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Christmas Tree 1923spacer
Christmas 1923

The hustle and bustle of preparing mince pies and all the delicious goodies associated with Christmas was over. It was Christmas Eve. The boys, helped by their father had dragged a huge Christmas tree into the house; pine needles scattered everywhere. After a lengthy struggle and much gleeful squealing, the tree now stood upright just outside the veranda. Beatrice, her mother, father and four brothers gathered around to hang the decorations. Baby Michael was asleep in his cot nearby.

Beatrice wandered over to gaze at him. Wistfully she said, ‘Can I have a sister next time?’

‘Perhaps if you keep saying your prayers,’ replied her mother as she looked upwards and made the sign of the cross.

Many years later Beatrice discovered that her brother Basil had been a twin. She was told that her mother had naturally aborted a baby girl early in pregnancy, only to find a few weeks later that she was still carrying a child. Basil weighed ten pounds when he was born.

Still pensive, Beatrice wandered back to the tree as the decorating began. A mountain of sparkling baubles was soon reduced to nothing as the tree came alive with colour, each branch now heavily laden. The children were each given a packet of tinsel to drape over the lower branches. Finally Beatrice was awarded the privilege of placing a large gold star on top. She positioned it perfectly and as she carefully backed down the step ladder, she called to her brothers in her most prim voice, ‘I don’t expect you could manage that.’

But her words were wasted. Now bored with the tree, the brothers had turned their attention to the veranda where their father was hanging the biggest cracker they had ever seen. They watched in wonderment. The cracker seemed to get bigger each year.

‘Trixie, come see what we have done,’ Peter called.

With the tree decorated and the cracker in place, normality almost descended on the Mason household.

This year Beatrice was to accompany her parents to midnight mass. The boys were eventually put to bed by the ayah after receiving a stern warning from their father to behave.

It was only a short walk to the Catholic Church. Beatrice dressed smartly in her school uniform. Whether it was the service she enjoyed or simply the experience of staying out so late, she was not sure. She only knew she was going to savour every minute of this time alone with her parents. She could tell they were very proud of her from the way she was introduced to other grownups. It was a perfect evening.

The scene that met them as they re-entered the house was one of devastation. ‘I am so very sorry memsahib. These boys do not behave. I try to make them stay in bed but they take no notice.’ Beatrice watched her mother stiffen to this address. The tearful ayah was covered from head to toe in silver tinsel that had been ripped off the tree. Fortunately most of the baubles were still hanging in position albeit precariously on the highest branches. But those low down now sadly lay smashed to smithereens. Only the star still shone brightly, untouched, high above the havoc wreaked by the four holy terrors.

For a moment Beatrice felt quite smug and grown up. Thank goodness there were no boys at her school, she thought. They always seem to cause trouble. Her haughty smile was soon replaced. She could taste blood on her lips as she watched her father take off his belt and lead the boys to their bedroom. But because it was now Christmas day, no squeals of distress were heard. Her unruly brothers had been let off with a warning. Her tongue flicked over her lips as her eyes lit up once more.

camera Click here to view a picture of
Dada (Mason) Mum's dad

Silence soon descended on the house as everyone went to bed, but just a few hours later it burst into life as the family opened their presents. The Indian contractors who worked for Beatrice father called to present Dali’s to the family. This was an old custom that Beatrice enjoyed more each year. The Dali’s were flat tinsel bedecked baskets of gilded Indian sweets, fruit, nuts and flowers. Occasionally a toy or a jewelled trinket for one of the children would be hidden under the fruit. Sometimes the toy was an ugly doll, so ugly that Beatrice was not too disappointed that her mother never allowed dolls in the house. Later in the day, her father would share the contents of the Dali’s with the servants.

Christmas lunch was a grand feast, consisting of turkey, venison or wild boar, caught by her father; served with mixed vegetables, potatoes, cauliflower, and carrots and followed by home made Christmas pudding.

‘Look, I’ve got the silver sixpence,’ shrieked Basil as he picked at his pudding. He didn’t like the rummy taste. The others all groaned, as the sixpence was considered the jewel of the hidden silver trinkets. But they were soon pacified as the cracker pulling began. Pencils, scissors, bracelets, hats, mottos, so much spilled onto the dining table.

Later, after a game of charades, the boys’ favourite game began – break the giant cracker. Each child was given a stick with which to beat the enormous object that only yesterday had been so carefully placed on the veranda. Whoever made the critical blow that split the cracker open, was declared the winner and was awarded the job of handing out the presents that spilled onto the floor. Beatrice did not know what the cracker was made of; she only knew she had never been the one to administer the final blow; today Bill was the winner. Basil started to cry.

As evening arrived, visitors started to arrive for cocktails, nibbles and the wonderful milk punch. Soon the children were taken to bed by the ayah, Basil and Michael first, followed by John, Peter and Bill then finally Beatrice, who took herself to bed.

camera Click here to view a picture of
Dada Mason with Bill Peter and John

Everything about Christmas was exciting. Beatrice relished every moment. She soon learned how quickly time flies when you are enjoying yourself.

She also learned to always to accept the inevitable. And fortunately she had outgrown her sicky lumps.

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The Story of Beatrice Mary Mason. Written by F. J. Louis | Copyright © 2009