit of enjoyment.
His decision to leave home, go to university and work in Manchester had all happened here. The success of his career so far seemed to prove that as a great idea. He realised it was his flair for maths, obviously inherited from his grandfather that had driven him into his career. He missed his grandfather who had died when he was 11. His grandfather had been a lot older than his grandmother he now realised.
After a while he realised he needed to know the whole story, so he returned to Mr Taylor’s office.
Mr Taylor smiled at him, and after telling him he DEFINITELY now looked as though he would need that tea, asked for more and settled David in the same comfortable chair.
He began to read again. As of the date of my Grandson’s 25th birthday, January 1st the conditions of my will are:
1) I leave everything to my grandson, David will inherit the house and the entire trust fund. Unless he still lives in the house and wishes to continue to do so, the house must be sold immediately. Those still residing in it must depend on themselves or on David.
2) The letter in this envelope is for David to read after he has sold the house.
Mr Taylor said, “That’s it David. I have 2 prospective buyers for you, either of which will come and sign on Thursday if that is what you want. Both have offered the same price, according to the two evaluations I have obtained it is a very fair price.”
They spent a while with Mr Taylor explaining where the trust money was invested, how he had managed it and what the income had been. They agreed to meet on the second.
David walked back to the house, deep in thought. When he got there he went in, had lunch with his grandmother and the woman he’d always been told was his aunt, but who seemed to possibly be his mother.
His grandmother said sharply “Well, what did Mr Taylor want?”
David simply said, “I have come into some money from my grandfather now that I am 25”.
His grandmother went on and on about how grateful he should be to inherit anything.
After lunch he helped clear away, and then said he was going for a drive. His grandmother said, “Aren’t you talking me with you?” David replied that he would take her there in a few days.
That evening with the vicar, David Holmes again joining them for supper of a delicious cottage pie, as always made by his aunt, the two presents again differed. For his grandmother a book on knitting, for his aunt a smart handbag in navy blue, her favourite colour. Again the old bat complained that the colour would make it difficult to use with her best black coat. She said, “I have no use for knitting, Anne had better take it and also make me a blue coat next year.”
David Holmes looked on with a slight smile on his face.
Wednesday 1 January, the 8th day of Christmas.
David woke smiling; today his life changed a lot. Suddenly the half-hoped for plan could become reality.
At breakfast there was a yellow pullover wrapped in yellow paper for him. As usual the card said “From Grandmother” but obviously knitted by Anne. He removed his grey sweater and put on the pullover, which fitted perfectly.
He and Anne decided on a walk as the day was clear and crisp. His grandmother asked why they were not taking her for a drive instead, and David replied that his legs needed stretching and he was sure his aunt would make a far better lunch if she had worked up an appetite.
They smiled at each other out walking, he said “How did I know your yellow scarf would match my yellow pullover?” Anne smiled back and said, “heart to heart we will always be.”
At the top of the hill they sat on the same bench. Anne reached into her pocket and removed a wrapped present. He kissed her on the cheek and started to open it. A beautiful waistcoat, paisley and hand embroidered in rich colours. High fashion for men at present, but a beauty for special occasions all his life he suspected.
He turned to Anne and took her hand. She smiled at him and said “Really you should be with friends for your birthday”
Before he could answer they were hailed by David Holmes, walking along with his two dogs walking at his heels. As soon as the dogs saw Anne they left the vicar and ran to her, tails wagging briskly. She bent to them, rubbing their ears and laughing at their antics them. She looked happier than David had ever seen her.
The three walked back down together; somehow conversation between them was very free and easy. They stopped off at the vicarage to drop off the dogs and then walked on together to the house.
While David and Anne quickly made lunch together, the vicar sat with the old bat, plying her with sherry until she stopped complaining. And fell asleep in her chair.
The three of them had a very merry meal punctuated by the snores from the sitting room. David felt this was somehow his best birthday ever.
That evening the presents were a pack of cards for his grandmother, and some embroidery silks for Anne.