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Solstice Belle

In one sense, this is a simple continuation of my last post: today there has been much scrubbing. 

Our guests conveniently caught Covid and postponed their arrival by a day, so they will now be arriving tomorrow morning – into the joyful embrace of a jolly border control strike (or not – I think I have some dates wrong here). Who knows when we will actually see them! Anyway, the flight was moved a few days ago and thus allowed me to enjoy a quiet Sunday on which to sniff and cough myself into a false sense of security that all housework would somehow get done.

I can tell you now – the house did not miraculously clean itself, nor did the beds make themselves or the presents self-wrap. Nevertheless, I am probably just about where I need to be on the preparation front. Importantly, the sloe gin has been successfully decanted and I can confirm that it is of a cracking medicinal grade (might keep it in my secret cupboard and hope everyone else forgets about it).

But today is, in my mind, the start of Christmas. Today is the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice – and my mother’s birthday. For the first 56 Christmases of my life, it was always Mum’s birthday just before the Noel. An extra present to buy, a day on which we felt guilty that she was (inevitably) running around like I have been doing today, preparing everything for a hopefully perfect Christmas, a day on which we would later phone to be sorry that we wouldn’t arrive until Christmas Eve with the kids and would therefore miss her birthday (on which of course she would be toiling steadily to get everything ready for our arrival) again, a non-birthday really.

At least we were always good enough to get her separate presents rather than making one item do for both birthday and Christmas. I don’t know whether my brother and I were carefully schooled in this by my father from infancy – I rather doubt it. It perhaps just seemed to us the least we could do, as we got to the age of actually buying them ourselves, when we knew that on her ‘special’ day she would be fretting about the mandatory ‘open house’ my father liked her to throw for his amateur drama group every Christmas Eve (for ever, it seemed, although it was perhaps just a decade or so in my most formative teenage and early adulthood…)

Mum’s last five birthdays were spent in a nursing home with Alzheimers. She always had a cake and presents, and it’s possible that both her offspring saw her together on the birthday itself for at least one of those years – although she wouldn’t have been properly aware if we missed the actual day and turned up the day before or after. On her final birthday – her 80th – she was dolled up beautifully and made a nice portrait with my brother. I’m sure she had no clue what all the fuss was about, but at least I suspect she was a whole lot less stressed than on most of her other adult birthdays.

It’s funny how it always seemed she was glad to get her birthday out of the way. I confess to having a similar approach to my own, although I have no Christmas-prep excuse, just bah-humbuggishness in my case. In a similar way, I tend to think of the 21st December as the shortest day of the year and thus a milestone to get past, beyond which there will be a gradual climb back into the light.

It’s good to stop and think though. And –

  • although it may have made me shed a tear or two in remembering, and
  • although I note that the orchid my work-colleagues sent me when Mum died has resolutely failed to flower for this solstice (having cleverly done so for the past 5 years – it is actually a miracle because I have never kept a house-plant so long, and in fairness it does have a nice bud coming – perhaps for New Year’s Day?), and
  • although I’ve now spent the evening writing this instead of wrapping a few more presents,
Mum as proud Granny!

I am glad to remember my motherly Solstice Belle on what would have been her 86th birthday.

Happy Solstice! Happy Birthday! Happy Christmas! 

80th birthday with my brother
Probably not her actual birthday!
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