“Hello dear! Happy Christmas!”
“Happy Christmas Grans, are you ready?” I’d popped over to the sheltered accommodation where my grandma lived with some of her old cronies, to pick her up for Christmas dinner with the family.
It was going to be hectic, because my older siblings were coming over with their kids. The unwritten rule at these events was that I needed to be ‘Fun Uncle Bobby’ and keep the kids entertained until at least we sat down for lunch. The four of them would keep me busy and the challenge was always to keep things from getting too loud. There would be Christmas presents to open and play with – which had its pros and cons.
Picking up Grans was a blessedly peaceful interlude. Christmas Eve had been hectic, as always. Mum and Dad had long ago developed a timeline for jobs that needed to be done. It got tweaked in the run-up, depending on what was going on, but Mum always took us, and then more recently the grandchildren, to the Crib Service on Christmas Eve, which gave Dad, and these days me too, a clear run for getting the veg prepped. We’d make pigs in blankets and other trimmings, as well. Everything was lined up, ready to go. In recent years, given the extra people round the table, Dad had moved to turning the barbecue into an oven to cook the joint, so we’d get the fire laid and ready to go. Dad was a real arsonist when it came to the barbecue and you could always guarantee that it would light with a single match.
In the pod on the way back home, Grans and I chatted about her Bridge club, knitting circle, book club, and she asked me about my semester at uni. This had been the toughest so far, but everyone said to expect that with the second year.
When we got in, my first job was to make sure that Grans didn’t get mobbed by her great grandchildren. My nephews and nieces loved her to bits. My second was to make sure that she got ensconced in her favourite chair with a glass of sherry. The first was accomplished by telling them it was time to try out the new board game – another family tradition was to get a new board game at Christmas, and I always made sure I was au fait with the rules before it was officially opened on Christmas day. Clarrie, the eldest (and bossiest took charge by the simple expedient of holding the box above her head and walking through to the living room, trailing the other three like the tail of a comet. By the time Grans was safely in her chair, glass in easy reach, the board was set up and ready to go and Arwen, the second eldest, was deciding that Clarrie didn’t actually have any special insight afterall: with split second timing I was able to swoop and get the game started before a proper argument started.
Lunch was a noisy affair, of course. Afterwards, the children opened big presents from my Mum and Dad, a smaller present from me, and a card from Grans with the obligatory voucher. One of Grans stories that none of us really believed was that you used to get money made of paper, and coins, and that it was a common thing to get money from relatives to buy things for yourself.
And then Grans turned to me and handed me one too. “This is from all of us, dear. We’re very proud of you, you know, and you are so wonderful with the little ones.” I could see my elder sister biting her tongue; she clearly wanted to say something but didn’t want to step on Grans’ toes.
“You didn’t have to – ” I started to say, as I slit open the envelope, and then I noticed that everyone was watching me, even the kids. This wasn’t just going to be a book voucher then. Perhaps…no I really didn’t have a clue. You know when people talk about a jaw dropping open in astonishment? That was me. It was a voucher for a cup of coffee. And not just any cup of coffee, coffee at one of the premier Cafes. One of the really exclusive ones. I’d probably need to wear a suit to go and redeem this. I couldn’t begin to imagine how expensive this voucher had been.
When climate change wrecked the growing conditions for coffee, all the big coffee companies had switched to one of the half dozen or so coffee substitutes that had been the preserve of the kind of people who would be deemed eccentric for drinking roasted dandelion root, or yerba mate, for example. So you could still get your caffeine fix, or the experience of going to the coffee shop and getting something with steamed oatmilk or whatever, but real coffee had become so expensive that it was not something you drank regularly.
“Well say something then!” My mother exclaimed, breaking the silence.
I just looked at her, speechless. Grans laughed.
© David Jesson, 2019