A Burning Xmas Tree and Lessons Half Learned

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You may remember the bet that had been so solemnly taken on my birthday, way back on the 19th April, well I won and on the 19th December I was called into the lounge where I was handed the thirty Rand by my father. We then we went outside and ceremoniously burned the offending scrap of blanket. 

That was the only year that we went shopping before the twenty-fourth and also the only year that we did not have a live Christmas tree. My mother took Karen and I to OK Bazaars in Eloff Street so that I was able to do my own shopping for presents for my family. I cannot recall what I decided to buy each member, but I do remember that OK Bazaars had a sale on white artificial Xmas trees and I remember insisting that we have a “normal” tree for once. Normal, being like everyone else. 

So I bought the largest tree that they had, including flashing Xmas lights and was immensely pleased with myself until my father heard about it, of course. He erupted in a manner I believe Mount Vesuvius would have been impressed by. Somehow my mother managed a compromise with my father. The artificial tree would be used but the traditional decorations including wax candles would be used to dress the tree, and so it was. We were not taken that year to help choose the presents as we had already been shopping with my mother and I believe because I was being punished for buying the fake tree. 

The rest of Christmas was the usual ritual until the opening of the presents. We were gathered around the glittering tree as I was opening my first present of the evening, a Scalelectrix set that my parents had given to me. That is what happens when the youngest hands out the gifts the larger ones first and the smaller ones last, when the tree caught fire. 

I suppose my parents should have known what would happen if candles were brought into contact with a tree made of nylon strands, but the next thing, not only the tree was going up in smoke but the lounge curtains were also bedecked with tongues of flame. As we did not possess a fire extinguisher, and the nearest water was the garden hose attached to the tap just outside the front door, the garden hose was the weapon of choice against the flames. It was duly rushed into the lounge and the curtains and furniture were hosed down to prevent the spread of the fire. Once the fire was extinguished it seems strange that we carried on opening the presents as if nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. No recriminations at all. As they say “The band continued playing and the ship slowly slipped beneath the waves”. 

That wonderful present that I was busy opening was a scaled down version of racing cars with an electric track. I only played with it once and that was on Christmas day. After that my father sort of commandeered the set and he, with his friends, played with it non-stop on many an evening. 

I destroyed it about six months later. I am not sure if out of spite, or ignorance, you see as it had to be plugged into a mains socket I was not allowed to set it up, also I was not allowed into the lounge without adult supervision. As it was theoretically my present it was stored at the top of my bedroom closet. One bright sunny day I took it down and assembled it outside on the lawn and pushed my Matchbox cars along the black track. I must have eventually become bored and moved on to some other game, but nonetheless the heat of the sun warped the track that was designed to be used indoors. I was sent to my room for two days without food as punishment. 

I look back on that year with a feeling of disquiet. Obviously my parent’s marriage was in some sort of trouble, not that I realised it then, I had learned about hate and prejudice as well as that certain people are not to be trusted. I was fortunate though; my age of innocence had not as yet come to an end; that was to happen sooner than it should and to make it worse by a member of my family. It would seem that I had not learned the lesson of not trusting certain people well enough to save my sister and myself.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

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