These pages are a collection of stories from the Writer's Group at Box Hill U3A.
The day was starting later now, with the kids more or less grown up and out all hours, doing God knows what.
Edie had brought him his usual cuppa and a mince pie to keep the wolf from the door. Really it was to keep him out of her way while she got the copper going for the pud. She was a stubborn old tart. Only the copper would do for the pudding. Never mind that she got herself in a sweat in the old wash-house that he'd wanted to pull down when they got the new washing machine. Nevermind that he had to chop enough wood and kindling to keep the bloody thing going.
"It keeps the steam outa the kitchen." she'd say. Well, that was true enough. Instead the kitchen held the dry heat from the oven working overtime on the turkey and the spuds and all. And God help anyone who dared to dip a finger in the custard, curdling in Gran's best jug on the sideboard, covered with the beaded jug cover that the old bat was supposed to have crocheted on her honeymoon. If that was all she did on her honeymoon it was a wonder that they'd had a kid at all. He cackled quietly. His Edie was a good sort. Thank God she didn't take after her mother. And on that happy thought, he turned over, broke wind and went back to sleep.
Edie had everything under control. Stan was out of the way in bed. The copper was nearly ready for the pud and the kids were still sleeping off whatever they'd got stuck into last night. The top of the stove was loaded with saucepans of spuds and pumpkin and peas and beans. Inside the labouring fridge the turkey was stuffed and ready for action. She poured herself a cup of strong stewed tea and went into the lounge for a bit of a sit and a look at the Christmas tree.
"Shut that bloody door." Edie's cup leapt in a graceful arc, the tea trailing behind like the tail on a comet till it landed on the floral Axminster. The house stirred to life, like a farmyard after first cock crow. Voices rose from bedroom and sleep-out, a rising hubbub varying from the subdued roar of Stan the man, to adolescent giggles and stifled snorts from the offspring.
"Who said that?" Stan stood in the doorway wearing his concession to Christmas morning, the honeymoon terry towel shaving jacket now stretched to its limits in both strength and life expectancy.
"Not me." replied Edie crossly, mopping the tea up with her apron. Stan surveyed the room and finding no explanation turned and headed for the twins' sleepout. That was where he usually found the family problems originated. And today he was again on target. As he moved down the hall the voice shrieked, "And get that bloody hair cut."
Edie scuttled back to the kitchen. Nothing, especially anything the twins stirred up was going to ruin her day and her Christmas dinner. She hurried out to the wash house to stoke the fire.
A subdued roar (Stan), plaintive noises (the twins) and a maniacal cackle (unknown) brought the house to full alert. "But Dad, he was a bargain and we thought we'd get you something interesting for Christmas." She heard the twins in their usual tandem. When Stan was on the warpath they were united, at other times, chalk and cheese.
Stan re-appeared in the kitchen doorway.
"It's a parrot. It's a bloody parrot they got lumbered with last night and they've got the cheek to tell me it's me Christmas present."
"I can't worry about that now Stan. I've got too much to do. Call the girls. They've got to set the table." Edie wasn't going to be distracted by a parrot at this stage of the day.
Mumbling indecipherable obscenities, Stan shuffled down the hall, duly thumping on the girls' door and continued on to the bathroom. Maybe a shave would restore his good humour.
"Shut that bloody door", pierced the fibro walls. Stan obliged.
Now, closer to kick-off, everything was under control. Stan was sitting on the veranda with a tinny, keeping an eye out for Uncle Ned and Auntie Peg, a Christmas institution. The twins had gone in next door to checkout presents with the Johnson kids and the girls were trying out the make-up they'd given each other.
Mind you, there'd been a hiccough mid-morning when Stan overheard Angela telling Edie that she couldn't find the dress she'd worn last night. He calmed down when assured that the dress was only a small part of the layered look which Angie was currently favouring. Luckily he didn't hear Edie whisper to Angie to check out the back of the boyfriend's car.
"Mum, how would you know?" and Edie giggled,
"Do you think your father and I went to the drive-in to look at the pictures?"
Ned and Peg chose that moment to appear so Edie was saved by the bell, literally, as Ned, an Edinburgh tattoo man, always liked to beat out a little " Dump diddlee ah dah, dum dum."
The cooking was reaching the required crescendo and Joycie was dispatched to summon the twins from next door.
In time honoured fashion she stuck her head out the back door and screeched,
"Twins, you gotta come home."
"Shut that bloody door." She'd woken the parrot.
"Christ! What was that?" said Ned.
"Would you believe me Christmas present from the boys."
"Never mind that now," snapped Edie "we're ready to go."
This year Edie had decided that everyone would queue past the counter and help themselves. The girls hopped in first as they knew Auntie Peg would hold back in a genteel way not wishing to appear greedy, although the amount ladled on her plate gave the lie to her annual protest, that she had the appetite of a bird. The twins reckoned the bird in question had to be a pelican. Privately, Stan favoured a vulture.
Peg began to dish up two plates. A former waitress, she took great pride in the fact that she could hold two dinner plates in one hand. Edie said,
"Peg, let Ned dish up his own dinner. Just you worry about your own."
"No dear, I can manage perfectly well. I used to be a waitress you know, and besides, I know what Ned likes."
The slam of the back door heralded the arrival of the twins.
"G'day Auntie. Happy Christmas." they chorused. Peg looked up. The plates went down, landing with a crash on the floor splattering her stockings and new white courts. " My God, what have you done to yourself?" "Yes," came the grim voice of their father, "What have you done to yourself?"
Terry, the baby-faced beanpole and Peg's favourite, had been converted into a black leather-clad punk, sporting an assortment of lavatory chains, padlocks, studs and nails. His long blonde hair had been shaved, giving a whole new meaning to short back and sides.
"It's just a bit of fun Dad. If you think I look odd you should see the Johnson kids."
An anguished scream from next door added veracity to this statement. And to cap it all, Stan's Christmas present disturbed by the excitement shouted once more, "Get that bloody hair cut." And Stan replied,
"He bloody has."
Eventually, mayhem was replaced with calm and an uneasy truce between father and son. Peg was placated and restored by some careful sponging by Edie, and a loaded plate, a bit of role reversal, served with TLC by Ned. Stan provided strong spiritual support with gin squashes and soon the normal Christmas clashing of cutlery, the snap of crackers and groans and laughter of the terrible jokes in the latter restored law and order, if not peace and goodwill.
The pudding was magnificent as per usual and Edie glowed with pride and sweat. Another good one chalked up.
Later, Ned and Peg had been packed into a taxi, Peg singing "We'll meet again..." another Christmas institution.
Terry had promised Stan that he'd start growing his hair.
"First thing in the morning, Dad." No-one stayed cross with Terry. The dishes were done. The gift wrapping scrunched up in the laundry basket. And now he and Edie were flaked out side by side on the couch drowsing, whilst "Miracle On 34th Street" flickered soundlessly on the tele.
A cajoling voice whispered,
"Give us a kiss." Stan puckered and turned. Edie was fast asleep. Puzzled, he looked around. A beady eye winked at him. That bloody parrot.