“They’re here! They’re here!” the children chime as they race around to the back of the house. A Ute slowly comes to a dusty halt and the doors instantly fly open.
Barefooted children crowd around as the passengers slide out, some from along the back of the seat, others pop up from under the feet of the adult traveller. The air is filled with squawks of joy and short greetings of “what took you so long”, “we have been here for ages”, “we couldnt start until you got here”.
The new arrivals, impatient to join their cousins are ushered inside first to greet their grandparents and say hello to the aunts and uncles. They find their grandmother bustling in the kitchen keeping her daughters in law in line, making sure they carve the chicken correctly, slice the tomatoes thinly and put the right amount of carrot in the coleslaw. A cursory kiss on the cheek and out they fly onto the verandah that surrounds the front of the house.
The younger ones stop short at the ten foot real-live Christmas tree perched in the corner, scantily decorated with a few strands of tinsel, crepe paper and balloons, pine fronds sprinkling over the verandah as it barely copes with the searing heat and drying breeze. They glance at the few presents under the tree and titter at each other in excitement – they have been told Santa is making a visit a little later on.
The bigger cousins have already greeted Grandad with a hand-shake before racing over to the eskies and serving another round of beers to the uncles. They have kicked off the shoes and are lined up with the other hoard of cousins, ready to play tip or bull-rush.
Grandad and the uncles survey the chaos below from the verandah. There is a child for every year for at least the last fifteen years, sometimes more.
They charge barefoot around the lawn, a small bit of cooch grass that their grandmother has been trying to keep alive with water from the laundry and dish water just for today – you don’t waste good water on gardens. The surrounding garden is filled with tomato plants she has been lovingly tending to for tasty juicy tomatoes to feast on. Geraniums are the only other plants as they can survive with little water and attention. The cinnamon musty scent from these occasionally waft over the verandah as a ball or child lands in the bed, laying down the memory in those that are present.
The air is filled with shrieks and squeals, smattered with occasional deep sounds of laughter from the adults, the clatter of plates, clink of cutlery and slamming of the screen door as the Christmas meal is laid out on tables along the verandah. A balloon on the tree bursts and frightens one of the aunts, sending the children into choirs of mirth.
The bigger cousins watch the uncles, laying bets on which one will sneak off after the meal to dress up this year. They have been sworn to secrecy (and threatened with no presents) if they dare tell the younger ones the mystery.
As the last of the trifle and pavlova is scraped from the bowls and the aunts try to mop up the melted ice cream that rivers down the chins, arms and legs of the children a car horn sounds from out the back. The slight summer breeze carries the sounds of a bell and a ho-ho-ho into the front yard. It stops the children in their tracks.
Can it be?
There it is again. “Ho-ho-ho” “Merry Christmas” sounding in time with a clanging of the bell.
Grandads blue Chrysler ute slowly careens into the yard, a man dressed in red with a scruffy white beard riding in the back.
“He is here” “He is here”. The air is electric as the mass, young and old dance around the ute. A sniff of sheep dip, dust and sodden wheat grains from the ute float amongst the geranium fragrance and cement the memory firmly for years to come.
There is a present for everyone, the final for the day – priceless memories of family Christmas day on the farm.
While Grandad lights a smoke and helps himself to another serving of trifle, his wife relaxes with a wee drop of sherry. They survey the richness of life around them, their children and partners catching up with each other, grandchildren settling down for the night in makeshift beds along the open verandah.
There is no better place to be. Another year, another joyous Christmas to add to the memory box of the children.
Bellevue. The place where memories were made.