Autobiographical Writing - A Christmas Story - 'Perfect Angel' - A childhood memory.
Finding the Perfect Angel
As I walked along holding my big sister’s hand we talked about Christmas. My sister asked me what I really, really wanted for Christmas this year. I thought long and hard about it before saying ‘I just want mummy to be happy again this Christmas.’ ‘Well’, she said laughing, ‘what we need to do then is get the best, most Angel to sit on top of the Christmas tree, that we can find.’
“We were going Christmas shopping, my sister and me. We are going to find a perfect Angel for the top of our tree.” I sang as I skipped along holding tightly to my sister’s hand. We wandered in and out of the shops looking for the perfect Angel; I must have looked bewildered by all that glittered. All the old ladies kept stopping and smiling at me. My sister said I had a smile on my face that was bigger than any Cheshire cat’s smile. I wasn’t sure what that meant but I was happy. Every shop we went into was just like a fantasyland. Christmas trees, tinsel, baubles of every colour you could imagine, were everywhere. Father Christmas was on every corner, ‘Ho, ho, ho-ing,’ and looking at my puzzled expression, my sister told me that they weren’t the real Santa they were his many helpers. Carol singers stood in the middle of the market square singing ‘Good King Wenles…followed by ‘We three kings….’ The shop assistants were dressed in old-fashioned clothes just like in ‘Scrooge’. Everyone everywhere was laughing, excited with the Christmas spirit, so my sister said, ‘Especially some of those men outside the pub, now they are definitely filled with Christmas spirit’. I looked over at them. They were noisy and brutish and yet they too were singing Christmas carols and banging their glasses down on the tables.
‘Why an Angel on the top of the tree, why not a star or something?’ I asked my sister. ‘The Angel is a heavenly protector, like the Angel Gabriel who showed the shepherds and the wise men where Jesus was born. The angel on the top of the tree will protect everything and everyone beneath.’ My sister always knew the answers to my endless questions. If she didn’t she always made it sound as if she did.
My sister needed to get quite a few things for Christmas; she was cooking Christmas dinner this year as part of her school project. She had planned it all at school, she had started on the cake weeks ago and it was up on the top shelf of the pantry waiting for the time when it would finally be iced and eaten. She was putting together a scrapbook with pictures cut out of magazines, writing out recipes and making notes of everything she had to do. She loved cooking and I loved watching her stick and glue the coloured pictures in her book labelling them as she went. I thought she was very clever and that one day she’d be as famous as Fanny Craddock.
Before long we had bags and bags of potatoes, carrots, sprouts, onions, apples, turkey, tin foil, and so on and so on…I could hardly carry my two bags they were nearly as big as me and I was a big 6 year old. Through all this shopping we still hadn’t found our best, perfect Angel for the top of the Christmas tree. We sat down on the steps of the town hall and I started to get a little bit upset. ‘We’ll never find an Angel now, not with all this shopping.’ My sister tried to comfort me, ‘course we will, I’ll think of something…we could make one?’ she suggested, I protested bitterly that it wouldn't be the same. As we sat there we noticed a little market stall right at the back of the Christmas market. So far at the back that we might have missed it had we sat anywhere else? The stall was decorated with every kind of Christmas decoration you could ever wish for and behind the counter was a creepy little old lady. She looked nothing like her jolly bright stall. She looked grumpy and unkind.
My sister and I moved nearer to take a closer look at the stall. ‘What are you looking for, little girls?’ snapped the old lady, she reminded me of an old witch. I was slightly afraid and held back but my sister marched up with determination, ‘A perfect angel for the top of our Christmas tree, my sister wants mummy to be happy again, this year.’
‘Oh, is that so, little one?’ the old lady glared at me, ‘Happy is as happy does…I think I might have just what you are looking for.’ She opened a box that contained a beautiful Angel; she was about 10 inches tall, with golden hair, a matching gold tiara and beautiful golden wings. Her gown was also gold and glittery. She had little golden shoes on her little feet and a golden wand in her hand. She was absolutely perfect, just how I had imagined. ‘She is magical,’ I gasped. My sister asked the price. The old lady said she was 10/-; my sister didn’t have that amount of money left after all the shopping. She looked at me and emptied her purse into the stallholder’s hand, precisely 5/6 (5 shillings and 6d). ‘Please, take this, for now,’ my sister pleaded, ‘I’ll come back just as soon as I can with the rest. Mummy has been so unhappy since daddy left and we so want this Christmas to be perfect, please?’ The old lady looked at me, smiled, took the money and said ‘Merry Christmas, hope your mum is happy again, this year.’ She waved us away with my sister promising to come back and pay her the rest, ‘consider it my Christmas present to you both for caring so much about your mother.’ She shouted after us.
‘That was nice, wasn’t it?’ I exclaimed as I skipped back to the shopping, angel safely in her box looking up at me, ‘she was a nice white witch, I reckon. This Angel is perfect for the top of our Christmas tree.’ My sister said she would find a way to pay the lady the difference. We picked up the rest of our bags and looked back at the market stall but we couldn’t see it anymore. ‘Too many people about now’, my sister declared, ‘Let’s go home.’
We didn’t have any money left for the bus so it was a long, hard walk home as we struggled up hill with all the bags. We kept stopping and sitting down and occasionally a nice man or someone would help us to carry the bags a little further up the hill. Buses we could have caught had we had any money kept passing us. Once up the big hill we passed the green grocers and my sister asked me to wait outside while she popped in to talk to the green grocer. He knew our family pretty well and when she came out again she had a bag of parsnips. She said she’d bring the money down the day after Boxing Day. I calculated that that would be Wednesday and I made a point to remind her. Eventually we arrived home. My sister immediately set about putting all the shopping away and I ran to show mummy the Angel we have bought for the top of our Christmas tree.
Mummy had a bad headache; she was lain down in her bed with the curtains closed. Her face was pale and her brown eyes were red with crying. I showed her the Angel and she said she was perfect, just perfect. I chatted away about our day out shopping, telling her about the old woman and her stall, as I fluffed up mummy’s pillows and straightened her covers. There were tears streaming down her face. ‘Please don’t cry, mummy?’ She turned her face into the pillow and I left the room. I sat on the stairs about half way down looking at the Angel. ‘Please do some magic this Christmas and make mummy happy.’
I decided to go and look at the advent calendar to see how many days there were left to go. We hadn’t opened any windows this morning so I decided to open the window and behind it was an Angel just like the one we had bought today, gleefully I went to tell my sister that there were three days to go to Christmas eve and the Angel we bought today was behind the door on my advent calendar. My sister smiled. She looked as if she might cry.
For a 10 year old, my sister was ever so grown up. She was stood at the back door looking up at the sky, at the stars. She told me that the stars were all people who had died long ago and were watching over us. I asked her which ones were grandma and granddad (mummy’s mummy and daddy) and she said that because they died more recently, granddad almost a year after grandma, then he would be the brightest star and grandma the next brightest star and if we looked hard enough we would find them. She said that they would be together just as they had always been. We looked hard and eventually two stars twinkled and I knew wholeheartedly that they were grandma and granddad.
My brothers finally came home from football practice. As they charged into the house my sister met them and shushed them telling them that mum was sleeping. My elder brother (older than any of us) asked if she had migraine again, my sister told him that she thought so. My brothers took their kits off in the outhouse and swilled down in the kitchen before going through the dining room and sitting in the front room. My sister asked my brother if he could fix the gate latch so that the dog couldn’t get out. He said he’d do it first thing in the morning. At just 12, he was now the man of the house and had been since daddy left.
I suppose in a way my sister and brother had had to mature quickly and take on the almost parental roles over myself and my other brother. My other brother was 8. After a tea of leftover stew and pancakes my sister made sure my brother and I were washed and ready for bed before going into mum’s room to say goodnight to her. Mummy cuddled us both and kept saying she was sorry and she’d be better tomorrow.
Mummy was up before any of us the next morning. She set the table for breakfast and we all sat down to cornflakes and fresh milk. After breakfast she set about the ironing, the radio was on and she sang along to all the songs played. It was Saturday December 23rd 1967.
While the boys went out to deal with the gate and play with Brandy, the dog. My sister got the Christmas decorations box out of the cupboard under the stairs and we set about decorating the front room and the dining room. Mummy said that the boys would have to get the tree out of the loft and we could all decorate it together after tea. Our cat, Frisky chased the tinsel.
It was nice hearing mummy singing again she seemed to be her old self again. The day was lovely, the best we had had in long time. We all laughed, we all played and after a tea of bacon and egg sandwiches the boys got the Christmas tree down from the loft and together we dressed it. When we have nearly finished I ran to get the Angel. My brother lifted me as high as he could so that I could fix her to the top of the tree. She looked perfect. The tree looked perfect. We all went to bed happy and content.
The next day was Christmas Eve and my sister let me help her get all the vegetables ready. I peeled the potatoes, carrots and parsnips while she peeled the onions, sprouts and apples. Then she chopped everything. The vegetables were placed in water in their respective pans with a little salt and placed on the top of the cooker. She also iced the Christmas cake. I watched. Fascinated. When she had finished it looked like it had snowy covered mountains all over it. She finished it off with little plastic Christmas trees and powdered it with icing sugar so it looked like loose snow over the whole thing. It really looked too good to eat. I looked at her as she admired her handy work, I was so proud of her. Next she went to the kitchen draw and took out the camera. She took a couple of pictures and said that they ‘would be the icing on the cake’ for her project and smiled smugly. I told her that I thought it looked amazing.
Next she prepared the Turkey. I watch her stick her hand up the turkeys bum and pull out its innards. I thought that was gross and told her I could never do that. To my surprise she put the innards in a small pan and said that would make great stock for the gravy. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I loved gravy. As she prepared to stuff stuffing back up the turkey’s bum, I had a sudden thought ‘Why are we getting everything ready today?’ I asked her innocently. ‘Well,’ she explained. Tomorrow we don’t want to miss too much especially as Santa will have visited over night. We do all this so that we won’t have as much to do tomorrow, tomorrow is a holiday.’
We had sausage, mash and baked beans for tea that Christmas Eve night and we went to bed early because we couldn’t wait until morning when we would open up our Christmas presents from Santa and give presents that we have bought to each other. I had bought mummy a lovely brass collie dog ornament for the fireplace. I found it in a charity shop and it cost me all of my pocket money but I knew she would love it. My sister helped me pick it out. I was so excited about Christmas day. The Angel had so far done a good job tomorrow was going to be our perfect Christmas...
Perfect Angel for the Christmas Tree
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...It was the early hours of the morning when we were awakened by our next door neighbour whispering ‘get dressed quickly, we are going to have to go with your mummy to the hospital.’ By now we could see the lights of the ambulance flashing outside. We went downstairs but couldn’t see mummy there were ambulance men in the room and police and another of our neighbours. I tried to see what was going on. Someone was lay on the floor and a woman was talking ‘Can you hear me? What have you taken?’ As the smallest I could see the carpet and I noticed that some of the decorations were on the floor instead of the ceiling and I could vaguely make out something smashed on the floor – it was gold in colour and I think I knew then it was the perfect Angel.
As we were lead to our neighbour’s car we could see that all the neighbours were out. ‘Those poor kids, Christmas time as well’.
We waited at the hospital for what seemed to be hours. Then the doctor came and told our neighbour that they would be transferring Mummy to the nearby mental hospital for assessment. I didn’t know what that meant but I didn’t like the sound of it. ‘Where’s mummy?’ I asked, anyone. ‘She’s a bit poorly,’ my sister told me, ‘we are probably going to have to manage for a few days without her.’
Our neighbour ushered us back to the car and drove back to our estate. We stayed in the car while she called in at various neighbours on route. It was probably about 4 o’clock in the morning. Everyone was in his or her nightwear. There was lots of shaking of heads, nodding and handshakes. Eventually we went back to our house where our neighbour told us to collect a few overnight things. The dog and cat were glad to see us. They were locked in the kitchen & dining area. My sister went into the front room and shut the door behind her. I sat on the stairs looking at the closed door. I felt numb and my eyes hurt. My brothers didn’t really know what to do but went upstairs to collect some bits and pieces together. Each of us was going to a separate neighbours house for the rest of the night. Eventually my sister came out of the living room and closed the door behind her again. She took my hand and quietly led me into the kitchen where we fed the cat and dog. She checked on the food she had so carefully prepared the day before and made sure it was locked away in the pantry and she checked the back door was locked putting the key in her pocket.
We then went upstairs and packed some clothing in the two little cases under our beds. The boys stood in the doorway. Their eyes said everything. The sadness was so loud it was overwhelming. I began to cry. ‘I want Mummy’. My sister hugged me, ‘it’ll be OK’. ‘Why didn’t our perfect Angel do her job?’ I whimpered. ‘Sometimes,’ my sister said, ‘one perfect Angel is not enough.’
The following morning my sister called for me. My brothers were waiting at the end of the footpath. We all went back to our house and my sister let us in through the back door. We let the dog and cat out into the garden and as my sister busied herself in the kitchen. My brothers set the dining room table for Christmas Dinner. While the food cooked. My brothers disappeared into the front room and by the time my sister and I entered the front room the tree was standing again and the decorations were as tidy as they could make them. All the broken bits had been brushed up and put in the bin. I looked at the top of the tree and saw a star dangling from the tip.
Our next-door neighbour called round to see what we were doing. My sister said we were going to have our Christmas dinner at home together. Once the neighbour had seen that everything was in order she smiled and left us to it saying, ‘you know where I am, if you need anything.’
Suzy’s big brother Roger, arrived back from University that Christmas day and volunteered to live at our house over the holiday so that we could stay together and after much deliberating the neighbours agreed that it was a good plan. He was brilliant. He knew exactly the right things to say and do. He let my sister run the house.
In spite of it all we had a pretty good Christmas and mummy finally came home a couple of weeks later. Her mild depression had been upgraded to severe and she would be an outpatient for many years to come.
© 2010 Leni Sands