For a long time, and for various reasons, many of them my own fault, Xmas has become a solitary event. I have no-one to buy gifts for and no-one who would buy me gifts, so I buy things for myself.
But the favourite Xmas gift I recall was one I bought from another, a woman then very dear to me.
It was our second Xmas, and she knew something of what I had bought her. Being of Irish origins, she loved The Chieftains, and she had been with me when I had managed to get her two very early, and then-deleted albums. Indeed, with childish eagerness, she had unwrapped them late on Xmas Eve, looked at them longingly, and reminded me I’d have to tape them for her, as the record deck on her hi-fi had broken down long before we’d started seeing each other.
I smiled, agreed and said nothing.
On Xmas Day, I drive across to bring her present, and those for her children. These went down well, and she was bouncing round like a kid herself, full of life, wanting to know what I had for her. I had it planned out. I dug in my pocket for something, brought it out, handed it over. It was an electric plug. She accepted it from me, looked at it is puzzlement, looked at me withthis wonderful ‘am I missimg something?’ expression.
Theatrically, I snapped my fingers. “Oh yeah,” I said, as if I’d forgotten something trivial, “you want something to go on the end of that.” And with the kids tearing after me, agog to see what I’d got, I went back to the car and retrieved this box from out of the car and brought it carefully inside. It was pretty big and she had a rather narrow hall.
I put it on the floor and stood back whilst she opened it. She was speechless by this point. The box was too big to wrap so she probably realised what it was: a hi-fi. Radio, cassette, record deck, all-in-one. She looked into the box in shock and then, still unable to speak, she flung her arms round my neck and hugged me, really hard.
This wasn’t the woman I married, though she was the first of two women to have loved me as deeply and seriously as I could have desired. I haven’t seen her in over twenty years, nor had any contact with her since an unexpected phone call in 2001, by when I was married. She was a very private person who hated anyone knowing any details about her life being repeated, and I have respected those wishes, but Mary, you are my favourite Xmas memory, and the pleasure I had in choosing something for Xmas that so completely surprised you is a memory I return to on Xmas Day.
If you are still with us, and ever read these words, I wish you health, happiness and joy. You gave me self-confidence for the first time, and trust and responsibility, and these things changed me for the infinitely better. You were rain in a desert, bringing me to life, not a half-life and I hope the years have treated you kindly.