an old-fashioned name, from another time
formal and proper – an old aunt
It is. And was.
My father’s sister
the last of the women who never went to church
without hat and gloves.
She had no children
disciplined in thought, appearance and diet,
she would have declined the Garden of Eden apple.
she requested of my mother
ideas for children’s Christmas treats
all suggestions were thought ….. “ not very special
something they like – just for Christmas.”
Soft drinks said my mother
phosphorescent sparkle of sugar and colour
yet to be a commodity
more than expensive – extravagant
dreamed of by five children
between Boxing Day and New Year
every night, one per night
every year of childhood.
Only at Christmas,
only from Olwyn.
He began the story, then paused
saying he definitely wasn’t the oldest,
He couldn’t say he was the kindliest either,
he would like to,
but the truth was
he was actually the slowest –
the slowest to pass the buck,
the slowest to find an excuse, or reason not to.
So, there he was,
decked out in whiskers and a red suit,
in the hottest part of the country,
at almost the hottest time of the year,
being Santa at the children’s Christmas party,
handing out sweets and gifts,
listening to wishes of train sets and Barbie dolls.
He thought he’d made a pretty good fist of it
until the job report came in
one kid told his parents,
Father Christmas sounded just like John Hayward –
“ when he was being stupid.”
Everybody called him Jack
or to distinguish the Jack’s in the pack – Jack O’Neill,
Reverend and commissioned officer, US Naval Reserve.
I only once heard him called Fr O’Neill,
self-described, when preaching a sermon.
He seemed to know about temptation,
its co-dependence on opportunity
and always gave a good sermon.
But this was the best –
at midnight Mass
in broad daylight: Antarctica, mid-1980’s.
He made the expected quip
telling folks back home he’d celebrated midnight Mass –
“ I’m supposed to speak about Christmas
how it endures through the years
I’m gonna to speak about Christmas last year.”
He had been asked to lend hand at a nearby parish
a knockabout area with a flickering congregation
steady throughout the year
congested at Easter, road block at Christmas
could he? “ Sure.”
The local priest introduced him
then gave an update,
on a local family,
the mother ill, in hospital.
The father worked long, low paid hours
the women of the parish had organised meals and after-school care.
One noted the absence of Christmas presents
so …… gifts had been arranged
another … there were no holiday plans
so … money had been raised.
He thanked their efforts
and was hopeful they might end in mid February
“ and now Fr O’Neill will tell you about Christmas.”