I remember the two old suitcases with metal clasps, made of burlap, which were kept from year to year in the closet that seemed so far away and that not even dust could reach.
The Christmas tree was placed in the corner of the room, covered with red and gold garlands and with many coloured bubbles. The glow reflected my dazzled smile. In the same corner stood the sacred figures that warmed baby Jesus, whom I lovingly caressed.
Now that I think about it, the night of the 23rd was the best of all. The kitchen was small and full of so many objects. It was filled even more with the women of the house. I just went in and out to eat the raw batter of the azevias and coscorões.
I remember the aprons, whose fabric was so worn that if I pulled the end of one of them, it would rip right then and there. I would love the moment, Grandma wouldn't. On the table covered with plastic that pretended to be natural wood, the dough bowls were grouped together, the white rolling pin with boiling water inside and flour scattered not only on the table but also all over the kitchen, making it look like a carnival scene.
In the kitchen, the end justified the chaos that the means represented. Auntie rolled out the dough and grimaced with pain in her arms, while she reinforced the shot of brandy in the dough. Grandmother Carmo was at the stove, frying those little pumpkin delicacies and complaining about her back. The deserts included papos de anjo, sweet vermicelli and rabanadas.
At that time, nothing was bought. The budget was controlled because the grandparents housed their nephews who came to Lisbon to study. Everything was done in abundance, to counteract the post-war periods when the grandparents went through hard times of hunger, plus the grandfather who would be taken care of by the village teacher.
The night of the 23rd always ended with the aunt arguing with grandma Carmo, or the other way round. They told each other they would never make all those desserts again. They both had a very bad temper, they said to each other. And I would run away to the living room laughing and look at the serene grandfather Luís , who would shrug his shoulders, and wink and smile.
In fact, I have no idea what good grandma used to cook for Christmas dinner, my focus was on deserts and the verbena tea that she used to make in the middle of the night, when we were still in the second round of the celebrations.
RTP showed the movie Sound of Music every afternoon, and I sang the songs of the Von Trap family. Even though I didn't understand English, I adapted them to my own personal language and was not ashamed of it. Shortly before the evening of the 24th, when the presents and desserts would come, my aunt and grandmother went back to the kitchen and I stayed in the living room doing Christmas plays, next to the tree. Dear grandpa Luís agreed to everything, lowered the television sound and shouted to the two adults, “silence, our little girl is going to do a play”. As he looked at me and interacted, his eyes were on the tv, which was actually what he truly wanted to watch. I knew that and pretended to believe that he loved my plays and felt the happiest child in the world.
I don't remember what gifts I received, only a bag full of warm pyjamas and socks. My grandmother and aunt thought I should be warmed up, thus avoided giving money to Mattel in the form of Barbies.
I have very fond memories of Christmas because I had everything I needed that evening. During all the years of my future life I could give up everyone else, but never grandpa Luís or grandma Carmo.
The last Christmas I spent with grandpa Luis, now without grandma, he no longer knew how to eat alone. It happened very unexpectedly. At the moment when we exchanged presents, my grandfather, who had always been excited by my joy, was now a body saying goodbye to the earth, slumbering without emotion, without presence. I was furious with him that evening, because I knew he had already left me in his deepest soul. Hours later we joined arms to carry him to the top floor. While he was balanced in the wheelchair, we almost fell out of strength. On that brief landing of the marble stairs that felt huge, I cried as much as I could. For the first time my grandfather didn't pat my face dry.
Over the next few days I went upstairs and helped clean and dress Grandpa. The big, strong body was fleeing from the mental force that asked me to lift it to life. Since then, I stopped loving Christmas.
After my grandfather's passing, which, according to my daughter, to the moon, I saw the same Christmas burlap cases on the sidewalk, a broken green glass and the leather sofa bought decades ago. No one was supposed to see their past placed on the sidewalk, to be scrutinized, or mistreated by strangers.
Little Maria do Carmo came into my life, with the soul of grandmother Carmo, already gone. She nurtured my Christmas in grandfather's absence, but this year she spends it with her father.
If I'm asked if I'm sad, I can honestly say I'm not. Because I chose to go with my mother to the house in the village, the house of grandpa Luis and grandma Carmo, to be with them. And we will all go back to being what we always were, the best family that baby Jesus could have placed in my heart.
And with time I will know that Christmas should always have magic, memories and sharing. I just need time.
Merry Christmas to everyone!
Merry Christmas grandma Carmo, grandpa Luís, we will soon be at home together.