Well, here we are at Scrooge Startling Day, hopefully all glowing with the anticipation of a happy tomorrow spent in the bosom of a family of however much extension one can manage. I certainly am; for the past ten years, there have been three generations at my parent’s place, and for the past seven the same has been true at my in-laws, and we are as non-strife-seeking a pair of families as can well be imagined.
This year, there is a confusion in our plans, because in an act of what should be unnecessary charity, we will be bringing an outsider into the proceedings at both grand-parental abodes. It’s the sort of thing that ought to get Dickens’s various haunts stirring their stumps, too, because the reason we are doing this is rather scandalous.
Our friend has had what I can only call a dismal year. The financial problems which I occasionally touch on in my own case are the proverbial copes of lead in her case. Single, she is not eligible for any of the provincial low income supplement programs; these are limited to low income families (I’ll mention that I am technically able to apply for at least one of these, but due to the gross household income being enough the adults present to be above the poverty line, it would be about $30/month at a cost of many hours/month of dealing with bureaucracy; it’s not exactly an open-handed set of programs). She is working several part-time jobs in keeping with the current notions of employment, the combined income of which almost covers her rent… in a good month. Because of the increased workload at the one retail job she has, the main and most regular employment, she finds her hours cut to a maximum of two hours per week, to make room for a load of temporary minimum-wage workers– rise up, o rise, you Dickensian spectres!
We add to this litany of financial woe her mother tipping into full dementia. This landed her in a public care home (the lickpenny provincial government has not quite unwound the socialist works of the 1950s through 1970s so far as to do away with these institutions), where she may if in a state of relative coherence receive brief visits. Thus, the friend’s traditional Christmas of spending the day with mom becomes impossible. Her father, long estranged from mom, and his family live about 2,500 kilometres away, a distance she cannot pay to travel even if she were disinclined to spend whatever of tomorrow as she can with mom.
The most deeply scandalous element of this: there is other family here, diverse maternal aunts and uncles and their progeny. Many of these people have money in excess of basic need, and a couple we might even call well-off. They have decided to get together for Christmas… elsewhere. Only a few hours drive away. Friend was not invited. I don’t know, and can’t gather the heart to ask, whether this is a stems from her being born as the result of a fling and never legitimized, if it’s just because she’s from the poor wing of the family and we don’t want their kind at our quasi-posh gathering, or if it is down to her father being black and they not. I suppose one could imagine a smorgasbord of -isms at work and allow all of the above reasons to have some influence in the affair, life being the rich tapestry that it is. She can’t just turn up where they are and see if they stand by the exclusion, because she’s too poor to have a car; this would otherwise be what I would urge, because then they’d have to actively tell her to go away rather than just passively neglect her, and that might actually activate some consciences.
Thus, my own Christmas travels grow some curlicues, which I italicize in this roster of waypoints:
- Take wife and son to her parents’ house;
- After collecting friend;
- Enjoy a morning at the in-laws (an unironic phrase);
- Deposit friend at the care home;
- Enjoy afternoon at my parents’ place;
- Then collect friend from care home, unless her visit extends beyond…;
- The devouring of the traditional Christmas Roast Beast;
- Which would then see friend collected to be fed left-overs;
- …and home for my merry little family to settle gifts in the house* and loll in post-prandial torpor;
- …possibly with friend who would then need to be taken home later.
The selfish brute in me grumbles at the inconvenience of all this to-and-fro. However, I quell that beast with a mental image of friend stuck in her over-priced apartment, casting glances alternately at the snowy terrain beyond the window, a picture of her and mom in a better time, and the cat toys she hasn’t cleared away after the death of her pet at the end of spring (a hard year indeed). If she didn’t get suicidal from that, I would from imagining it, and my parents’ new digs offer a fifteenth floor balcony as a temptation to the despondent.
Grim jesting aside, how could one avoid the torments of the Spirit of Christmas Past for all the years to come if one left someone in a lurch like that? Whatever one’s faith, this season is about enhancing the quantum of joy and human fellowship, and happily all the families involved agree with this sentiment*. So, as you sit down to your own Christmas dinner, be it Roast Beast or Who Hash, spare a moment of reflection about your power to enhance the lives of others. It is, really, the whole point of being here.
Now, if that hasn’t put you in too blue a mood, and you’re interested in the old English tradition of being gently frightened at Christmas**, here’s Annie Lennox out caroling:
…and to finish with a grin– the same tune, slightly altered.
Today’s pen: Parker 75 (I indulge myself– tomorrow it’s the OMAS Arte Italiana)
Today’s ink: Quink Black (to balance the indulgence)
* My father, who as I have mentioned before spent his formative years in an only intermittently exciting zone of one of the most destructive wars in the whole of history, suggested about a month ago that money that might be spent on adult gifts be given instead to the organizations smoothing the arrival of Syrian refugees in this country. Gifts for the kids remain, because their lives are among the ones we all mean to enhance, but we are carrying the principle of mankind as our business unusually far this year.
** In a similar vein– here’s the latest on the fiction side of things, that wee flash I mentioned a couple of progress reports back.