As a young child, I remember the peace and happiness I felt while growing up in the Caribbean on a small island called Trinidad.
I was born there in 1977 and spent all of my childhood years there until the age of thirteen, which as any teenager would profess to, is no longer considered childhood.
My parents were still married during that time in my life and were, as far as I could see through my childhood eyes, happy.
I later realized that my idyllic sugar and plum vision of life at that age was probably as far off as any child could get from reality. I’ve decided that this was probably the result of my parents constant efforts to ensure the annoyances and arguments of a doomed marriage wouldn’t encroach on the lives of my brothers and I until absolutely necessary, although I’m sure my older brother would disagree…being more in touch with reality than I at that point. My younger brother, only six when it ended, was oblivious.
Some of the most favorite memories of my life in Trinidad have to do with Christmas.
As I sit here reminiscing, I can almost taste a most wonderful drink called sorrel that always flowed in abundance at Christmastime and New Years. It’s like a sweet, spiced iced tea, for lack of a better description. The juice is drawn from the red sepals of the Roselle plant which is commonly called sorrel in the Caribbean, and the taste is divine.
That and rum cake are the drink and food I associate with happiness. Though I suppose, in retrospect, the rum itself may have had something to do with that.
One of the two places I think about most fondly at Christmastime is my grandmothers house with her huge, beautiful Christmas tree, and all of our cousins, uncles and aunts together and happy.
We, the children, were usually shooed outside to run and play barefoot in the yard, participating gleefully in games of hide and seek and hopscotch, or simply losing ourselves in the enormous garden, imagining we were royalty of the most important sort.
Snow, of course, was this mystical thing from another world, and freezing was impossible to understand since the coldest it ever got there was first thing in the morning when it might just be considered chilly enough to wear a light sweater, but not usually. I remember asking my aunt once if she could bring some snow when she came to visit from Canada. Needless to say, I was sorely disappointed.
The second place I remember with a smile was our house at 215 Aqui Phillip street in Gopaul Lands. Our tree in the living room stood proudly in front of a huge sliding glass window, with beautifully wrapped presents spilling out from under it, threatening to take over at least a quarter of the large room if given even the slightest opportunity by my overzealous parents.
What stands out in memory most though, is the white plastic garland my parents hung year after year around the top of the room, its tiny plastic gifts tied with ribbon, as if meant for tiny fairies. As each year goes by in Canada, I find myself hunting store after store for its twin, hoping deep down that finding it will somehow bring back one of those wonderful, magical Christmas’s of my childhood.
Even though my father still lives in Trinidad, I doubt he’s kept it, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why I’ve never asked. Maybe I’m scared that he did, and upon receiving it, will find that it is not magical at all and just another piece of old plastic. I’m not ready for a revelation of that magnitude, so I will continue to hunt for it here in Canada, both hoping and dreading the day I find it.
Trinidadian Christmas music is another thing that brings those memories cascading back. It’s called Parang, which is a latin kind of music that was always played at our house and danced to by young and old alike in typical Trini fashion with the gyrating of hips and an alcoholic drink in one hand. Obviously in the case of the young ones, that drink was normally a coke pretending to be rum.
These Christmas’s of course, were back when I truly believed Santa to be a real life overgrown elf parading his selflessness all over the island. This belief, I’m happy to report, lasted until my eleventh year, though I must admit I had my doubts at ten.
As I’m sure those of you who follow the Christmas tradition remember, those Christmas’s before the “Truth” caused our magical world to crumble, were the most amazing of days, filled with such pure happiness and awe that nothing could ever hope to compare to it.
After my eleventh year, I sadly realized that all of the magic, wonder and innocence of Christmas’s past would be no more. From that point on, it was just another holiday.
Oh how I long for just one more of those Christmas’s of my youth.
For now though, I must be content to relive them through the eyes of my children. This is not the same by any means, but it does fill my heart with happiness when I watch their little faces on Christmas morning as they peak timidly around the corner leading to the living room, hopeful that Santa — after gorging on too many cookies and glasses of milk — happened to fall asleep on the couch.
Those precious moments of innocence are too few, and end far too soon.
I am still hopeful that one day I might catch a glimpse of the magic of Christmas’s past. It maybe because of my own children, a close friend, or a future boyfriend. Maybe someday, somehow, someone will do something absolutely amazing, and I will find it again. If I do…I’ll be sure to hold on tight this time.
I’ll never stop hoping.
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