My eyes water. Wind, sharp and stinging, pushes my hood down and drives me back. I lean in, but not in a Sheryl Sandberg way. I’ve got 58 minutes and five tasks. Stocking fillers. A fancy gift box. A Secret Santa pick-up. Stamps. A book. Dark shapes huddle under hoods, rushing in all directions, maybe everyone has just 58 minutes for five tasks. Or 52 minutes, as it is now, but I’ve made it to stop one. “Would Anne like that soap?” a woman asks her friend. “Don’t get the soap!” I want to say, but maybe Anne likes soap. “Would you like a bag?” asks the girl behind the till, adding it to my bill. Then we struggle together to get my over-sized purchase into the pretty but too-small canvas tote. She drops my purchase and it breaks. I smile and run to get another. She decides a paper bag is better, and I decide against asking if I can have the already-paid-for canvas tote anyway. On to stop two.
My eyes water. Stamps are expensive. Some year I’ll cut back on cards, but this isn’t that year. I have a package to send, and I take a prepaid An Post jiffy envelope, because sending it this way is cheaper. The man behind the window is confused. He wants to charge me €9 for the €6 prepaid envelope. I explain how it works but he’s not convinced. The queue grows. He asks his colleague who has heard all of our to and fro but hasn’t intervened. “It’s €6,” she murmurs, not looking up from her task. The queue grows bigger, but finally, I am done.
My eyes water. I’m racing to my final stop and hit my elbow against a metal door-frame. The funny bone is not funny and I think I’m going to cry in the middle of the street. In the wind. As the huddled black shapes rush past. But then after eternity, it’s gone, and I get the book the person will love, and it’s done. Inside 58 minutes, not late for the school run, it’s done. Until tomorrow.
Now we’re at home. The heat is on. The fairy lights are twinkling. The candles are lighting. Two kids have no homework and one has just a little. “Will we wrap presents?” they ask. “Can we write cards?” So we set up camp in the sitting room, surrounded by cards and wrapping paper and candles and lights.
“Alexa, play Driving Home For Christmas” they say. And we go to our default Driving-Home-for-Christmas-inspired conversation:
“I love when it’s Christmas Eve and we’re driving home from Grandad’s after dropping off the presents and this comes on the radio.”
“Me too, and I love when we get into our new pyjamas and you make hot chocolate and we watch The Snowman.”
“Oh I love The Snowman! And don’t forget putting reindeer food on the grass. Do we have glitter Mum, so we can make it? I love when we’re outside in the dark, looking at the sky, waiting.”
“Do you remember the year we heard hooves on the roof? Alexa, play Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
“One time I think I saw Santa – it was the year we heard the hooves. I heard bells as well. I scrunched my eyes shut so Santa wouldn’t know I was awake.”
“What’s your favourite bit? Mine’s when we’re going up to bed on Christmas Eve, and it’s all in front of us.”
“Mine’s when we’re at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning, waiting to go down.”
“Mine’s when we go to Grandad’s house on Christmas Day, and we’re all there sitting on the couch just being all Christmassy, and I’m just so happy.”
I chime in. “Alexa, play When a Child is Born.”
“What’s that song?”
I tell them. “Just like you go to Grandad’s now, we used to go to my granny’s house at Christmas when I was small. And there was this one year when it snowed. I was two and Nikki was a baby and your other aunties weren’t born yet. We went for a walk with my mum and dad, up to the foothills of Galtee Mór and my uncle Jim was there too and he had a home video camera.
“He filmed us that day and lots of days and years after that, as my sisters were born, and we got older. Jim put all the clips together in a video, and the backing music for the first part – the walk in the snow – is When a Child is Born by Johnny Mathis.
“Every time I hear it, I think back to that; a time I remember mostly – well only – because there’s a home movie to remind me. And it makes me happy and sad and nostalgic all at once.”
Three candlelit faces look up at me, rapt, eager for more stories of Christmas past. The song comes on. My eyes water.