Around this time of year I always think back over my various family Christmases during the years. It was especially moving to see a recent programme on TV about Christmas in past decades - starting with the very austere wartime years of the 1940s and moving on through the 1950s and 60s of my childhood and youth. I have to say, the homes featured in those two parts of the documentary were a lot more upmarket than I, or any of my friends, lived in during those decades! But otherwise they were reasonably accurate and it made me feel quite nostalgic about the 'old days' when we were content without just one or two presents, and when almost everyone I knew went to church at Christmas. Most people didn't overeat or drink to excess, even at Christmas. There really wasn't the money to spare. No TV, no phones, no internet: the family played board games. But that doesn't mean it was perfect, of course - life never is.
There are some lovely Christmases among my memories. The one in 1966, for instance, when I'd just met a new boyfriend at a Christmas dance, had a date with him on Christmas Eve and was wondering whether it was going to last. Four years later we were married and next year it will be 50 years since that meeting. Then there was the first Christmas, in 1975, with our first baby girl, 5 months old when we celebrated Christmas as a little family of our own at last. A year later she was a chatty little toddler and I was about to give birth to her sister, born on 29 December. And another two years on, our third daughter was born on Boxing Day. There were Christmases when my brother and his family were home from Australia, another one when we'd just moved to a bigger family home on 20 December, and recent lovely Christmases with our grandchildren - now six of them - all in the perfect age group for Christmas, still believing in Santa Claus, eyes still wide with the wonder and excitement of it all. And then, of course, there were the ones clouded by not-such-good memories.
Well, we all have them, don't we? Christmas arguments - like most families, we've had a few. And Christmases at sad times, particularly the one that came only a month or so after we lost my dad at the age of just 61. I felt guilty for even trying to enjoy myself, but Mum put on a brave face throughout, bless her. I missed her terribly the first year she wasn't with us either. There were Christmases when it snowed. One when the boiler broke down. One when the cooker died on me, halfway through cooking the turkey. One when I forgot to buy the vegetables. And several when somebody was ill. That would often be tonsillitis with one of the children when they were young, or chest infections, or the all-too-seasonal colds and tummy bugs. But the worst was six years ago when our middle daughter was rushed into hospital.
She'd had major abdominal surgery some years earlier, and that Christmas morning when her problems recurred, her baby boy, our first grandchild, was three months old and we were all looking forward to his first Christmas with us. The rest of the family was gathered at our house, and then came the phone call from my son-in-law. Our daughter was in terrible pain and being very sick. He'd phoned the hospital and needed to take her straight there. Could we possibly come over and collect the baby?
I was so frightened as we drove the 20 miles to their home, I couldn't even speak. It was awful to see my lovely girl in such a bad way. Our son-in-law carried her out to his car and sped off to the hospital, leaving us to take charge of baby Noah. I was pretty sure our daughter would need further surgery, and suddenly Christmas had completely lost its importance as I tried to face the rest of the family without collapsing in tears. We ate the dinner which other family members had finished preparing in our absence, unwrapped presents, played with the baby, constantly wondering what was happening at the hospital. Finally, our son-in-law called, relief evident in his voice. A wonderful doctor had apparently given her a massive anti-inflammatory injection, to be followed by oral anti-inflammatories, and had told them that this was the correct way to deal quickly with her condition rather than leaving it (as had happened that first time, at a different hospital) for days, to escalate to such a life-threatening stage that drastic surgery had been the only option. She was now exhausted but OK, and they were on their way!
Her recovery took time. She spent Christmas Day lying on our sofa, and had little more than soup. But thanks to that doctor's approach, surgery had been avoided and, thank God, has not been needed since. As I've already mentioned, we've had other hiccups at Christmases since, but as a mother I don't think anything could ever match that one for scariness. So having spent a large part of this year going on and on (as we authors do) about my book 'The Cat Who Saved Christmas,' I'd now like to dedicate this blog post to that unknown hospital doctor who, for our family on one special Christmas Day, was 'The Doctor Who Saved Christmas.' Maybe we'll raise a glass or two to him this year! And may all your Christmases be happy and healthy ones.