As on this Christmas Day I sit in my own garden on the cool and kindly hills, with the grateful, soothing greens of lawn and forest below and about, come memories of other Christmas seasons in other and less favored climes.
It is a day for dreams. As moving pictures sometimes come and go upon the screen, so come and go brief recollections of those olden scenes.
Christmas eve in the far north, beyond the line of rainfall, in a drought year.
The little town, its houses built of heat-retaining stone and with iron roofs, has baked for a week in a fierce, dry heat, with the mercury each day rising to well above a hundred. To each verandah post of the business places, a quondong tree has been tied; but they are fading and scattering a litter of dry needles about the pathways. Before the door of the chief "hotel" two Chinese lanterns have been hung in a valiant attempt to achieve a festive atmosphere. Down the main street comes towards us the local butcher, passing from black shadows into shimmering sunlight, carrying in his arms what, in the distance, appears to be the body of a naked child. From sun to shadow he steps, from shadow to sun, languid but purposeful.
"A Merry Christmas, boss," he says, and places his burden in my father's arms.
It is the first time I have seen a tender, young suckling pig, dressed and garnished. But ever since that far day suckling pig is for me the ideal Christmas fare.
Christmas day on the Barrier, in Argent Street, Broken Hill.
It was "Big Pay" night three days ago, and the miners are still flush and free. Oblivious to Yuletide rest, the early day-shift has gone on; but the night-shift, coming off at eight a.m., declines to go to bed, as usual.
Some fortified with breakfast, some not, they hang about the main street with its all too frequent pubs.
A sudden darkness envelops the whole town at mid-morning, as a dust storm comes upon it out of the salt-bush plain.
A friend and I had been out for a short walk, and we make our way back to my hotel by feeling along the shop fronts.
In the billiard room, the electric table lights are each but a faint glimmer in the pervading gloom. In the saloon bar adjoining, the barmaids strike matches to examine the bottle labels -- for friend still drinks with friend, though faces are mere white blurs in the murk that no light can penetrate for more than a foot.
"Merry Christmas!" they shout, washing down the dust. The dust-storm is followed by a brief, healing shower, and my friend and I venture forth again for a gulp of fresher air. We stroll through the town and beyond toward the pinnacles.
Everywhere about us is red sand and grey saltbush: but no tree, no flower, nor any green thing. We stroll back tired, to dine at the hotel that evening. On the menu is roast suckling pig.
My Christmas is complete.
And so I recall other Christmases in other places -- but always in dry, burnt, sunbaked places, in plains and sea-shores devoid of any touch of relieving green. But always, and inevitably there is suckling pig; and I am content.
Today, I sit with green all about me -- the green and pink and red of burning roses on the fence, the tender green of fresh-clipped grass, the denser green of wattle and of gum.
It is a green world and a gay world -- a world to make men glad. But I look forward almost with indifference to dinner this evening. Even the garden offers poor consolation.
This year suckling pig was unobtainable in this district.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002|