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Tales from Tawa: Christmas Wishes

Eve-Marie Wilson tells a story about the birth of a child - a story that could not be more appropriate amd satisfying on this day.

I’ll never forget my first Christmas in New Zealand. It was 1967. I was 17, pregnant and unwed. My mother was horrified when she learnt of my pregnancy. Her answer to ‘my little problem’ as she called it, was to pack me off to New Zealand to stay with her sister, Marjorie until the baby was born. So as none of her precious friends would be aware her daughter was ‘a fallen woman’ my baby was to be adopted out before I returned to England. The matter would never be spoken of again.

Furthermore, I was not to have any further contact with my boyfriend, Gerry. I explained we were deeply in love and wanted to marry as soon as possible, but she was having none of it. As far as she was concerned he was not a suitable husband for her only daughter. He was, in her eyes, from a lower class family. “I’m not having my daughter married to the son of a common miner and a cleaner,” she spat, “and look where they live; a rented terrace house for goodness sake.” My father on the other hand was a senior partner in a prestigious legal firm and we lived in a large detached house on the edge of the village.

Gerry was a carpenter; we first met when he came to our house to do some renovation work. Mother never liked him from the moment she first set eyes on him because he had long hair and he rode a motor bike. For me it was love at first sight. I thought he was so handsome. He had such lovely dark eyes and I loved the sexy way his faced crinkled every time he smiled, which was often as he was a born comic.

My father, who was more liberal minded than my mother, tried to intervene when he learned of her plan to send me to New Zealand. “I think you’re being a bit harsh on the girl,” he said, “there’s more than enough room here for the little one when it’s born.”

My mother set her lips in a straight line. “It’s in times of crisis, such as this, we need to stick together,” she said. “She’s going to Marjorie’s and that the end of it.”

Gerry and I met with hostility which ever way we turned. We appealed to his parents to try and persuade mine to let us marry.

“You’re not right for each other. Stick to our own class son and you’ll have a happier life,” his father advised.

His mother was more forthright. She looked at me with contempt and spat, “Your Mam thinks she’s so much better than anybody else. I’ll ask her for nothing, much less to let you marry my son,” she thought for a moment, then added, “but if I meet up with her, I’ll take great delight in reminding her, it’s her daughter who has brought disgrace on her family, whereas none of my girls had a bun in the oven before they wed.”

Shortly after that conversation I was bundled off to New Zealand.

Aunt Marjorie had met her husband, Graham when he was in Britain during the war. As soon as it ended, they married and settled on a sheep farm in New Zealand. They had no children. I had never met either of them until the day they came to meet me in Auckland. Aunt Marjorie proved to be a cold austere woman who let her disapproval of my pregnancy be known from the outset. “The only reason I’ve agreed to take you in, you young hussy”, she said, “is because you’re family, but you’ll earn your keep while you are here, you can be sure of that”

Earn my keep I did. No matter what the weather, how my back ached or how tired I became I was made to toil on the farm.

Uncle Graham was an easy going type of man who never had much to offer to any conversation. Our relationship as we worked side by side on the farm became one of a companionable silence. Although on one occasion he ventured to assure me, when one door closed another opened.

As Aunt Marjorie didn’t want to have to face the embarrassment of explaining who I was to friends or neighbours, the only time I left the property was for my monthly trip to the doctor’s.

I wrote to my parents begging them to fetch me home, but never received a reply. I wrote to Gerry, and received a reply from his mother saying she had destroyed my letter and she would do the same to any others that arrived. She advised me not to write again.

With the approach of Christmas the days became warmer and an incessant wind began to blow from the North West. Although the radio played carols and the rural mail driver brought a few cards, it felt little like Christmas. At home Christmas was a magical time full of happiness and joy. The house was adorned with streamers, mistletoe and holly and a large Christmas tree, which I always took great delight in helping my mother decorate, took centre stage in the lounge. Throughout December presents for the various family members who were to have Christmas dinner with us, would begin to pile up around the base of it. I was not allowed to touch them, but I would walk around and around the tree trying to guess which ones were for me. “Stop worrying,” my father would say, “wishes always come true at Christmas.” And he was right every year without fail I received whatever I wished for.

How my life had changed. This year no amount of wishing could possibly improve my situation.
Shortly before dawn on Christmas Eve, I went into labour. Aunt Marjorie phoned a taxi and sent me to the hospital. “Let me know when it's over,” she said.

My daughter was born on Christmas morning. I named her Holly Noël. The moment I looked at her I vowed we’d never be parted. After all, I reasoned, widows weren’t forced to give their children away. They managed somehow and so would I. Perhaps I could get a live-in housekeeping job or I could earn money caring for other children while their mothers worked. My reverie was interrupted by a nurse who announced I had a visitor. It could only be Aunt Marjorie and I was in no mood to face her, so I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep.

“Pretending to be asleep won’t get rid of me,” said a male voice.

Surely, Uncle Graham hadn’t come to visit me, I thought. I opened my eyes. My heart started to race. For a moment I thought I was hallucinating. I managed to stammer, “Gerry, what are you doing here?”

“You didn’t think I would leave my best girl – no,” he said looking at the bassinet beside my bed, “my two best girls alone at Christmas. What’s more,” he went on, “you will never be alone again. I finally managed to persuade your father to tell me where you were and I want us to stay in New Zealand to build a life together.”

I knew then my father was right, wishes really do always come true at Christmas.

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